Marketing connects your business to its target audience and keeps customers returning because they know there is value in what you offer. In this issue, Lake Business Magazine introduces you to four successful marketers who have seen profits grow as a direct result of their actions.
PHOTOGRAPHY Fred Lopez
DAVID VAN DE VELDE: One Of A Kind
Know yourself, have a vision, and build a good team around you.
STORY Leigh Neely
David van de Velde began his life on the island of Schouwen-Duiveland in the coastal town of Zierikzee in the Netherlands. From that small beginning, he has created and run seven international businesses that are still thriving and creating jobs for people around the world—and, at one time, out of this world.
“No business exists without sales and marketing,” van de Velde says. “If you don’t work hard, your company will never get off the ground. It’s all about you and what you are willing to do.”
He began his working life as a licensed deck officer on ships that bought many of Europe’s immigrants to the United States and Canada. After training at the Maritime Academy and desiring to learn everything about ships, he received a degree in shipbuilding. He worked hard and excelled as captain, ship builder, and eventually became operations manager of the Europe Container Terminus by age 28.
“When you’re on a ship with 30 to 40 people, that’s your world. You have to become part of the team, fit in anywhere. Team is above everything,” van de Velde says. “I was promoted from ship’s captain to port captain when no one knew anything about the containers. There were no computers to keep track of everything.”
With that experience, he came to America, where he knew there would be fewer regulations with starting a business, and opened the first public container terminal on the west coast in 1969. Prior to this, all container terminals were private, used only by the company that owned them. Van de Velde’s company accepted ships from any corporation.
“It’s up to you to grab the opportunities,” van de Velde says. “Know yourself, have a vision, and build a good team around you. Trust your people. Believe every problem has a solution.”
Each venture became a bigger success from international transportation to the aerospace company van de Velde gave his attention to that turned it around.
“We did nondestructive testing on composite materials as a third-party, objective reviewer,” van de Velde says. “We worked with the second lens of the Hubble Telescope and worked with NASA on the space shuttle.”
By this point, the astute businessman had discovered he had a gift for making ideas successful. That point was proven by his next venture. During a family visit to his hometown, he and a group of friends were enjoying some Ketel One gin when a friend challenged van de Velde to make the gin into vodka.
“He says, ‘If you get this stuff in a vodka in the U.S., Macy’s will sell it.’ We shook hands, and if I shake hands, I stick to it,” van de Velde says.
He immediately went to work with the distillery to bring Ketel One to those with discerning taste in America. The company began in his garage and today is worth $3 billion.
Van de Velde likes to tell the story of a phone call he received late one night. The man on the other end of the line said, “Are you the owner of Ketel One? I’m going to make you a rich man.” When van de Velde asked for the man’s name, the caller replied, “I’m in the movie business but don’t worry about that.”
“Then he says to use Tomolive in the Ketel One martini, so at 10 o’clock the next morning, we were looking for Tomolives, and one of my people found them at a Pier One,” he says.
They made the martini, and the rest, as they say, is history. Van de Velde went to Alma, Arkansas, where the Tomolive grower lived and got the farmer to agree to sell exclusively to Luctor International, van de Velde’s company.
Then he used his ingenuity that makes good ideas, great ideas. He proudly pulls a picture out of a file from Ketel One’s early days. The scene is a man in a bathrobe talking to people around a truck. The truck holds the first boxes of Ketel One going to market. Van de Velde is giving instructions to employees who have been at work since four in the morning. Their boss is still in his pajamas.
“This lady was my neighbor and she worked for me. We had these Ketel One bottles and I thought what am I going to do with them? We did what I call ‘point of sale’ material that goes in the store,” he says and his voice fills with pride. “We made the frames in my workshop. We cut the pieces of wood and painted a piece of plastic black to make it into a blackboard, and we wrote on it with wax like they do the cars in a car dealership. We wrote, ‘We highly recommend a Ketel One, Tomolive martini. It’s not an olive. Ask us about it.’”
The signs went in the back of the case and created curiosity at point of purchase.
“When you saw it, you thought it was a handmade sign, but where did they get it? It looked like the manager of the store or whoever believes in this product. The store recommends it, and so we gave away a bottle of Tomolive with every bottle of Ketel One,” van de Velde says. “You talk about the pinnacle of success, those Tomolives became so important, and added value became so important. With the Tomolives, those things sold like crazy. Once a store sells Ketel One like crazy, you’re on to making money. You’re on the front-end cap.”
Van de Velde’s business models come from a simple phrase he saw at a cement company: “Find a hole and fill it.”
“We are all entrepreneurs, and most of us work hard. You have to be willing to listen; you must have a vision; and remember that relationships are important,” van de Velde says.
Starting small but thinking big has brought van de Velde success in many areas, but he says what keeps him on top are his “Pillars of Success.” These are rules he applies in every situation.
• Reputation is what your business is built on. People will talk about your company. Your reputation hinges on what they say.
• Tell a story, and the story will go around. People will remember it and share it.
• Be a little bit fashionable. See what the consumer really wants.
• Don’t be afraid of a challenge; it will only make you better.
• Focus on your plans, and make them happen.
• Public relations is important, and always build on your “Pillars of Success.”
In 1996, van de Velde sold Ketel One and moved to a new idea: flavored vodkas. Knowing Americans didn’t like gray cars, he sought to be more colorful with flavored vodkas. Now along with Rolex watches, Mercedes, Gucci handbags, and Armani suits, there are more than 20 Van Gogh flavored vodkas, something van de Velde was sure Americans would embrace.
Van de Velde knows it’s vital to stay ahead of the game, and says it takes only four months from the time he gives the master distiller the new flavor until it’s on the market. He feels he’s meeting the needs of the “cocktail culture” with the wide variety of flavors. As an added value, many chefs are cooking with it.
The Leesburg Chamber of Commerce and Akers Media Group are sponsoring a “Cooking with Vodka Dinner” at Arlington Ridge CDD Fairfax Hall on Oct. 2. Tickets are $100 for the seven-course dinners, and seating is limited to 300. Several area chefs will be participating along with celebrity Chef Jon Ashton, comedian and television host from Chicago. There will also be a competition for Mid-Florida Honorary Spirits Chef, with an award for the best recipe using flavored vodka.
Van de Velde always has a story to share. One of his favorites is about the late Princess Diana. The Princess of Wales was staying in one of New York City’s five-star hotels and requested a Ketel One martini. Though the hotel did not have the vodka in stock, within minutes, the ingredients were available and the princess had her martini. Hotels throughout the city heard of the princess’s favorite drink and all of them stocked Ketel One in the event Princess Diana came in.
Now that’s a story people won’t forget.
THERESA MORRIS: A Real Power House
From billboards to print media to community involvement, the idea is to never be afraid of self-promotion.
STORY Shemir Wiles
Morris Realty & Investments is the perfect example of such a business. On her own, broker/owner Theresa Morris blazed a trail that set the local real estate industry on fire. With her team of Realtors, which includes her daughter Lena Williams, she does more than just set trends; she raises the bar on what it means to be a top producer.
Theresa started her company nearly seven years ago, a bold move when most real estate agents were running away from the industry because of the housing market crash. However, Theresa says she had a vision and a drive to establish a small, premier realty office that was not only exclusive, but also spiritually driven.
Since opening its doors, Morris Realty & Investments has grown each year to new heights, and she credits a lot of it to marketing.
“I believe 20 to 30 percent of your profit should go back into marketing,” says Theresa.
From billboards to print media to community involvement, the idea is to never be afraid of self-promotion. According to Theresa, good marketing entails advertising, staying in contact with past customers, knowing your product, and being active in organizations like the local chambers.
Also, she says business owners should never be afraid to ask for business, and they should support local businesses by shopping local and sponsoring events that benefit the community at large.
GREG YAGER: Driven To Succeed
Meld old-fashioned service with online accessibility.
STORY James Combs
Today, consumers spend more time researching prospective vehicles online than visiting various dealerships. In fact, many computer-savvy buyers take the car-buying process as far as they can online before visiting a dealership and test-driving their dream automobile.
“We’re finding more and more that vehicles are sold before a customer ever gets to the dealership,” says Yager, who became general manager of Plaza Cadillac in July 1994.
While fewer people shop the old-fashioned way, that does not stop Greg and his team from delivering old-fashioned service. And that, he says, is the company’s most powerful marketing tool.
“When customers come here we realize their most valuable asset is their time. We can replace cars and money, but we cannot replace their time. If you strive for 100 percent satisfaction in every interaction, then word-of-mouth becomes your most effective way of marketing.”
Greg urges other business owners to follow that model. Although technology is moving fast and the world continues changing at an increasing rate, you can still take pride in the service you offer and greet customers on a first-name basis.
“Once you have a customer, you have to do everything necessary to keep that customer. Make sure your employees are trained to properly listen to and service customers because it’s all about the customer.”
LINDA RICKETSON: A True Visionary
Look for new avenues of marketing and visualize the end result.
STORY Michelle Clark
Linda Ricketson never expected to be what she is today—a highly effective marketing director for Lake Eye Associates. She says she fell into the business by “default,” but there’s no mistake she’s made for the job.
Before Linda, the company did little in the way of marketing. When changes in the practice occurred, she stepped up to the plate and has been hitting it out of the park since.
“I’ve learned you have to follow your gut. And research, research, research. If someone is telling you ‘this is so great,’ make sure they know what they are talking about,” Linda says.
Trial and error have seasoned Linda’s approach; she’s found that honest and simple goes a long way, and word of mouth is still her best form of marketing. Instead of a formula, she builds the name of Lake Eye on the credit of its services and employees.
“Your people are part of your marketing plan. If you have a message and your people don’t back that up, your marketing dollars are wasted,” says Linda.
She confesses her marketing secret is merely helping the company and its employees be the best at what they do. This simply means treating costumers well and showing courtesy to vendors.