Hooters, my daughter, and Mayor Daley

Before the sun rose over Lake Michigan, my 15-year-old daughter brought my peaceful Saturday morning to a screeching halt.

She came to me with those big, brown eyes said,

“Daddy, Mr. Katz will give me 10 extra credit points in Biology if we build an owl house.”

“An owl house?”

“Yes.  Mayor Daley wants more owls in Chicago, so you have to build an owl house so I can get 10 extra credit points.”

Tweet Home Chicago

Tweet Home Chicago

I tried to reason with her.

Honey, this is Chicago.  What that really means is that we’re supposed to slip fifty bucks to Mr. Katz for the 10 points, he sends twenty bucks to Hizzoner, and the owl gets to stay at the Holiday Inn.

She was not amused.

For 15 years, I’ve kept my woodworking past a secret.  I don’t want to brag, but I’m a minor celebrity in the shop room of Loogootee, Indiana High School where they pay homage to me at “the monument.”

Well, it’s not exactly a monument.

It’s actually a dark stain on the shop floor where my blood pooled after I prematurely released the safety latch on a hydraulic press.  Mr. Knepp points it out on the first day of shop class as a stark warning to impressionable new students.

Woodshop stain

Woodshop stain

“See that stain?  That’s the blood of Dick Larkin who was goofing off when we covered shop safety.  He’s lucky he’s not picking his nose with his elbows.”  The freshmen shudder.

Innocent tools in my hands wreak havoc.  Nails bend, blisters blister, and splinters plunge into soft tissue.  I was not looking forward to the project.

How many owls do we really need in Chicago, anyway?

I felt a glimmer of hope when I saw the plans for the owl house.  A single cedar plank cut into six pieces with a few drilled holes would do the trick.

I went to Lee Lumber and met Randy Baumgarten, the owner.  His shop steward cut the board precisely and squarely.  A few drilled holes, hinges and nails, and the Chicago owls would be living large.

Randy is a talker, so I asked how he markets his business to compete with the big boxes.  There’s a massive Home Depot less than a mile away.  Lee Lumber has been around since 1952.

He shared a great marketing tip.

Randy Baumgarten

Randy Baumgarten

Every few weeks, they invite in local architects, engineers, builders, and interior designers for continuing education classes.  Licensed professionals need a certain number of hours each year to keep their licenses current, and Lee Lumber gives them training for free, which saves them a couple of hundred bucks.

Lee Lumber even built a full training room.  They serve snacks,drinks, and make it a nice networking event.

He went into detail about having vendors teach, but that they’re not allowed to pitch their products, otherwise the classes don’t qualify for continuing education credits.

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I love this type of marketing on several levels.
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First, it forces Lee Lumber to identify their best customers (architects, builders, and designers).

Second, it gives them something of real value; continuing education credits and knowledge.

Third, it is an on going series of repeatable information that results in expanding everyone’s networks.

The Commando Marketing lesson is to strengthen networks through education.

If they video the training sessions, they could use them to expand their reach online and use them to build an email marketing list.  That would rapidly expand the impact.  My buddy Mike Koenigs is a master at using video to build lists and search engine rankings.  (check out his incredible system at:

Marketing isn’t just buying ads.  It’s building relationships, providing value, and educating.

By the way, here’s the owl house which we lovingly christened: Hooters Chicago.

Hooters Chicago

Hooters Chicago

Now go forth and sell something.

  1. Judith Waite AlleeApril 27,10

    Love the writing, the content, and the humor. I’ve thought about putting on a workshop or roundtable dicussion for people who are planning a reunion, maybe partnering with other local companies. Thanks!

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