Toggle Menu

Let us help you elevate your brand.

Central Maryland Driving Directions

20140 Scholar Drive
Suite 314, Box #52
Hagerstown, MD 21742
United States

Elevating Brands 002: Turning a Tailwind into a Headwind

Len Sullivan:
Every company has a story like this. "I'm sorry, but it's time to tighten the budgets," and it just happens everywhere, but Pieter, do you know the first thing that gets cut?

Video URL

Pieter Bickford:
Oh, absolutely. Marketing.


Len Sullivan:
Actually, it's the company party. But...


Pieter Bickford:
(laughs) Okay, you got me there.


Len Sullivan:
...not shortly after that, is typically the marketing budget, which we know is the easiest thing to do, and it's often the wrong thing to do. So, welcome to the next episode of Elevating Brands, I'm Len Sullivan.


Pieter Bickford:
And I'm Pieter Bickford.


Len Sullivan:
And today, we are gonna be talking about turning a tailwind into a headwind. Every company is faced with adversity at some point. But some people put adversity, when they open a business. So, our first guest today, Rich Daughtridge, President of Warehouse Cinemas, President and CEO of Warehouse Cinemas, uh, opened a movie theater in the middle of a pandemic. And he knew he was walking into a headwind, and basically had a plan on how to overcome that.


Len Sullivan:
So, we invited Rich on to the show today, just so that we can sort of get his perspective on overcoming challenges, and what it means, and how you do it. So, welcome Rich.


Rich Daughtridge:
Hey Len. (laughs)


Pieter Bickford:
(laughs)


Rich Daughtridge:
How's it going? I just want to point out, too, before we get started, we did have our holiday party this year, so we- we uh, sort of prioritize culture and team building, and all those things.


Len Sullivan:
It's important. It is important.


Pieter Bickford:
And Len, you got that part- I don't think Len was at that party.


Rich Daughtridge:
Oh, that's right. No, he was.


Len Sullivan:
I was at the company party.


Rich Daughtridge:
Yeah.


Pieter Bickford:
Okay.


Rich Daughtridge:
He was just Len, he was in the corner.


Pieter Bickford:
Okay. (laughs)


Len Sullivan:
As usual.


Rich Daughtridge:
That's Len at a party, in the corner, by himself.


Pieter Bickford:
So Rich, Warehouse Cinemas.


Rich Daughtridge:
Yeah, so...


Len Sullivan:
How do you come to the- let's- let's talk about the decision, first. Because where do you get to the point that you're gonna open a business, and you know that you need to come out there with the plan. Like, where- how do you back up, it's almost like a record scratch, right? You- you have to back up, and at some point, you have to say, "We're gonna go out the gate, addressing a challenge." So uh, I kind of want to talk about, 'cause I think the people that are listening to this are gonna be most interested in, how do you just change your thinking mode? How do you plan for something like this, and execute, and be responsive?


Rich Daughtridge:
Yeah, I mean, it's ... it's not easy. I was asked yesterday on a call, I don't know if you guys saw my post, but Patrick Wilson, of Named Actor was- was on the call, and they- they- the- the moderator called me out on the call, and said, "Hey, why don't you tell your story?" And Patrick Wilson's on the call, and like, I'm like ... so I- I basically started saying, you know, uh, it- it- it was, it's a decision whether or not you can d- we were three months into a six month construction project, so we had no idea that things were gonna last as long as they lasted, but ... I mean, the thing that- that I brought up was, there's a book called Good to Great. And it- and it talks about just, sort of acknowledging the brutal ful- the brutal facts of the si- of the- of the situation.


And the brutal facts were, we ... were already into this project, we finished it within six months, we were ready to open in June, but we couldn't because Maryland wasn't open, and we basically had to face the brutal facts. We- we- there were three headwinds, as you put it, uh, that we-, yeah, I think we did, yeah, we turned into tailwinds. The first headwind, and probably the biggest one for our industry, even today, is that there isn't any Hollywood content. I mean, there is Hollywood content, but it's not your big blockbusters. Everything is being moved later in the calendar, or sometimes it's coming uh, streaming at the same time as theatrical.


The second headwind was we had limited capacity, so we had a budget based on a certain amount of seats, and we basically split those- that- that- that number in half, and we only have half capacity, right? And then the third- third headwind was really just people being comfortable leaving their homes in the middle of COVID and coming out to a movie theater, which seemed more dangerous than staying home, and at- at a large level, probably it is.


So, we basically realized that we needed to do things from a marketing perspective uh, then we had planned to do. We had a- we had a marketing plan, you know, obviously, worked with HighRock, and the brand that we created was there, and we had social media plans and everything else. But it was like, everything came to a screeching halt. No longer did you have Hollywood marketing films so that there was a general awareness of films. We actually had to take on the role of- of Hollywood marketers. So each week we looked at it, and basically said, okay, once we were open in September, we would promote it two ways.


One was with getting retro films, wrapping those in events, so Big Lebowski, "Wear your bathrobe, we'll give you free popcorn." To, you know, a Bad Moms night, uh, with a drink called Virtual Learning. Right? So we just kept doing that. Week over week, over week. And then the second category were the films that were coming out, from some of the smaller studios, that just didn't have marketing behind them. So we had to figure out a way to get the word out on those films.


And so, those sort of two strategies really week over week, over week, we just kept pushing, and you know, obviously cultivated that- that social media community that helped us get the word out, as well. But that was sort of how we took those- those headwinds, into what's become a little bit of a tailwind. It's all relative, we're still, you know, uh, not where we need to be, but at the same time, doing a lot better than- than our colleagues in the industry.


Len Sullivan:
But I mean, that's important. I mean, even a case where you're over- overcoming uh, uh, uh, a headwind, you've basically gotten to a point where you're pushing forward, and I mean, y- most people, in general, what happens is they blame instead of being aggressive about things, they sit back and they go, "Well, there's nothing I can really do about this." You know, like, the- the- there's an econ- economic downturn, or there is this situation, or there's this situation that I'm not in control of...so what you basically just said is you took the things that you-


You're not in control of the Hollywood situation, but you took control of the things that you did have control of, and wrapped a plan around it. But one of the things that you mentioned, that I think is like, super important, and uh, is- is sense of community. Like, you kind of touched on it. And you've been using social media, I- I- you know, following Warehouse Cinemas, and- and watching what is going on, you've been really pushing hard about- on a variety of different topics.


So, how do you kind of keep the content fresh enough for that many different audience segments? 'Cause I- I won't pretend, I mean, other than movie lovers, you- you could have a- you know, a variety of different targets that you're looking at. Bad Moms might be completely different than Big Lebowski. So how do you address all of them, and how do you do it on- how have you been tackling that, on a consistent basis, to keep people coming in the door?


Rich Daughtridge:
Well, I think, and Pieter no- knows this in Hagerstown, we launched Leitersburg Cinemas, Pieter used to go, how many times a week did you go?


Pieter Bickford:
Oh, at least twice. (laughs)


Rich Daughtridge:
We sort of think about movie-going, not necessarily as movie-going, but as a night out. So, when you think about going to the movies, we ... to answer your question, we didn't just post on social media the trailers that were coming out for this coming weekend. Right. "Here's what we're playing, here's the trailer." "Here's what we're playing, here's the trailer." Unfortunately, some of the industry does that, and it- it's- it doesn't create community, as you mentioned. So, what- what- what we tried to do was really, sort of...pull back from that sort of, uh, film-centric conversation, and actually talk about all the other stuff that Warehouse Cinemas has- has built around the movie-going experience.


Which is our- our 32 taps of beer, right? We have self serve beer. We have a bar, we do those- those signature drinks. We have a menu, we have these crazy gourmet grilled cheese, and these flatbreads that are actually really good, based on some of the menu we had uh, at our restaurant. So, our conversation, and to- and to facilitate that, was- was around- was around the experience of coming out, getting out of the house, and the emotion that movie-going, and sometimes food brings. It's a- it's- it's an escape from- from everything we're going through.


Len Sullivan:
Yeah, I mean, we- we actually talked about this last time, didn't we Pieter, about sort of changing your brand. I mean, you're a movie theater talking about food and beer. You know, it's- it's ... and if you- if you listen to the last episode, you'll know that we actually said, you know, you've already got a captive audience in the people that want to come see a movie, so you want to talk to the people who might not necessarily be there.


And one of the things as to that, on one of your recent posts is the uh, I think it was a grilled cheese sandwich. Some- some really delicious looking grilled cheese sandwich that you had posted that- that most of the comments were, "Forget the movie, I'm coming for the food." Which I found to be very indicative of this whole idea of turning the ta- the- the tailwind into a headwind.


Rich Daughtridge:
Yeah, 'cause people have to eat. I think- I think what we're delivering, especially right now. I- I think, you know, philosophically, I feel like movie theaters are going to be fine, long term, because people want to get out of the house. I think restaurants, they talk about the Roaring Twenties. People are going to go back to restaurants, because we're sort of over eating at home. Now, will it snap back? Probably not. But I think what we're trying to do with the that post sp- uh, specifically of the gr- of the grilled cheese, was, we actually built the menu around the idea of comfort food elevated.


And so, it was this concept of like, if you're gonna relax, you're gonna be in a recliner, it's a heated recliner, if you want it to be, turn it on. Right? But also, our menu was very, very uh, deliberate around, what can we get the emotions sort of uh, moving around? And that was a grilled cheese, so that photo, was a great photo of someone saying, "I want that, because I want comfort. I want to get out of the house, and- and maybe interact with people, as well, at a distanced level, but get out of the house, and just get back to normal, a little bit."



So, grilled cheese feels normal, pizza feels normal. Watching a movie on the big screen is what we grew up doing as kids, and so that's where- that's where Shanna does a great job, who manages our social media. She just creates those conversations, and the way she words it, is- is (laughing) extremely effective, as well, because she does a much better job that I would. But she- she- she ex- she essentially pulls out the emotion of what that post is about.


W- whether it's about the event we're doing, or whether it's about a drink, or whether it's about grilled cheese, or the movie, maybe the movie has a, you know, awards associated with it, whatever. But it- it- it sort of transcends the traditional...just show a movie trailer, show up, and you're welcome, and they walk out the door.


Pieter Bickford:
Yeah, and, what I was- what I was thinking that you do really well, Rich, that I've seen you do when you're marketing, even at Leitersburg, and at Warehouse Cinemas, normally when people see something as doom and gloom, for example, like the COVID pandemic, or a downturn in the economy, normally you're having that conversation of how do you turn that around, and be positive about it? How do you take that potential downside and actually turning it- turn it into something good? Is that- would- would you ... and I- and I would say, you're mostly ... if I think about you, I think you're a realist, being a businessman. But- but your marketing really comes across with this heavy dose of optimism.


Rich Daughtridge:
Yeah, I mean, ear- early on, it's ... I mean, we started Leitersburg with this campaign around the YouTube uh, you know, uh, video with Spencer, Long Live Leitersburg Cinemas, right? So, it was- we- we basically said, "Look, this is an old facility, but we love it, it- it's part of who we are as a community." And so, early on, learning from that and the success that we had, of people just really just rallying behind Leitersburg, all those years, was, when it came to Warehouse Cinemas in Frederick, what do we have that, that really is part of the fabric of the community? And that was the fact that it was the Frederick Towne Mall, and it was abandoned, and it was where people used to go to the mall.


And so, we early on said, "Let's start this- this community, this journey with- with the community around the fact that we're reopening an abandoned mall," right? So- so part of our strategy was to- to- we described it as bringing people along this journey of construction, sort of the challenges of COVID, but at the same time, optimism around the fact that we're gonna get back to normal soon, and just ... I mean, I remember back- when you- when you sort of see things through that- that lens, I was thinking back about the time that Greg and I, uh, threw on orange capes, well, actually, I threw on the orange cape, he wouldn't put it on.


But we actually said, we weren't open, we couldn't open, Maryland didn't allow us to open, but we were like, everything was ready to go. So we're like, "We're popping popcorn." Right? And so, we basically fired up the popcorn machine, and Greg and I just stood out there, and it was a drive by uh, sort of pick up your free popcorn. And we just- we were just passing popcorn, and we had gloves and masks, and whatever, and we had little stickers and we ba- we basically said, "We're just gonna give back to the community." Because I think at the end of the day, goodwill is a- a term we use a lot, and I think people appreciate that. People appreciate the authenticity of it.


Like, you're not saying it's easy, but you're also saying that you're gonna work really hard. Like, you're just gonna put your head down and work really hard. And through the pandemic, I feel like we had to do that, whether we liked it, or not. And I think that's- that's seen on social media, especially in Frederick, now.


Len Sullivan:
Yeah, I mean, you are at- at the heart of service industry. I mean, you do have products that you sell, but you are a service industry, and I mean, one of the things, and just to kind of back up, and- it feels like we almost staged this, but this is almost the perfect followup to the last episode, because we talked about, "Stop talking about your brand, as if you're great," you know, you- you weren't talking about heated seats as, "We have heated seats, aren't we great?" The messaging is more, "We have heated seats, so come warm yourself up."

You know, it's- it's more about the audience, and the customer themselves, and what they benefit from this, especially in the service industry, that makes the message kind of uh, it- it's compelling. It's what brings brings the crowd out, you know, to engage with your brand, and that's a- that's a ... I think people find that to be a very tough thing, to change their idea of not just saying, "We're the best," or "We're the cheapest," 'cause that's- I mean, Pieter knows, that's the other open that we often get is, you know, when we ask that- that distinctive question of "What makes you different from everybody else?" It's not- the fir- the- typically the first thing you don't hear, which is what you're saying, is, you know, "We provide a service, and it's about the customer."


Rich Daughtridge:
Yeah, 100%. And I- I would even say that it's missional, as well. So like what I was saying about a lens that- which we see our organization, we see our employees, we see our guests, you know, the mission at Warehouse Cinemas is to create moments worth remembering, and the- and the brand promise that we have for every person that puts on that- that orange shirt, that works at Warehouse Cinemas, or the gray shirt.

I mean, there's a big W on that shirt for a reason. It's because our brand promise is- is to save the day, right? So- so every- every team member saves the day. So I think, marketing almost follows mission, and I think when you can step back from the fact that you are- the commodity really is the movie, right? The com- the commodity, especially with what's happening with Warner Brothers right now, not to call them out, but it's day and date, right? Wo- Wonder Woman was- was day and date in your home, if you had H- HBO Max, and it was also in the movie theater.

Well, if you focus on the movie, then it's gonna be like, "Woe is me," right? Like, this- the industry's so hard right now, I can't make it. But if you- if you transcend that, and you're serving good food, and you're serving good alcohol and- and drinks, and non-alcoholic, and you have a butter beer for your next you know, Harry Potter, whatever. Like, you do all those things. But that- that transcends the movie, and it adds such richness to the experience, that you know, it actually helps you- it helps sort of frame your marketing, it helps- it helps you brand consistently, when you're talking about those things, versus just the movie-going experience.

And so, yeah, I think people latch onto that. But- but you almost have to really ... get convicted around your mission, about why you're different. Why you're entertainment. Not even movie theater to movie theater competition, but you're entertainment, sort of like, why you exist versus other opportunities for entertainment. Where other folks spend their dollars, and their time on entertainment, whether it be bowling, or gaming, or you know, whatever it is. You have to make a compelling reason, and then deliver when they show up.


Len Sullivan:
And it's kind of interesting that you say that, because you're- you're kind of ... you're drilling down to one of the fundamental decision making processes. When a consumer makes the decision to do something, to spend their hard earned dollars, whatever business it is, and it all comes down to a choice. And basically, it's about making the most compelling choice, for them. You're- you're- you're- you're painting a picture that you're the most compelling choice, for the dollars that they have, or the disposable income, in this case, that they have to- to use.

Which is, that is a fundamental process in marketing, and I think it really does, it really does push a brand in a direction that you're not so much about what you're doing, as how you're doing it.


Rich Daughtridge:
Yeah, and I think- I think what you're speaking to is- is- is a- is brand equity. Right? So, so over time you develop brand equity, and it's easy to lose. Like, you've got to stay focused in, you can lose that quickly with the wrong post, or the wrong decision making, whatever, so there's- there's a fragility to all things brand equity. But what's fun about it, is when that snowball is rolling down the hill, and it's getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and that brand equity is there, because you've- you've been very thoughtful around exactly what- you know, why you're doing this, and now this is how we're gonna get our message out. You end up having brand ambassadors, right? You have people that are just like, I mean, Pieter's like, Top Ten in Hagerstown, for Leitersburg.


Pieter Bickford:
(laughs)


Rich Daughtridge:
Everyone knows Pieter as a movie buff, 'cause he's- you know, he- he's- he's a brand ambassador. But even people you don't know, or know me, or know Greg, or know Kyle, or whoever, they're brand ambassadors, because they feel like they know you.


Pieter Bickford:
Right.


Rich Daughtridge:
Because you've basically put a brand persona out there that says, "This is who we are. We're everyday heroes." Right? "So we're gonna give you high quality, really cool sound, great projection, good food," whatever, and you know, "We're a hero, and we're gonna do whatever we can to make it a go- an enjoyable experience, as well. So our customer service is just, uh, paramount."


And so, when you develop that brand equity, and it turns into- to brand ambassadors, it's- you can see it, on- on social media. Whenever ... (laughs) whenever someone doesn't like wh- what you're doing, you're getting ready to post a response, and by the time you hit refresh, there's already five responses of people actually saying, "Hey, that hasn't been my experience. I actually disagree," and whatever, and we're like ... "Oh. Yeah, what they said." (laughs)


Len Sullivan:
So one- one more quick thing, Rich, 'cause we're about to run out of time, here. But let me just, because I think this question is very pertinent, especially to service industries. You're- you've talked about it, and we- I think we all agree that the way that you approached it is fantastic, and- and it's- it is- it is affective when it's done right. But there's sort of that- that unknown tailwind, that pops up all the time, and we see it, over and over again. And it's one of those things that paralyzes people, especially when they've done exactly what we talked about. It's the dreaded negative review.


Rich Daughtridge:
(laughs)


Len Sullivan:
Whether it's on Yelp, or Google, or your social media Facebook page, or wha- whatever it might be, it al- you know, you- you said, once you've kind of created that, and you've got the brand ambassadors and you- and you kind of get it, it's almost like a slap in the face. How do you, from- from a company me- from a leader in a company, or just the person that's sort of gui- you know, guiding that sort of marketing message, how do you not only address the situation, but then overcome it? Because from a mentality standpoint, that can sort of put everyone in, you know, in the company feeling like you're taking one step forward and two steps backwards.


Rich Daughtridge:
Yeah, well, I mean, uh ... fundamentally, you have to respond to those, 'cause they are gonna happen, you're not gonna have 100%, there's always a percentage of people that ... and frankly, the way we look at it, we look at it on a weekly basis. Every week, it's my responsibility, because I sit in the marketing seat for Warehouse Cinemas, Shanna and I work together to make sure we deliver how many positive reviews and how many negative reviews. We talk about the positive reviews a little bit, but the ones we really focus on are the negative. And the first- first thing we ask ourselves is, what can we learn from this situation?


And sometimes, they're actually right, right? So we actually have to have a level of, I guess, humility in that, to say, wait. You know, we don't have it all figured out, we're new, and you know, we're trying to- we're trying to do, you know, different things, but what are we missing here? What's behind the scenes of this person that's not happy with our service? I think once we recognize that, again, it's through that lens of the everyday hero. Like, we didn't save the day, right? Potentially.


Now, sometimes, there are lies and whatever. But let's say that, uh, assuming it was- we didn't save the day, and the question is, why? So, what- what we do, is we quickly, as quickly as we can, respond to that person, on Facebook, so everyone can see it publicly, but mention that we are going to direct message them, and actually get to the bottom of this, and we want to make this right.


So I think it's- it's the recognition publicly, so other people see that you quickly responded, and you responded in a way that's personalized. And then, behind the scenes, we don't repost and say, "We fixed the problem.” We just made one person, hopefully, happier and solved that problem." Then- then just having someone, just one person might ... because it's- in the grand scheme of things, 400,000 people will visit Warehouse Cinemas next year, hopefully starting in July. Right over that. (laughs) Soon. One day. Soon.

And so, but it's the one that matters. It's the- it's- it's the- it's this really small percentage, they go, "I just didn't have a good experience." And then, being able to learn from that, and being sort of, you know, honest with ourselves about it. Fixing it quickly, but then also, the public facing sort of recognition of that, that we are gonna fix it. Even though we don't have any of the- all the details on uh, on social media.


Len Sullivan:
What a great way to end. Uh, thanks for joining us, Rich, we'll see you next time, on the next installment of Elevating Brands.

 

Nikoletta Gjoni

by Nikoletta Gjoni, Project Manager

As a graduate of the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) with a degree in English Literature and Journalism, Niki's passion has always been storytelling and all the forms it can take. As such, her professional experience has ranged from working in cable news to holding communications and marketing director roles in the nonprofit sector. She enjoys connecting with audiences through strategic branding and marketing approaches and believes a good story will almost always win someone over for a new product or experience.

Outside of work, Niki is an award-nominated fiction and creative nonfiction writer, as well as a manuscript editor and creative writing coach for new and young writers. She enjoys traveling, eating good food, supporting indie bookstores, and combatting writer's block, among other things.

Work with us

Make it happen.
Do you have an exciting idea, challenge, or opportunity? Let’s talk.