Getting Real About Advertising

Corporate Angels

Apply, Please

Training Grant Awarded

Rebranding a Success Story

Corrections or additions?

These articles were prepared for the March 31, 2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

How to Make eBay Your Cash Cow

A scarf picked up at a local yard sale for $3 recently sold on eBay for $300. Martin Mosho tells the story, and says that it illustrates the potential – and possible pitfalls – of wheeling and dealing on the popular Internet bazaar. The shrewd yard sale shopper was a friend of his. "She knows everything about fashion," he says. "I would never have known the value of the scarf."

The first rule of entrepreneurial success on eBay is knowing your prices, he says. This is true for the person selling the occasional flea market find as well as for the person setting out to make a living by selling in bulk. Mosho speaks on "eBay Simplified: Easy Ways to Make Money," this Wednesday, March 31, at 7 p.m. at Mercer County Community College. Cost: $30. Call 609-586-9446. Selling on eBay is also the topic of the next PC Users Group meeting on Monday, April 12, at 7 p.m. at the Lawrence Library. The speaker is Scott Marshall. A software developer and consultant, Marshall was recently certified by eBay as a "Power Seller."

After retiring from 40 years in business, and starting a new career as a teacher and consultant to small businesses, Mosho discovered eBay. He now regularly sells on the online auction, as much for fun as for profit, and advises his students, some of whom have been downsized and are sizing up new business opportunities, that setting up a virtual store on eBay could be a smart alternative to renting its bricks and mortar equivalent.

In addition to his classes at MCCC, Mosho teaches and offers one-on-one counseling through the Small Business Development Center at the College of New Jersey, where many of his classes on how to start a business take place at public libraries.

After starting out by selling ads in the New York Times, Mosho moved on to advertising management positions at the New York Post, U.S. News and World Report, and other publications. He also tried his hand at operating a small business, a dry cleaning establishment in Red Bank. "It made money," he says, "but I didn’t like it."

He didn’t like retirement either. The New York Times has reported that retired men whose wives still work are the least happy group of people it found in a recent survey. Mosho, whose wife is a nurse, fell into this group. "I found myself cleaning the house, and cooking," he says. A post-retirement stint as a substitute teacher was not fulfilling either, but in teaching adults he has found his niche.

In his spare time, Mosho is on eBay. A graduate of an eBay University course in Philadelphia, he has bought and sold a number of things, and specializes in antique cameras and Civil War military artifacts. Within the past year, he decided to get into eBay in a bigger way, and began to import brass urns from India. As so many eBay buyers do, Mosho outsourced part of his operation. "I bought from a distributor in California," he says. "I don’t know how to import."

Mosho uses his eBay urn business to illustrate the "good news, bad news" about eBay. "If you come up with something new," he says, "people will buy." The flip side is that people will also copy. When he first put his urns up for sale they fetched $90 each, twice their wholesale cost. Within two months, other eBay sellers were hawking similar urns, and he was only able to get $45 to $50. "In the past year or so eBay has become a very competitive market," he says.

Still, the news is not all bad. Mosho liquidated his inventory at break-even prices and moved on. There had been no papers of incorporation, no storefront leases, no employees, no need to declare bankruptcy. With eBay, it’s easy to start a business, and easy to wind it up.

Here is how to get started and to rise about the crowd:

Give your store wings. Your eBay business may be sitting on the shelves of your store. Mosho tells of an Ocean Grove store owner who specializes in scented candles. By listing the candles on eBay he turned a small neighborhood business into an international operation.

"It’s a way for a retailer to go regional, national, or international," says Mosho. "It extends his reach."

Form a trans-Pacific partnership. "If you’re Sony or Toshiba, you’re not looking for a distributor," says Mosho. But, he adds, there are any number of Asian manufacturers who are most eager to gain a toehold in the United States.

"Some manufacturers people just want someone to represent them in the United States," says Mosho. It is possible to buy relatively small quantities of their printers, electronic organizers, toys, or laptops, and sell them on eBay. A good place to meet these manufacturers, he says, is at trade shows.

In the course of buying an electronic scale online, Mosho struck up a correspondence with a West Coast housewife who makes a living by importing the scales and selling them from her garage.

As it has grown, eBay has demanded bigger commissions, but it has also offered big-volume sellers a number of perks, including participation in a health insurance plan. In Mosho’s opinion, opening shop in cyberspace offers considerable advantages over going out and renting a storefront.

Fatten up the cookie jar. If the objective is a little spending money rather than a livelihood, potential eBay sellers need look no farther than their attics, basements, and neighborhood garage sales.

"A friend and I went to a flea market," he recounts. "She bought 50 pairs of shoes for $3.43 a pair, and sold them for not less than $50 a pair. She made more than $1,000 in one week."

Know what your goods are worth. A couple of weeks ago, Mosho bought a computer that came, as so many do, with a free printer. He didn’t want the printer, and found out that Lexmarks like the one he had received as a freebie sell for about $100 at Best Buy and other big electronics stores. Then he researched what the printers were fetching on eBay. Apparently he was not alone in wanting to dump the add-on because prices for the model he wanted to sell were hovering around the $35 mark.

"It wasn’t worth selling it," he says.

It’s easy to research the going price for a printer, but pricing a bust of Napoleon, a 1956 Lionel train set, or a Tiffany lamp is more of a challenge. Help comes from books on collectibles and from forays to antiques stores and flea markets. But one of the best ways of determining an object’s value is to look up prices recently paid in eBay auctions. To do so, just type in the name of an object.

"Look to the left of the page," Mosho directs. "Click on ‘completed sales.’" Doing so brings up a list of the prices for which all objects in very specific categories have sold in the past 30 days. It also reveals the number of people who placed a bid on each item. There is price information on every sub-set of the tens of thousand of items sold on the site. It does not supply all the information needed to price an object, because it makes no mention of condition. But it does offer a useful ballpark range.

Specialize. Knowing an object’s worth is so critical that Mosho urges eBay sellers to consider specializing in classes of objects they really know. Focusing in on vintage cars or porcelain dolls allows sellers to find the bargains, both online and at yard sales and flea markets.

Provide photographic illustration. It is not necessary to illustrate eBay listings with photos, but Mosho stresses how important it is to do so. "People want to see what they’re buying," he says. Just seeing the object, however, is not enough. Providing crystal clear images, possibly from several angles, not only improves the chance that an item will fetch a good price, but also can be invaluable in avoiding misunderstandings.

Study listings, he says. Notice the angles at which an object is photographed. In preparing to sell a pair of cowboy boots recently, he noticed that sellers provided close-ups of soles and heels. He concluded that wear on the bottom of the boots was something that could tip the scales in the minds of potential buyers.

No matter what the object, make sure to provide close-ups of any flaws, so that the buyer knows exactly what he is getting, and will be far less apt to complain that the cracks in the plate or the nicks in the scythe go way beyond the "minor wear" mentioned in the listing. The same is true for large, expensive items such as cars or boats.

Invest in a digital camera for ease in uploading photos, and choose one with at least two megapixels and an optical lens. A camera meeting these specifications produces an easily uploadable image with enough clarity to give buyers a good look at the object on which they are bidding.

Set up a studio. "I shoot pictures on my kitchen table," says Mosho, "but I bought a piece of white silk, so it doesn’t look like my kitchen table." A neutral background makes the object stand out, and makes you look like a professional.

Create a succinct listing. Mosho, with a deep marketing background, suggests that a listing not run more than one page. Write a clear, simple description of the object, include all information on any defects, add a photo or two, and that’s it. He has seen listings that go on for half a dozen pages or more, and says the voluminous information generally detracts from the appeal of the listing.

Add a reserve price. If you want to get rid of the second and third blenders you received as wedding gifts – just want them out of the house – then sell them to the highest bidder, period. But if you want to get at least $100 for the vintage camera you purchased for $70 with resale in mind, put in a $100 reserve. Your bidders will not see this price, but the object will not be sold until at least that amount has been offered.

Consider all of your costs. Asked for a run-down of the time it takes him to post an item on eBay, Mosho says it takes him 10 to 15 minutes to shoot the photos, another 15 to 20 minutes to select the best photos and to upload them, and about 15 to 20 minutes to write the listing copy. That’s close to an hour, and he has not answered a single E-mail. Add the time necessary to pack up the item after it is sold, to drive to the post office, and to wait in line, and the time commitment is not insignificant. Factor it in to the price at which each item is offered.

Keep in touch with bidders. There is a section on each listing giving the seller’s E-mail information and inviting potential bidders to ask questions. Answer any and all questions promptly. "I check my E-mail three times a day," says Mosho.

Time your auction’s closing carefully. The best time for an auction to close is on a Sunday at 6 p.m or 7 p.m. "That’s when everybody’s home," says Mosho. Keep in mind, he says, that your customers are all over the country, and even those on the East Coast like to sleep in a bit on the weekends, so plan to have your auction close not earlier than late-morning Pacific time.

Consider using PayPal. A popular online payment system, now owned by eBay, PayPal charges a purchase to the credit card a buyer registers. The service takes a few percentage points of the sale price, reducing the seller’s profit, but Mosho says the fee is money well spent. ""You want anything that makes it easier for people to buy," he says, "just like in a store." Sellers can stipulate the forms of payment they accept.

When he started selling on eBay, Mosho took only cash or money orders, but soon signed on to PayPal.

"It’s like a credit card," he says. "It encourages impulse purchases."

Set shipping terms. Some sellers gouge their buyers on shipping costs. Mosho speaks of buying a tiny photo manual on eBay. He E-mailed a seller about the shipping cost, and found that he wanted $10 to mail a couple of ounces of paper. Looking further, he found a seller who would ship the same manual for 83 cents.

Shipping can be a way for a seller to make a couple of dollars, and with Ebay’s tightening margins that amount can make a difference. But an out-of-sight shipping cost can chase most buyers away.

When Mosho was selling his urns, he calculated shipping costs to a nearby zip code, to one halfway across the country, and to one in California. He then took an average, and posted that as the shipping cost – no matter where the buyer lived. He made a little on urns he shipped to New Jersey customers and lost a little on West Coast transactions. But overall he broke even, and what’s more, he saved himself all the time it would take to answer E-mail inquiries about shipping costs.

He also points out that buyers are perfectly free to stipulate that they will ship only to certain states or countries, or that they will not ship at all. The latter can be smart when the object is huge, unwieldy, or exceptionally fragile. Cutting out shipping narrows the field of buyers, but it also reduces the work, responsibility, and uncertainly associated with packing up and shipping a motorcycle or a Monet.

Keep your reputation clean. Mosho emphasizes the importance of a flawless reputation again and again. eBay buyers leave feedback on the people from whom they buy, and sellers often scrutinize these comments. Fail to ship an item in a timely manner or sell something that is not in the condition promised, and there is a good chance that no one else will buy from you.

Seek help. It’s easy to learn how to list, sell, and buy on eBay. The site walks users through the procedure, and those looking for advanced tips can find them aplenty in books such as Starting an eBay Business for Dummies, The Official eBay Bible, Strike it Rich on eBay, The Perfect Store: Inside eBay, and Cliff Notes: Buying and Selling on eBay. Amazon.com lists 38 eBay titles, and a number of the books are available at bookstores.

There are also a plethora of eBay classes, online workshops, and discussion boards. All are listed under the heading "community" on the eBay site. In March online workshops included "Equipping Your Restaurant on eBay," "Reemploying Rural America Using eBay for a Second or Third Income," and "Selling Machine Tools and Manufacturing Equipment on eBay."

Mosho finds eBay to be an efficient market, matching sellers all over the world with those eager to buy exactly what they are selling. He warns novices, though, that results of any one sale are subject to forces that can only be described as capricious. Sometimes an item draws multiple bids right away, while its twin languishes with nary a nibble. Says Mosho philosophically: "Who knows why?"

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Getting Real About Advertising

Back in the golden days of the hard sell, advertising giant Young and Rubicam maintained one hard and fast creative rule: In every 30 seconds of ad time, the company name must be mentioned five times. It worked like a primitive war club, and clients flocked to the agency. But the advertising innocence of the l950s has long gone. Consumer sophistication – and suspicion – has set in. At the same time, even for small businesses, advertising options have expanded exponentially.

To help business owners choose wisely among them, the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners (NJAWBO) holds a seminar, "Media Planning and Buying for Small Business," on Thursday, April 1, at 6 p.m. at Merrill Lynch’s Harrison Conference Center. Cost: $38. Call 609-924-7975 or reserve a place at RSVPMercerDinner@yahoo.com. The speaker, Shelly Deneroff-Thompson, founder of SDT Media in Pennington, provides tips on purchasing television, radio, print, Internet, and other advertising.

A New York City native, Thompson holds a B.A. in communications from Queens College. While earning her M.B.A from CUNY’s Bernard Baruch College, she began working for a series of major Manhattan ad firms. The Big Apple was proving an ideal career town – until her first child arrived. Needing "more elbow room," along with some green grass and trees, Thompson brought her family to Pennington. Two years ago, she founded STD Media, whose client roster includes ETS. A mother of three, she maintains her Big Apple ties by teaching advertising at Pace University.

Thompson has spent years watching managers and owners realize that "’I’ve got to get the word out there,’" and then go about it in a haphazard way, dropping an ad here, then there. When customers do ring the bell, business owners tend to assume that they came in response to the most recent ad. "Not so," insists Thompson. "Advertising is a cumulative process that builds momentum over time."

Recently, the Philadelphia Flower Show surveyed attendants, asking "How did you hear of this show?" This is an example of a misdirecting marketing survey. The show is a tradition. It is like asking people how they heard of Christmas. Yet some number-happy marketer will use responses to this question to redirect the show’s advertising budget. Surveying is an important tool, but it is better to interview a small group thoroughly than to shoot out a huge number of quick answer questionnaires. Discover your customer’s whole process of discovery before investing your ad dollars.

Searching out how customers came to your door and what image they brought with them may prove a most valuable learning experience and a means of survival for your firm.

Assess hidden persuaders. Unless you are a startup that hasn’t left the garage, you probably have been advertising, but may not have considered less direct ways of increasing your customer base. Does your store face Route 130 and announce its product presence with a big sign? Maybe your advertising budget would be better spent lobbying the township for a cut connecting both sides of the highway in front of your shop. If most of your customers come via your church, chamber of commerce, and trade organization, maybe you have saturated your networking capabilities and need to turn more toward general media.

Market position. "Discern your special individual place in your market," says Thompson, "and from there all advertising strategies flow." This standard step in media planning is seldom as simple as it sounds. Your niche is not necessarily what management thinks it is. Your image, that is, the perception of your product, lies ultimately in the hands of the customer. You must survey your customers to learn how they see you.

Creating the ads. Dunlop tires hired several young crazies to shave their heads in tire tread patterns, wear Dunlop shirts, and circulate in bars and nightclubs talking about the experience. Michelin tires bought time on major television stations showing a delicate baby resting in perfect comfort in one of their tires. Which ad created business?

They both did. Dunlop markets itself as a high performance, high speed tire for the generation X crowd. Generation X hates ads. They love fun and eye candy. The campaign caught their attention in a very personal way. Michelin, on the other hand, has long prided itself on being the Volvo of tires: safe and dependable. Its ad campaign assured an older generation of buyers that Michelin tires would keep their children safe.

Once you have determined what service and product you are delivering to precisely which audience, the creative juices will flow.

Dialing into radio. Thompson has one attorney client who specializes in serving the Latino community. She contacted a local Latino station and purchased a series of 60-second ads for $27 to $33 dollars each. Later, by mutual agreement, the station arranged for the attorney to give two 30-minute interviews discussing legal issues of interest to many in the Latino community. A radio investment like this one may range in cost from $5,000 to $10,000, and can easily yield the advertiser 10 times that amount in client fees.

Tuning into cable television. "Cable shows are quickly approaching major network coverage, with a much greater targeting ability and lower costs," says Thompson. On many cable channels, companies can get identifier ads for as low as $10 and 30-second ads for $50 to $60. The large number of specialized shows makes targeting more precise. Your nursery finds an ideal niche on the garden show; your catering service is at home on the cooking channel.

Roll out some print. Magazines and newspapers are real, tangible products that readers follow regularly. The trick here is to make your ad a fixture – an expected part of the consumer’s regular reading. Place it in the same place, and always use the same border and the same logo. The reader will look for it, and recognize it instantly. Then, regularly change some part of the central message to keep his attention. It can be fun, or merely informative – perhaps a sale notification.

Also, check out non-fiction guide books. More and more are seeking product ads to defray publishing expenses.

Log on for dollars. "Most media targets only demographics, such as age or occupation," says Thompson, "but the web allows the seller to target product interest." Despite this advantage, it can be prohibitively costly for the small business to get a top search listing. Top placement on many search engines goes to the highest bidder. If you are selling off-road bicycles, you will not be able to outbid Trek and Cannondale for those search words.

A little cyber creativity is demanded of the smaller business. Perhaps the words "Rough Trails" or "Pine Barren Trails" are within your bidding budget. Also, website links provide affordable net access even for startups. Find the main off road bicycling areas: Vermont, Colorado, Tierra del Fuego, Nepal, and contact their tourist association websites. Many sites will often provide a free link for which they take a cut every time you get a hit. A little restraint is advised here. Plunging in with a hundred links may net you thousands of hits, but not enough actual sales to cover the expense of website placement.

As a final caveat, Thompson warns clients not to expect too much from advertising. "Ads alone do not yield sales," she says. "They only get you awareness." That giant leap from awareness to the ring of the cash register entails good old-fashioned business practices. The quality of your product, accurate pricing, the image you have earned through service, keeping up with the competition, and even simple things, like the hours of your store, all come into play in determining the color of the ink in the ledger.

– Bart Jackson

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Corporate Angels

The Girls Scouts of Delaware-Raritan honored role models, as well as outstanding Scouts, on Thursday, March 25, at its annual Women of Distinction dinner at the Forsgate Country Club.

The Juliet Low Excellence in Leadership Award went to Mary Nelson Tanner, the first woman to serve on the Lawrence Township Council and a founding member of the Lawrence Conservation Foundation. Leslie A. Anderson, acting executive director of the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority, received the World Citizen Award. The Scouts honored Barbara Jones, vice president of community affairs at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, with its World of Corporate Citizenship Award.

Anna Lustenberg, director of external affairs for Verizon, won the World of People Award. Amy Mansue, president and CEO of Children’s Specialized Hospital, received the World of Medicine Award. Just in time for the Final Four, C. Vivian Stringer was honored for her work as head women’s basketball coach at Rutgers, where she has compiled a .728 overall record.

Marcia Wood, co-founder of the Trenton Community Music School, was honored with the World of the Arts Award.

Among the Scouts honored were Alexandra Nicholas, a junior at Lawrence High School, and Heather Rumpf and Megan Nieckoski, both seniors at West Windsor High School South.

Triangle has been named Outstanding Small Business of the Year by the Mercer County Chamber of Commerce. The company was founded in 1939 by the late Joseph L. Teti and is now headed by his son Joseph P. Teti, who serves as president and CEO. The copy center has 16 locations in central and southern New Jersey and employs 120 people.

The Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association has named Christine Poon, Johnson & Johnson executive committee member and worldwide chairman of the company’s medicines and nutritionals division, as its Woman of the Year.

Poon, a Princeton resident, is HBA’s 15th Woman of the Year. She will be honored on Friday, May 14 at the New York Hilton.

The Somerset County Business Partnership has named Bernard V. Navatto, chairman of the Somerset County Planning Board and the Somerville Planning Board, as its 54th Annual Outstanding Citizen of the Year.

Navatto is praised for his 26 years as a 4-H leader as well as for his service to the county planning board.

At the same time, Ray Brown, director of the Somerset County Park Commission, was awarded the partnership’s 10th Annual Quality of Life Award.

Fleet has provided a $25,000 sponsorship to the State Theater to help promote artistic diversity through the theater’s CommUNITY Culture Series, which enables the theater and its partners to support New Jersey’s diverse multicultural communities through the performing arts.

Upcoming performances are Cherish the Ladies on Saturday, May 22 and DanceBrazil on Wednesday, May 26. For more information, call 732-246-7469.

The New Jersey Jazz Society has announced that Aventis Pharmaceuticals will be the lead sponsor for Jazzfest 2004. The Aventis Pharmaceuticals Jazzfest takes place on Saturday, April 12 and Sunday, April 13 at Fairleigh Dickinson University. This year’s event celebrates the 100th birthdays of Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, and Fats Waller.

For more information call 732-217-7721.

WaWa Food Markets is helping out with the Red Cross’s annual "March is Red Cross Month" campaign by featuring prominent point-of-sale displays where customers may use coupons to make immediate donations to disaster relief. Last year, WaWa’s New Jersey customers donated nearly $25,000 between March 1 and April 15.

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Apply, Please

The Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies at Fairleigh Dickinson University is seeking nominations for its 12th Annual New Jersey Family Business of the Year Awards.

Nominations are accepted in two categories: businesses with annual sales revenues over $10 million and those with annual sales revenues up to $10 million.

The deadline for nominations is Friday, April 16. Call 973-443-8880 for an application or for more information.

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Training Grant Awarded

The New Jersey Department of Labor has awarded a grant of $165,684 to Crate and Barrel. The money will be used to train about half of the 106 workers the company plans to hire for the 675,000 distribution center it is building in Cranbury. The company is matching the grant with a $160,516 contribution. Training is to be provided by The Institute for Technical Development at Middlesex County College.

Training will be in English as a second language, Spanish for managers, and computer skills.

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Rebranding a Success Story

When Carlo Momo and Raoul Momo signed on Dana Communications to rebrand their family of restaurants, they imposed just one creative restriction. "They told us we couldn’t use their name," says Bob Prewitt, a partner in the agency.

His reaction can be characterized as "oh boy, oh boy! What are we going to do?" A long-time fan of the Momos’ restaurants, which include Mediterra and Teresa’s Cafe in Princeton, and Nova Terra in New Brunswick, Prewitt sees the eateries as being all about family.

After all, he points out, the brothers grew up in Teresa’s, the New York City deli named for their mother that their parents ran when they were kids. They named their first restaurant, Teresa’s Ristorante after their mother, who now lives in Chile on the Terra Momo farm.

Family defines the Momos’ operations in Prewitt’s mind. How was he going to package the brand without the name? After several weeks of tossing around alternatives, he threw up his hands, and called the brothers. His message: We’ve got to use your name. The pair reluctantly went along with their creative guy.

With a new restaurant, EnoTerra in Kingston, set to join the family, the Momos’ culinary empire has changed its name from T2 Ventures to TerraMomo.

The "terra" part, says Prewitt, highlights the brothers’ niche, which is not so much Italian food as it is locally-grown food and wine. The image is meant to be that of restaurants grounded in good things – often organic things – springing from the portion of planet Earth that surrounds the Route 1 corridor. Good things come from local ground, and are served up by the Momo family. That’s the idea.

Okay, but why does a restaurant group need a brand?

There are a number of important reasons, Prewitt explains. One is simple marketing on the direct consumer level. The name ties the brothers’ restaurants together, but loosely. A person who has a pleasant dining experience at, say, Mediterra, may well decide to stop by when he passes Nova Terra or EnoTerra. The very name will trigger an association.

Another reason takes marketing to another, more subtle, level.

"When Danny Meyer opens a restaurant, everybody know about it," says Prewitt. "Everybody goes." He is referring to the Danny Meyer, owner of a number of top-rated Manhattan restaurants, including Gramercy Tavern and the Union Square Cafe.

There are several such groups of restaurants in the country. Prewitt names Lettuce Entertain You in Chicago, Pat English’s group in Boston, and Cindy Pawlcyn’s group, including the Fog City Diner, in San Francisco.

In truth, the Momos’ restaurants were well on the way to achieving that status before the rebranding, but Prewitt expects the pulled-together new identity to further the group’s reputation as it reaches for the next level. "They really want to grow," he says.

Setting up the Momos for that growth is a dream job for Prewitt. "I’m a food guy," he says. Three hours over five courses is his idea of a magnificent evening. A Pittsburgh native, he studied at DePauw (Class of 1969), taught fifth grade for four years, and then headed to Stanford to earn a Ph.D. in education. Bored with the academic life, he jumped when he was offered a job designing a curriculum for the Wine Institute.

"But I don’t know anything about wine!" he protested. No matter, he was hired. "They force fed me an education," he says. "It was like creating fois gras."

He went on to teach wine appreciation courses at Stanford, Berkeley, and the U.C. Medical Center. "I’m a founder of the Society of Wine Educators," he says. But when his brother asked him to come to New Jersey to join Dana Communications in 1979, he left the California vineyards behind, and settled into branding hospitality companies.

He has worked with a number of chains, including Marriott Conference Centers and Regent International Hotels, but he insists that the Momos’ group is not, and never will be, a chain.

Restaurants walk a thin line. Standing alone has become somewhere between extremely difficult and impossible as chains bring mass media marketing and economics of scale to an increasingly homogeneous America. There is a tiny gap between the standalone and the chain, and it works best in locales with a sophisticated, relatively well-heeled customer base. A small number of restaurant groups have been able to slip into that gap, retaining the individuality of each of their restaurants while reaping some of the advantages that go to chains.

By growing larger, but not too large, TerraMomo can gain those advantages. One involves purchasing. "Wine distributors treat you very differently when you’re ordering 30 or 40 cases than when you’re ordering six bottles," says Prewitt. In addition to the benefits of better prices, a good-sized restaurant group can attract, keep, and make the best use of personnel.

TerraMomo has an HR manager, says Prewitt. The group can offer benefits that most standalones cannot. It also has a large enough staff so that a chef taken ill at one restaurant can be replaced on short notice by a sous chef from another restaurant.

But just how large can a restaurant group become without sacrificing the uniqueness and quality of each of its members? Perhaps 20 locations is the limit, says Prewitt. Each restaurant must have a key person in the front of the house and in the kitchen. This person must have the passion and the skill to carry his restaurant. There is a limit to how many such chefs and managers a group can find or groom.

Beyond EnoTerra, the restaurant TerraMomo is building in the spot long occupied by the Winepress in Kingston, the group has no specific plans for more outlets, but it is alert for possibilities. One unfortunate task on the immediate horizon is deciding what to do with one of its two New Brunswick property in the wake of the early-March fire that destroyed Teresa’s Ristorante, its original restaurant. The Momos own the building in which the restaurant was housed, and are committed to New Brunswick, says Terri McIntire, their spokesperson. They most likely will rebuild, but are not yet sure where or when.

Additional restaurants from the group will probably be located in or near central New Jersey, says Prewitt, although a venture at the shore, in Doylestown, or as far away as Baltimore is not out of the question. Most of the new eateries will include the "terra" name. There could be a seafood restaurant named "AquaTerra," Prewitt suggests, or a grill restaurant named "GratiTerra."

Each restaurant will be unique, and each, like the existing "terra" restaurants and the one planned for Kingston, will target the group Prewitt refers to as "aging baby boomers." In his view, these folks are less interested in collecting things than they once were. "They already have the big house and the cars," he says. The Woodstock generation is now busy collecting experiences, including upscale dining.

In coming up with a new name, new colors, and a new logo for the Momo brothers’ restaurant and food group, Prewitt did not make extensive use of focus groups. He says that branding often involves getting customer feedback, and bending the product to fit. That was not the case with the Momo project. The product was fully in place, in his opinion, and required no alteration. So he contented himself with brief, informal surveys. "I talked to people at the bars in the restaurants," he says.

TerraMomo is now positioned to be mentioned in the same breath as Danny Meyer or Lettuce Entertain you. Even Prewitt, food guy that he is, is not sure how many restaurant groups exist in the country. He can name five or so, and all of them are in major cities. TerraMomo’s success in the suburbs is a credit to hard work and imagination – and yes, to the power of family learning from one another and pulling together.

– Kathleen McGinn Spring

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