Moving to a new house can be an exciting experience — new life, new neighbors and even new friends. But it can also be a little daunting. There are transitional challenges, and the social and emotional changes can take some time getting used to.
Suzanne Meyer started The Welcome Committee http://www.thewelcomecommittee.net to help welcome newcomers to the area of Lake Norman, North Carolina. She and her staff personally welcomes new homeowners to the community who recently purchased homes in the $200K – $2 million price range. They bring gift baskets with goods from businesses and advertisers in the area seeking to reach out the new residents. It’s a win-win situation for everyone: the new homeowners feel welcomed and receive helpful community information that can ease the transitioning process, while advertisers get to tell the new movers about their businesses.
We talked with Suzanne Meyer on the idea behind The Welcome Committee and the challenges she faced when starting the business:
What is The Welcome Committee? Can you briefly describe what services your business provide?
The Welcome Committee, Inc. is a word-of-mouth marketing service that connects newcomers and new homebuyers with local business, community, medical and professional services in the four county Lake Norman region. Our personal introductions pair up new consumers with products and services they need, influencing their buying decisions at a critical time in their decision-making process. For business development purposes, our advertising sponsors receive a monthly follow up prospect list of where we have been and to whom their information, coupons and gifts were distributed to. Physicians use the prospect list to track new patients, and businesses use the list to track new customers, or add them to their mailing list.
What prompted you to start a personal greeting service?
When I received a pink slip from my former employer (Welcome Wagon, International, Inc.), I decided it was now or never to start a welcome service business of my own so I could retain as many of my former advertising sponsors as possible.
How has the business grown since you started The Welcome Committee? What strategies do you use to grow the business?
The business has grown quite a bit from my meager beginnings. In 1999, Welcome Committee was servicing the town of Huntersville, in Mecklenburg county. Today, we are serving nine towns in four counties. My strategy for growing the Welcome Committee is based on the supply and demand principle. When five or more sponsors request that we branch out into a new zip code, then it’s worth doing.
What were the challenges you faced in starting the business?
My biggest challenge (or fear) was a non-compete agreement I signed with my former employer prohibiting me from starting a similar business for twelve months. When the Welcome Wagon trademark was sold in 1999, the new company changed advertising formats from face-to-face to direct mail. The former Welcome Wagon Ambassadors were warned NOT to start a competing business with the new Welcome Wagon, nor try to recruit “their” former advertising sponsors or legal action would be taken. The business attorney who incorporated Welcome Committee said I had a right to work, so that squelched some fears, but I still sat on pins and needles for the first twelve months not knowing if I would be sued.
How are you marketing The Welcome Committee? How are you finding advertisers?
Marketing is so important to any business, you have to constantly keep your name out there or you will be forgotten. I do reciprocal trade agreements with many media outlets in the Charlotte and Lake Norman area. I also write articles for newsletters, local newspapers, and magazines, and submit press releases whenever my company has something newsworthy to report. Also, I network like crazy. Welcome Committee is a member of four area chambers of commerce, and I’m on the Board of Directors for one of those chambers. While it’s impossible to attend every ribbon cutting, grand opening, Before and After Hours events, etc., I make it my mission to attend as many as possible. I also require my staff to attend at least one event a month. I’m active in several leads groups too. Even in this challenging economy, we are still finding advertising sponsors. Being visible and accessible is my best marketing strategy for obtaining new sponsors. People like to do business with people they know, and see often.
How has The Welcome Committee changed your life?
It has given me the flexibility to work when I want to, and to be home with my three children when I want. It’s empowering to be your own boss and have complete control of your schedule. Everyday is an educational adventure as I learn so much about our vibrant community. Welcome Committee represents civic and 501(c)(3) non profits pro bono. Each week I get the opportunity to tour and learn about so many charities that I would not have known about if it were not for my affiliation with Welcome Committee. Last week I brought my 12 year old son to tour a nearby foster home. He donated books and school supplies to the children. After the tour, my son and I felt blessed to have a family, a home and basic necessities. Welcome Committee has opened many doors and provides many opportunities to be actively engaged in my community.
How are you balancing your work and family? What are the main challenges of running a home-based business?
All mothers are faced with the challenge of balancing work and family. There never seems to be enough hours in the day to get everything done. To stay organized, I make a “to do” list. Every night, I prioritize the following day’s activities, (i.e. the kids orthodontist appointment, Lacrosse practice, business luncheons, sales presentations, etc.). I’ll leave a little cushion for unexpected surprises, but seeing a daily list helps keep me on track and focused on the current task at hand. The main challenge of running a home-based business is knowing when to turn it off. I’m still trying to figure that one out….I work way too many late nights.
What are the important factors needed for a personal greeting business to succeed?
First, you need to have a passion for what you do. This is a people oriented business, so one needs to be outgoing and sociable, polite and courteous. A sales and marketing background is helpful, as well as customer service experience and good listening skills. But basically, a desire to want to help others by being a “connector” is the most successful ingredient in this business.
What are your plans for the business in the next five years? Are you thinking of replicating the business in other states?
I have thought of replicating my business model in other states…years ago. After researching the franchise possibility, I decided instead to write a franchise style manual based on the Welcome Committee blueprint. Franchising was too expensive, not just for me, but also for the purchaser. I thought I could share the same information for a whole lot less, making it affordable to anyone who is truly interested in starting a welcome service business in their community. In 2006, I published Home-Based Business: The Complete Guide to Owning and Operating a Successful Welcome Service Business. In January 2010, we are rolling out a B2B welcome mat. We’ll use the same successful business model currently being used to market to new consumers, only we’ll be welcoming new business owners in the community.
What lessons can you share other women entrepreneurs?
Find your passion and be true to yourself. Anything is possible when you believe in yourself. Always look at the glass as half full, and keep a positive attitude, it will get you far. Don’t give up easily….persevere. Be interested in others, and they will find you interesting. Smile and be happy….your inner beauty will shine through. Associate yourself with like-minded female entrepreneurs and get together regularly…you will learn so much! Most of all, enjoy what you do, and take pleasure in the little things!