Creating the business tag team

Fusion marketing helps businesses, customers


(From left to right) Tim Donnelly, owner of Special T Signs & Graphics, Carol Young, owner of Pacific Rim Printing, and Heather Barrett and Amy Donnelly from Local Creative Design Services pictured inside the Local Creative offices above Special T on Pacific Street.


Certain things make so much sense that it’s easy to take their genius for granted.

For example, it makes sense for a dog groomer to be located next to a veterinarian clinic or a video store to be located inside or next to a grocery store. The clinic’s clients need grooming services and the grocery store’s customers are looking for some entertainment after dinner.

Their partnership brings more business to every company involved, and the customer is drawn to these services because of the convenience.

In the light industrial area one block north of Bellingham’s Iowa Street, Special T Signs & Graphics, Pacific Rim Printing and Local Creative Design Services are also pooling their services and combining their powers.

Carol Young, owner of Pacific Rim Printing, said she originally had the idea for the three businesses to work together about a year ago.

“We all have businesses that complement each other and we all work closely together anyway, so we decided to go ahead and do it,” Young said.

Through their three businesses, the owners are working together to create a complete business identity program that takes a company through the initial design and branding process with Local Creative, the business cards and other printing process with Pacific Rim Printing, and then the storefront and vehicle signage process with Special T.

Heather Barrett, co-owner of Local Creative Design Services, said in their system, whoever brings a client into their pool of services becomes that client’s liaison, giving the business owner one contact person for three separate services.

“They are not spending all this time looking for a design firm and then pricing a bunch of printers and signs,” Barrett said. “We handle the flow through all three businesses and that saves time, which for a business owner, saves money.”

However, these businesses are not the first to have this idea.


‘A synergistic relationship’

This strategy of teaming up with another business that targets the same clients is actually quite common.

Tom Dorr, director of Western’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC), said non-competitive businesses in like industries can have varying levels of cooperation from sharing clients and tips to completely integrating databases and marketing efforts.

Dorr said that partner businesses often offer complementary services or the seamless integration of a multi-step process.

“The idea is to have a synergistic relationship with another business where both partners benefit equally,” Dorr said.

Knowing the customer, Dorr said, is essential to finding which business would make an ideal partner. He referred to a recent study that found that bookstore customers are often interested in sewing.

“Knowing that, an independent bookstore and a fabric store could work together to target the same market,” Dorr said.

Tim Donnelly, owner of Special T Signs & Graphics, said a business should look for a partner that is compatible with their services and helps create a solution for the business’s customers.

“It’s also important that the businesses you link up with are reputable and share the same core desires and business philosophy, so you can merge together and present a good solution to your customers,” Donnelly said.


Room for one more

Dorr said a business with excess space at its location has a great opportunity to co-locate with a similar business for mutual benefit.

In October, Todd Black, owner of Unlimited Service automotive repair, moved into its new 16,000-square-foot downtown location on North Forest Street, but it is currently only using a little less than 10,000 square feet.

Last month, The Bellingham Business Journal reported that Unlimited Service will soon be joined by Performance Radiator, a radiator manufacturer and aftermarket auto parts dealer with 47 locations in Canada and the United States.

Sheri Osborne, Performance Radiator’s assistant marketing director, said the company has maintained a Bellingham location that was more of a storage location but has been looking to get more space due to increased demand.

“Business has really picked up, which is nice in an economy like this,” Osborne said. “So we just need more space.”

Black said he has worked with Performance Radiator in the past and that the move would benefit both businesses.

“We are hoping to be able to work with them in the future, but they also sell to other businesses and now they will be more centrally located,” Black said.

Black said the addition of Performance Radiator still leaves approximately 2,300 square feet of showroom-type space at Unlimited Service’s downtown location, which he would like to see filled with another auto-related business.

“I would like to see another business in there that we could have a symbiotic relationship with,” Black said.


Share the investment, maximize the return

In a tough economy, sometimes banding together is the best way to stay afloat.

Jaime Hernandez, medical exercise specialist and owner of Bellingham-based Health & Exercise Prescriptions, a local creator of custom health programs, is another business owner actively making strategic alliances within his industry.

He recently partnered with The Easy Entree, a local business that lets customers prepare tasty and healthy meals in advance to be heated and served later at home.

Hernandez said food and nutrition are essential to a holistic view of health, but it is outside his realm of expertise. As partners, Hernandez administers the exercise and The Easy Entrée helps the individual create a meal plan based on a recommended amount of calories.

“We each specialize in one thing but we can give them the best of each service that is provided,” Hernandez said. “It all works out really well because I can’t go cook their meals for them.”

Hernandez said such partnerships maximize the return on a business’s investments.

“It’s a return on your investment of networking dollars and advertising dollars because then our presence in the community is exponential at that point,” Hernandez said. “The more partnerships and strategic alliances that you form, the less work there is.”

Dorr said raising sales in a cost-effective way is a major motivation for businesses to seek partners.

“From a cost-generation standpoint, ad costs are less and if the businesses are co-located, then rent, water and sewer expenses can be offset,” Dorr said.

In the midst of a recession, Dorr said, partnerships present a chance for survival and refinement while the market is in hibernation.

“Looking for fusion marketing opportunities is a way of cutting costs and becoming a rifle shooter on your target market,” Dorr said.

Donnelly of Special T said it is very helpful for him and his partners to brainstorm solutions for customers, and the monetary benefits of such a partnership aren’t bad either. The businesses have already done some co-op marketing to showcase their seamless, multi-step branding process, and they shared the cost of a company event.

“We had a neighborhood barbecue for some of the people in our local area and it was nice because everyone got to know one another and we shared the expenses of the whole event, so it was not a big burden on any of us,” Donnelly said.

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