Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: Paper placemats keep local focus on businesses
PITTSFIELDGIL'S LAWN CARE Services . George's Carpet Company . Chuck Brown's Alignment and Towing . Patricia J. Houle, Certified Public Accountant . Happy Pups Grooming (Call 435-WOOF).
Advertisements for these companies frame your food at Jitters Cafe in downtown Pittsfield. Slightly larger than a business card, the ads for these merchants and 13 more - plus a church and an assisted living center - share space on a paper placemat produced by a local printer for cafe owner Paul Rogers.
For $65 a pop, Rogers' fellow businesspeople around town can claim a place on the blue mats until the batches of 5,000 to 7,000 run out. Then he sells the space again and has some more printed. Rogers says he breaks even on the deal, using the placemats as a means to build community and connect with his clientele.
Rogers is on the placemat, too. Not just on the oversized Jitters Cafe ad that touts the restaurant's soups, chowders and chilies, but also on a couple of the business-card ads. One promotes Perfect Choice Properties, a Concord business where Rogers sells real estate. The other advertises The Flower Shoppe of Chichester, the florist business he owns a few miles away. When Rogers is not waiting tables at the cafe, selling real estate or working at the flower shop, he's cutting hair at the salon he owns in town.
"I grew up with nothing," said Rogers, a Pittsfield native and former town selectman. "I started my first business, and then I started my second business. With (the placemats), it's all about giving back to the community. But on the other hand, it's also to help the other small-business people, (among) which I still count myself."
Rogers, 46, says he works seven days a week, though he usually leaves Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights for himself. He also needs to make sure he leaves some time to care for the 11 dogs he owns, including seven he rescued that needed a home.
For 20 years, Rogers operated Pittsfield's video store, which formerly occupied the storefront now home to Jitters Cafe in a building he owns. He moved Jitters there last August after opening about four years ago at another spot in town, which had also been the site of a cafe. About a year after that one closed, Rogers decided the town really needed to have a cafe, so he opened one. It helped that he had plenty of restaurant experience.
"I've always waited tables," he said. "I worked at Newick's. I worked at Weathervane. I worked at Common Man."
Rogers has adorned the walls of Jitters with historical photos of Pittsfield to remind customers of the town's heritage and to make older customers feel welcome. There's also free Wi-Fi to use while patrons sip their Green Mountain coffee and dine on crepes for breakfast or chicken pot pie for lunch. The cafe is something of an oasis in a downtown that could use a few more merchants.
"It's almost like a ghost town at times," he said. "There's a very limited number of businesses on Main Street."
Thus the need to make sure townsfolk know where those merchants are and that they're open for business.
In the 21st century, where advertising is growing online and going mobile, the restaurant placemat - like a newspaper - is about as hyperlocal as you can get. No click-throughs or page-view analytics here, just a reminder to folks in town to shop, dine and do business around home. At some mom-and-pop restaurants, the placemats remain standard table fare along with a bottle of Heinz ketchup and the salt and pepper shakers.
But this brand of advertising vehicle is not as quaint as you might think. There are definite do's and don'ts. An article on the San Francisco Chronicle's website by Jamie Lisse of Demand Media had this important advice:
"Request ad placement along the perimeter of the placemat so that your ad will not be covered by the diner's plate."
Now that would explain why Rogers used nearly the entire center of the Jitters Cafe placemat to promote his restaurant. That's the no-man's land nobody wants. The paying advertisers get those coveted border positions.
It's hard enough to compete with other advertisers; who wants to compete with two eggs over easy, bacon, home fries and a side of toast?
"I do mine there for that reason," Rogers said. "Obviously, the center gets a little attention until the plate goes down. But the people who are paying for the space, it doesn't take away from theirs."
Mike Cote is business editor at the New Hampshire Union Leader. Contact him at 668-4321 ext. 324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.