Four former Golub Corp. employees have set up a digital marketing firm specializing in the retail industry, with the Schenectady-based Price Chopper/Market 32 supermarket chain as their first client.
Sparkshoppe is operated by Heidi Reale, Meagan Handford, Maritza Figliozzi and Megan Finin. It is 5 weeks old, and operates in East Greenbush next to the University at Albany’s East Campus so that it can participate in the state’s STARTUP-NY program, which provides new or relocating companies tax incentives and a chance to collaborate with colleges.
Reale, the company president, said the college was the main attraction for the move out of Schenectady — she and Finin are both adjunct professors at UAlbany, and Figliozzi an adjunct professor at Siena College in Loudonville.
The firm’s mission is digital-age marketing and analytics — identifying potential shoppers, finding out what they want, informing them electronically about products and deals, and trying to steer them toward the client’s stores or products.
Reale said there is a subtle but important difference between shopper marketing and consumer marketing.
Sparkshoppe does shopper marketing: Rather than convincing the consumers in the household they want a particular kind of cereal, the shoppers in the household are given reasons to buy that brand of cereal, at a particular store.
“The money is being invested in getting the shopper to buy the product,” Reale explained.
Using as examples her own daughters, Hannah and Jessica, Reale explained that they are consumers who like Apple Jacks and Froot Loops. But their mom is the shopper who buys the cereal. So consumer marketing tries to get the girls to try something different. Shopper marketing tries to get Mom into the store and influence her shopping patterns — not to buy the girls cornflakes instead of Froot Loops, but to come in for a sale on Froot Loops. (And hopefully pick up things in the other aisles while she’s there.)
“Kellogg’s can advertise to the consumer,” Reale said. “Retailers invest in the shopper rather than consumers.
“As a marketer, you’ve got to work both angles,” she said. “It is a fine line, and often they overlap. But there is a distinction.”
Shopper-targeted efforts could take the form of banners on a digital Price Chopper ad or a Facebook post.
Finger on the pulse
Market analysis is another aspect of SparkShoppe’s business — finding out what people need or want to buy.
“As a marketing company, we have to make sure we have our finger on the pulse of what the consumer wants,” Reale said. As a retailer, “You have to make sure you have what the consumer wants when the consumer wants it.”
Reale worked for the Golub Corp. for 25 years, in consumer research, marketing, loyalty marketing, and finally social and digital marketing. Toward the end, she and her entrepreneurially minded co-workers started talking about doing the work on their own, she recalled.
“About a year ago, we went to Price Chopper and showed them why the model might work better if we were to take on additional retailers that were noncompeting,” Reale said. “As a team, we saw this opportunity for becoming entrepreneurs.”
The plan is to expand the client list with supermarkets that operate outside Price Chopper/Market 32’s region as well as manufacturers. Reale said she realized while she was doing this digital marketing work for Golub that there was an unmet need in the industry.
“Presenting our programs at national trade conferences sparked tremendous interest from other retailers and brands,” she said.
STARTUP-NY provides significant tax breaks to companies that set up in a designated zone near a participating college and form a partnership with the school. It was the partnership that attracted her, Reale said.
“When I first looked at it, my incentive was the partnership with the university,” she said. She plans to move the company across the river to somewhere near UAlbany’s Uptown campus.
Schenectady also has a STARTUP-NY zone, near Schenectady County Community College and the Golub headquarters, but Reale opted for UAlbany because of her connection to that school.
The students she and Finin teach will become potential interns and employees, too.
“We’ve all had a passion for talking to young people,” Reale said.
At this early point, she doesn’t expect the tax breaks to be worth a lot, but does expect their value to grow.
“We believe they will. It’s hard to know until the business is up and running.”