Tours on tap

Companies can connect with their customers by taking them behind the scenes.
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Allagash Brewing Co. - Brand Development

My siblings and I gathered in Maine in December to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday. It was a whirlwind, ice-cold three-day weekend that included a public tour of Allagash Brewing Co. near Portland.

When my wife, children and I spent a day in Boston this summer, our first stop (based on logistics rather than priority, I should note) was TD Garden, for a behind-the-scenes look at the home of the Boston Bruins and the Boston Celtics. (The good news is the tour was free; the bad news is that it was free because many parts of the regular tour were off-limits as workers readied the arena for a UFC championship two evenings later.)

There’s a theme emerging here and it goes something like: have travel, will tour.

I remember touring the Budweiser brewery in Merrimack, N.H., when I was growing up, so this isn’t a new concept. But it is a growing one as companies realize that they can connect with their customers in an exercise of real brand building – and maybe bring in a little revenue in the process.

The metal whistle hanging from my bulletin board is a souvenir of our tour of American Whistle Corp. in Columbus, Ohio.

My son, Jack, was a weather presenter – complete with green screen and teleprompter – on the NBC Studio Tour.

Phillie Phanatic - Brand Development

You never know who or what you’ll run into.

Jack and I got to hang out in the office of Philadelphia Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. on a tour of Citizens Bank Park. This wasn’t part of the regular tour (the uncle of a boy on the tour worked in baseball operations for the Phils), nor was our lobby encounter with the team’s mascot, the Phanatic.

I’ve found that “scheduled” tours fairly often present unexpected opportunities, which makes the experience even more authentic. Yes, we usually get a lot of bang for our buck on these tours. But so do the consumer brands that offer them.

It’s a great public relations opportunity that is relatively affordable for the tour-giver and the tour-goer alike.

Santa’s workshop

A family of four easily can spend hundreds of dollars for a single Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park. And then there’s no guarantee that the weather will cooperate, that the person next to you won’t be obnoxiously vocal, that the Red Sox will win. But for a mere $56, that same family can tour America’s Most Beloved Ballpark from concourse to press box, Pesky Pole to Monster seats.

I was fortunate early in my public relations career to be involved with the branding of York County as the “Factory Tour Capital of the World,” which promoted the likes of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Utz Snack Foods and Wolfgang Candy.

Harley riders are nothing if not loyal, right down to their Harley tattoos. Opening its assembly lines to public viewing has only cemented that bond through the years. I’m sure it has helped to close more than a few bike purchases. It’s pretty cool to think that you might even see your own motorcycle being built.

Royer's Flowers & Gifts - Brand Development

Photographer from abc27 interviewing Tom Royer of Royer’s Flowers & Gifts.

Royer’s Flowers & Gifts, a long-time client of Goulet Communications, regularly welcomes school children and community groups to tour its stores and its headquarters in Lebanon. We do a version of this with the news media, encouraging reporters to visit the greenhouses and central design area (think Santa’s workshop) at major holidays.

Another client, Phillips Office Solutions, holds its private Customer Appreciation Day every spring. It’s billed as one of the largest independent dealer trade shows on the East Coast. Attendees can avail themselves of breakfast, lunch, smoothies, massages – and they get to tour Phillips pretty much from top to bottom. It’s a first-class affair, and welcoming customers to an all-access event really sets Phillips apart.

Selling Steam Whistle

The really savvy tour operators, whether they charge admission or not, will turn the goodwill engendered by their tour – not to mention the captive audience – into retail opportunities.

The Fenway Park tour starts at the Yawkey Way Store across from the ballpark.

At Steam Whistle’s brewery in Toronto, the tour starts at a bar. Customers can hoist a sample brew (Steam Whistle is very generous with its samples) and buy a T-shirt or hat before the tour even starts. The $10 admission includes the tour, pilsner sample, and choice of a tasting glass or a retro bottle opener.

Between work and youth sports, our family doesn’t travel that much. We’re thinking about Chicago and Montreal among our next destinations.

Regardless of where we go, you can bet that our itinerary will include a tour of some kind.



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