One of the busiest restaurants in the sleepy village of Carrollton, Ohio, is the Carroll County Airport Restaurant. Based out of a remodeled Mid-Century Modern home at the edge of a tiny airport that can barely land a small jet, this restaurant is well-known all over the small-plane flying community for its home-cooked food served in hefty portions, its legendary hospitality, and above all, its pie.
Pilots and their passengers, as well as expat locals, head into the Airport Restaurant when they crave comfort food. Local residents, too, come with their families to enjoy the home cooking they are often too tired to make. Carrollton, after all, is about an hour’s drive from even the smaller cities in the area, making it difficult to find decent-paying work without a long drive.
With all of the business this restaurant brings in from both the locals and the pilots, one might think that the food itself would promote its business. Yet the owner, Lisa Stansbury, knows that without new business, her restaurant won’t grow. Without growth, the restaurant won’t be able to provide the variety of dishes that made them such a success in the first place.
To tackle the challenge of marketing her restaurant to a new clientele, Ms. Stansbury has created not only business cards and take-out menus for customers to pore over at home in anticipation of their next visit, but she has also commissioned eye-catching t-shirts bearing the slogan, “Live, Laugh, and Eat Pie.”
Many times promotional wear is a giveaway. For many businesses, that’s an effective way to promote their products and services. In the case of the Airport Restaurant, giveaways aren’t necessary. The shirts not only sell themselves, but more importantly, sell friends and neighbors on giving this place a try. After all, who doesn’t like a thick slice of homemade pie at the end of a hearty meal? As reviewer Jessica Smith said in her December 2015 review of the restaurant, “The pie alone is worth flying there for.”
Though she wasn’t required to do so, one of the employees at the restaurant shared that she bought one of the restaurant’s promotional t-shirts for one of her family members, just so more people could see this walking billboard advertising “her” restaurant. She simply exuded enthusiasm for her work. It’s contagious. This is how creating a tribe can promote a business. A customer who heard the conversation said, “Hey, that’s a great idea. I want one, too!” That customer bought one on the spot. That’s not unusual. Such exchanges happen all the time at the Carroll County Airport Restaurant.
It also associates the wearer with the aviation community—an exclusive club in its own right.
People who share a mutual love of this out-of-the-way spot spread their enthusiasm about the restaurant by wearing these t-shirts. They delight in spreading the word to their friends, who soon become fans themselves when they taste Ms. Stansbury’s home-baked pies.
When a restaurant combines superb food with a savvy promotional campaign, everyone wins. Other restaurants who want to spread the word should take a hint from this small-town eatery to promote their own businesses.