Grandma’s Direct Mail Campaign

Throughout the 1960’s and into the 70’s, my dear grandparents owned and operated a resort on a small, quiet lake in northern Minnesota. Grandma and Uncle Fred (our step-grampa who always insisted he was too young to be a grampa) were thirty-six miles from the nearest town, and only came into town once a week to stock up on groceries and resort supplies such as fishing bait and licenses, pop and candy bars.

The name of their rustic establishment in the middle of nowhere was the Frontier Resort, and they kept seven cabins full of guests from mid-May until Labor Day weekend every summer for nearly twenty years. Surprisingly enough, nearly one third of their returning guests were from the Chicago area, 616 miles from the Frontier.

How did people eleven hours away find this quaint wilderness sanctuary where walleyes would practically jump into your boat, and sunfish were plentiful for the kids? Here’s Grandma’s secret to success: handwritten responses to the leads she got from the local Chamber of Commerce.

Every week she would receive in the mail a list of possible guests – people who had contacted the Chamber of Commerce and had specified what they were looking for in a vacation stay near Bemidji. She would sit down immediately and qualify her leads with either a big X over the lead or numbering down the side of the page all of the potentially good prospects.

Then together we would stuff envelopes with her brochure and a short note – a personal invitation to visit the Frontier Resort on beautiful Balm Lake. She could have typed the addresses on the envelopes – they had a really fine Underwood and that would have looked pretty slick and professional. But with her perfect old school handwriting, she would carefully address the envelopes. And I’d lick and stick the stamps.

It was a different time. A time for good penmanship, personal notes and invitations. Her weekly direct mailings would be approximately twenty letters to people who had never been to her resort, but who had simply expressed an interest in her geographic region.

I would say that her response rate was incredibly high – she’d answer her phone with “Good afternoon. Frontier Resort.” always assuming that if her phone rang (on a party line, by the way!), somebody must want to make a reservation. She was usually correct in that assumption!

Marketing success is still measured by reservations booked, sales closed, leads converted, or profits maximized with expenses minimized. But Grandma’s success was based on her passion to make a resort vacation a personal, one-of-a-kind experience for her guests. She always made it a memorable one, starting with the initial contact, the invitation to the Frontier.

Wouldn’t you love to receive an invitation to the Frontier?

(All photos ripped from Google images…)

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October 2011