Brittle Bark's advice: Be prepared for your 15 minutes of fame


By Jim T. Ryan

Impact of National Exposure

One thing that is hard for small businesses to account for is the prospect of national exposure.

It's a welcome boost to the company, businesspeople said, but you never quite know where that attention will take you.

Diane Krulac has been making candies since 2003. The president and chief executive officer is halfway through a 10-year business plan with her Mechanicsburg-based Brittle Bark Co.

But that plan didn't include the exposure Brittle Bark received last February when Krulac's snack-food brittle - called Poppin' Time - was featured on the popular daytime talk show of foodie Rachael Ray.

That changed a few things and sent Krulac in a direction she never intended to go.

"People were coming here wanting to shop," she said. "We were getting too many people and I said, ‘Maybe we need a shop.'"

Brittle Bark opened a retail location Sept. 8, three doors down from its kitchen on West Main Street in Mechanicsburg. Retail was never part of Krulac's plan for the business. She was doing well in wholesale and Internet sales, she said.

But opportunity knocked. And rang the doorbell, too. Krulac and her staff didn't know they had a doorbell, she said.

"This was the window where they came up and knocked," she said, pointing to the panes of glass next to her stove.

In Central Pennsylvania, Brittle Bark is not alone in its 15 minutes of fame.

AutumnWave, the Carlisle-based North American distributor of digital-television tuners for laptop computers, received some attention in March from cable network HGTV, a home and garden lifestyle channel. HGTV named AutumnWave's OnAir GT tuner to its list of the top eight travel gadgets of 2008. The tuners are manufactured by Korean tech company OnAir Solution.

Sometimes, you don't have the DVR set to record your 15 minutes of fame.

"We found out that it aired because we were approached by a lot of neighbors that had seen the program," said AutumnWave President and Chief Operating Officer Patrick Castellani.

AutumnWave noticed a short-term sales spike following the mention on HGTV's "RV 2008" program, he said.

"At the time it ran, everyone was getting geared up for summer," he said. "That was a great thing for us."

The HGTV cameo wasn't the first time AutumnWave made it onto the little screen. In 2006, WFAA-TV in Dallas highlighted the company's tuner in a technology report of its newscast.

Capitalizing on Marketing Opportunities

National attention, such as TV spots, is a great chance for entrepreneurs to showcase their company, said Anne Aufiero, president of AdAbility Inc., a marketing firm in Lower Allen Township, Cumberland County.

"You want to take some of those lightning-strike exposures, to make it work for you, and capture that lightning in a bottle," she said.

Following such events, companies might want to get permission to use clips of the broadcast on their Web sites, she said. It's also helpful to mention the broadcasts in press releases and other communications.

However, you have to be aware of the potential impact, Aufiero said. If your product gets the approval of a credible celebrity or program, you could be in for more business than you expected, she said.

"We're imitators. We see what other people are doing, and we want it, too. If you think about the things you buy and own, it's because you've seen it somewhere else or the company has a reputation for credibility," she said.

There is still opportunity for the entrepreneur, Krulac said.

"I still think it's possible even in this economy to start a business and grow it," she said.

The key to starting a business and getting exposure is making sure you have the basics locked up, said David Black, president and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and Capital Region Economic Development Corp.

"You don't get the exposure if you don't have a business plan to build success," he said. "There's so much media out there that more people will find this exposure if they have that successful business plan."

More than courting the media, you should court your customers, Castellani said. Nothing substitutes for taking their feedback and helping with their problems. That's something AutumnWave does with a forum on its Web site.

Despite camera exposure, there's no such thing as instant success, Krulac said. It takes time, money and effort. That includes constant involvement with your industry, such as visiting trade shows to see what's new on the market.

"There's a huge amount of luck in this, but I play the odds," she said. "If you do nothing, you'll get nothing."