When you step inside Allegra Marketing Print Mail’s Columbia office, it’s likely you’ll be greeted by President Margaret DeBonis’s dogs: A Pomeranian named Cleo and an Airedale Terrier named Winnie.
It’s an easygoing setting, but there’s serious power between that office and Allegra’s O’Fallon branch. The locations have combined to win six monthly International Sales Growth Awards in the last 12 months. It’s a big deal when Allegra’s parent company — Alliance Franchise Brands — operates almost 600 marketing and visual communication offices in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
DeBonis said the success of her metro-east offices is tangible proof of something she’s noticed at an anecdotal level: The economy that was brutally depressed when she opened the offices in 2009 now is finally improving.
Q: What does Allegra do?
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A: “We are a full-service marketing and communications company. We focus on small- and mid-size businesses and non-profits that really need help with their marketing and getting their business going, whether it’s launching new products or opening a new store or rewarding existing clients. When you go to different vendors for different services, your brand starts to dilute. What you’ve worked to build is just gone. So we can do it all here, in one location, regardless of the services. We always say if it has print on it, we can do it.”
Q: Why is it important to maintain consistency, to make sure a brand isn’t diluted?
A: “Take Nike. We see the swoosh going one way. You don’t see it in a circle. You just look at it and you know Nike. You look at the golden arches and you see McDonald’s, and they’re always gold. They’re never pink, they’re never green. When you market a business, people have to hear about you, they have to read about you, and they have to see you. If you confuse people, people won’t buy your product. It’s trust; it’s relationship.”
Q: What’s your strategy when meeting with clients who want to market?
A: “We ask them the important question: Who is your best customer? Not just any customer —anyone could be your customer— but who is your best customer? And how do you reach your best customer? What age are they? What do they like? Where do they go? That’s always the key to a successful marketing plan, identifying your best customer. Then you start your advertising plan. We want people to step back, stop placing random ads. Clients are in business doing what they do best, that’s what they should be doing. Marketing is a whole different area of expertise, so that’s why I think that’s why we add value and that’s why we’re growing.”
Q: To what do you attribute Allegra’s recent success, including these recent sales awards?
A: “I don’t think we’ve been doing anything different. We’ve always tried to offer quality service at a competitive price. I think the economy is turning. We see it. My husband (Jerry DeBonis) and I run this business, and we can see it improving. Is it totally around the corner? No. But what we joke about, people are peeking. They’re definitely peeking around the corner. We’re seeing much more confidence in our existing customers; and we’re getting a lot of new customers just coming in now and saying, ‘Hey, I have to market my business and I need this and I need this and I need this.’ For a couple years, you just didn’t see that. Ironically, when business slows down, people do less marketing, and they should do the opposite. Because their competitors aren’t (marketing). They’re the only ones out there with the message. So we just actually think the economy is finally improving.”
Q: Obviously, that must encourage you.
A: “Definitely. I just had one customer who wants us to do some work for her and she said the other day, ‘I just got an increase on my Visa limit, we can do this now.’ Well, why did Visa increase her limit? Because she has more business. It’s great when clients are coming in and saying they’re doing well, they want to do more. It’s very exciting.”
Q: Economic growth in O’Fallon helped the Allegra branch there perform so well. Do you foresee Columbia being in a similar position as O’Fallon in the future?
A: “The leadership in Columbia is open. We’re sort of a bedroom community. There had been a fair amount of resistance to industry. I think like every bedroom community, we love industry as long as it doesn’t impact traffic and there’s no noise and there’s no pollution. They are building a large office facility on the north end of town. Current leadership is talking about developing the bottoms, right along I-255. So could it happen? Absolutely.”
- Job: President of Allegra Marketing
- Outlook: “When you market a business, people have to hear about you, they have to read about you, and they have to see you.”