At Dogpatch Games, a table top and board game cafe in San Francisco, owner Shannon Newton treats customers like house guests. When you invite someone over to your home for the first time, you don’t take them right to the kitchen. You ease them into the experience, give them the tour, and show them what to expect—until they feel like part of the family.
Shannon does the same thing at his business. Using a popular marketing concept, Shannon escorts customers through three stages of the house: the front porch, living room, and kitchen. “Every step of the way, we want to make it very approachable for our community members to say yes,” he said. “But then we always have something a little deeper in the house that’s a little more interesting and a little more engaging.”
This strategy has helped Shannon expand the business’s membership base to 250 people in two years, with 20% growth month over month. Even if a membership model doesn’t make sense for your business, this three-stage strategy can help you navigate other crucial processes, such as finding your target audience or creating marketing personas.
Shannon also uses this method for pricing, splitting potential customers into tiers to estimate how much they’d be willing to spend. Follow along as he takes a first-time guest from the front porch, through the living room, and into the kitchen—ultimately, converting them into a dedicated monthly subscriber.
Phase #1: The front porch
In the small business world, the front porch is how customers find you. “Somebody’s driving by, and you got lemonade and a rocking chair. You want ’em to come in and sit down and drink some lemonade and have some fun,” Shannon said.
So how exactly do you get a customer to join you on the porch? According to Shannon, it’s all about being approachable. Capture customers’ interest with something that’s both inviting and low-commitment—an eye-catching window set up, a Yelp check-in offer, or a soft launch event—then, entice them with a sample of your product or service.
“Setting things up or putting them out, and then when people’s natural curiosity causes them to stop and pause, you’re like, ‘Do you wanna try that? Let me just show you.’ It’s fun, and it’s an easy yes,” Shannon said.
Another way you can move customers to the second phase is by giving them a teaser or freebie so they can start imagining themselves as a customer. Shannon said: “You’re just trying to get them to see the inside of the house. What you want is [them to] sit down, drink the glass on the lemonade, and look inside and [think], ‘Wow, it’s a nice living room, I wanna see the living room.’”
Pro tip: The front porch isn’t just for businesses that rely on foot traffic. With so many customers searching for local businesses online, this “front porch” interaction often takes place online too. Having a complete Yelp Page with eye-catching photos, engaging descriptions, and accurate business information helps earn their trust before they ever set foot in your business.
Phase #2: The living room
Once a customer gets a taste of your business, they hopefully feel inclined to sit down and stay a while. In the living room, customers get a more in-depth experience with your products or services. They should feel your passion and your joy. And most importantly, they should be having fun.
“The most important thing is engaging people,” Shannon said. “If you are invited to sit down, and it looks fun, and [a game’s] on the table, and you don’t feel like you’re being scammed, you’re gonna sit down and try it.”
At this stage, Shannon still doesn’t bring up pricing or memberships. “Our approach in the beginning was: We just want you to discover the joy of being in this space and finding something new and the novelty of a game and the competition. That’s enough. Let’s not lead with, ‘Hey, it’s $7 an hour.’ We’re gonna lead with, ‘Do you want to try this thing?’ And if they say yes, I’m gonna focus on that. And then if you wanna stay longer, we can talk about that.”
When Yelp Elite reviewer Jenny X. first stopped into Dogpatch, the open games displayed on the table caught her eye. But it was owner Shannon’s passion for board games and attentive customer service that encouraged her to stay and play games for an hour.
“Just seeing how much passion the owner had for games and was super excited about it, I was like, ‘Oh, like I’ll let my guard down a little and be not skeptical for a second here and let him try to convince us,’” she said. “So I think it was just that passion really for what they’re doing, and it was very clear that they themselves were consumers of board games.”
Jenny ended up staying for an hour—and getting a good look into the third and final stage: the kitchen.
Phase #3: The kitchen
The kitchen is a gathering space for family members—or in Dogpatch’s case, subscribers to their $30/month membership. “[You see into the] kitchen and they’re having a great meal. They’re sitting out with family and you’re like, ‘I wanna be in the kitchen,’” Shannon said.
Likewise, when a customer feels comfortable in the space and keeps coming back, Shannon knows they’re ready to make a full-time commitment. “If somebody is part of that community and they’re continuing to contribute their hard-earned dollars toward that, they feel like part of it, and they feel more engaged. They’re more willing to show up,” he said.
Not only that, but cultivating a community helps put first-time customers at ease. If your business is bustling—or your Yelp Page is full of glowing reviews—newcomers may feel more empowered to try something new. “You walk by, and the store is full because they’re members and they wanna take advantage of their membership, and it makes you wanna walk into that same store. So it feeds itself,” Shannon said.
To escort customers through this phase, Dogpatch hosts events that encourage members to make connections, spanning every age group and comfort level—including a Dungeon & Dragons kids club and a Parents Night Out. For businesses that offer products or services with a steeper learning curve like Dogpatch, events can also help remove the intimidation factor for first-time customers.
At Dogpatch, finalizing the customer journey means customers sign up for a monthly membership. But for businesses without a membership model, it might mean a loyalty program, a referral program, or a service plan—anything that makes a customer feel like they’re part of a community and encourages them to tell their friends, like Jenny did for Dogpatch.
“Over time, I just found games I really liked. I started to bring friends who really loved games too, and they started buying games,” Jenny said. “It just felt cool—seeing how I had this 5-star experience and I wanted others to know.”
These lessons come from an episode of Behind the Review, Yelp & Entrepreneur Media’s weekly podcast. Listen below to hear from Mona and Nicole, or visit the episode page to read more, subscribe to the show, and explore other episodes.
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