Calvin Virgilio grew up in the food industry. His parents, Robert and Suzanne, opened a bed and breakfast in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania back in 1988, The Bethlehem Inn (pictured below). As time passed, the family business grew to include a local bakery and a wholesale granola company, The Granola Factory, as well.
The quality product is what made The Granola Factory and The Bethlehem Inn successful. But after Calvin graduated from college and came home to help the family business – an online presence and clear marketing strategy helped it even more.
“In any business you need to establish credibility,” Virgilio said. “These days, when someone wants to learn something about your business, they go home and do an Internet search or look you up on Facebook. So you have to have an online presence to establish that credibility with the customer.”
And in 2010, The Granola Factory experienced some national publicity when Rachael Ray, celebrity chef, featured honey pecan granola (pictured below) from The Granola Factory on her show, The Rachael Ray Show.
The Granola Factory doesn’t have the largest online following on sites like Facebook and Twitter compared to some larger food companies, but according to Virgilio, quality is more important than quantity.
“You can’t go from a hundred followers to a few thousand overnight. And if you do, then they’re probably not the kind of followers who will actually share your product with their friends or become returning customers,” he said.
In order to build a quality and loyal online following for The Granola Factory, which sells product online and wholesale to stores in six East Coast states, Virgilio said that he is constantly working to find the right balance between content, promotion, and interaction with customers.
To Virgilio, this means creating quality content for the blog and email newsletter that customers will actually want to read. The content often includes recipes, some of which use the company’s main granola product and some that are just seasonal items sold in the bakery (pictured below), giveaways, and other types of posts that he would like to read on the many food blogs he follows.
“You have to find a balance between being consistent but not hitting your customers with irrelevant things so that they’ll automatically delete your emails or scroll right past your posts,” he said.
But while social media and blogging have been helpful tools, Virgilio said that the most valuable aspect of the company’s online presence thus far has been its website, where users can learn more about the company, place orders, and find local stores that sell the product.
Virgilio said that the most valuable website feature from a marketing standpoint has been the “Real Food Club,” (pictured below) which lets customers sign up for email updates that include recipes, tips, giveaways and similar content. He said that it has allowed the business to gather a lot of information about its customers, and it keeps them coming back to the website.
Building an online presence has been a learning experience for Virgilio, who has just officially been with the company for three years. But he said the most important factor for him has been a clear knowledge of the food industry.
“To be in this business, even if you’re only handling the marketing or business aspect, you have to know food or no one is going to take you seriously,” he said.
To Virgilio, that means following food blogs, knowing the biggest food writers, and knowing how to make food himself.
“It’s so much easier to make a pitch to a blog if you actually read it and are familiar with the content, rather than just contacting someone out of the blue,” he said.
This lesson can be applied to other industries as well. Virgilio said that following others can be just as valuable as sharing information when it comes to blogging, social media, and other aspects of marketing.
“You can learn so much from just following others in your industry,” he said. “Look at what they’re doing and decide what you like about it, and then use your creativity to enhance it and make it your own.”