< All episodes

The Local Marketing Lab Podcast logo

October 25, 2023

Using local partnerships to fuel restaurant growth

with Betsy Hamm
CEO of Duck Donuts

Subscribe & Listen Now

Apple Podcasts icon
Spotify icon
YouTube icon
Pandora App icon
Amazon Music icon
YouTube Music Icon Logo


In this episode of The Local Marketing Lab, you’ll hear an engaging conversation between host Justin Ulrich and Betsy Hamm, the CEO of Duck Donuts. With over 22 years of experience in hospitality and restaurant marketing, Betsy shares insights on driving restaurant growth leveraging user-generated content, community partnerships, and consistent local outreach.

Leveraging user-generated content. Betsy emphasizes the importance of leveraging user-generated content to build authenticity and connections with customers. Reposting real customer photos and experiences helps restaurants showcase their brand in an authentic way while making diners feel valued. This authentic engagement is key for restaurant growth.

Community partnerships. Betsy stresses the value of community partnerships with local businesses and organizations to drive exposure and relationships. Providing treats to local offices, hospitals, and car dealerships builds goodwill and referrals. Targeted local partnerships tailored to your restaurant’s specific market are crucial for expanding reach.

Consistent local outreach. Betsy advises that consistency and persistence with local outreach are vital for restaurant growth. Continually dropping off samples and information to businesses pays off over time as you become top of mind. Persistence is key – you can’t give up after one attempt.

Authenticity, relationships, and persistence – this framework for local marketing helps drive multi-location restaurant growth. Tune in to hear these incredible actionable insights!

Key Takeaways

Besty Hamm focuses on using local partnerships to fuel restaurant growth. Learn how to:

  • Apply effective marketing strategies that attract and engage your community.
  • Develop meaningful connections with your community.
  • Leverage the power of local influencers and opinion leaders.
  • Harness the power of word-of-mouth marketing.
  • Focus on delivering exceptional experiences and personalized interactions.

It’s that great way to make those connections and have that win-win. They’re providing something to their customers, and we’re getting exposure to people that maybe weren’t familiar with us.

Restaurant Growth: Duck Donuts
Image of Duck Donuts from duckdonuts.com


Other shout-outs


Betsy Hamm
And we have learned through the years that our most successful franchisees with the highest AUVs are the ones who are engaged in their local community. 

Justin Ulrich
What’s up everyone, and welcome to the Local Marketing Lab, where you get real-world insights from industry pros to help you drive local revenue and local for growth. This podcast is brought to you by Evocalize – digital marketing tools powered by local data that automatically work where and when your locations need it most. Learn more at evocalize.com.

What’s up, everybody? And welcome to the Local Marketing Lab. Today we have a super interesting guest. I’m actually really excited to talk to her. She’s got over 22 years of experience leading hospitality and restaurant marketing. She came up through marketing and then operations, and now is the CEO of Duck Donuts

She’s a part time runner, a part time yoga pro, and a full time busy mom. You know, her as Betsy Hamm, and so does the rest of the world because that’s her legal name. Betsy, thanks for joining us in the lab.

Betsy Hamm
Thank you so much for having me. And I was just sitting here doing the math. You said 22 years. I’m like, I can’t be that old, but shoot, I am, so thanks for that.

Justin Ulrich
It feels like everyone, even myself, it’s like everyone has at least 20 years at this point. It’s like, man, it’s like, where does the time go? 

Betsy Hamm
Thanks for that reminder. 

Justin Ulrich
Yeah, you bet. So what was really exciting to me, Betsy, about having you on the show is I happen to actually be a huge Duck Donuts fan. So I told you just before we started recording that we’d recently moved to North Carolina. One of the recent trips we did was out to the Outer Banks, and when we went there, we tried the original location, and it was awesome. 

We had, like, a variety box. And my kids, we cut them in half, thinking, “Oh, everyone can try.” But at the end of the day, the kids were doing the donut math, and I was eating way more than I should have. But maple bacon, to me, is incredible.

Betsy Hamm
That was your favorite? That’s actually our number one donut, so that’s definitely the trend.

Justin Ulrich
Oh, there you go. Yeah. Oh, man. Incredible. Incredible. The other reason I was super excited to have you on the show is that you’ve got such a solid marketing background just coming up, different types of company. Mainly, though, focused, still in hospitality. So I was wondering if we can kick things off and tell us maybe just a little bit about your experience and how you got to where you are.

Betsy Hamm
Sure, of course. So I started my career working for Hershey Entertainment and Resorts. So that is the hospitality company that manages the sweetest place on Earth. So everything from Hershey Park to restaurants and chocolate spa and AHL hockey team. 

So through the years, I just held various marketing roles, started off in promotions, which is really sort of the grassroots marketing, and then grew to oversee digital teams and analytics teams as I was at Hershey. 

And I had a friend who reached out to me, actually, seven years ago, because I’ve been with Duck for seven years and said, “Hey, Duck Donuts is opening their corporate headquarters here in the Harrisburg area in Pennsylvania where I live. Would you be interested in talking to them?” 

And I didn’t know what Duck Donuts even was seven years ago. I had never been to the Outer Banks, as you mentioned, is where it started. And at that time, they just had a handful of locations. So if you weren’t vacationing in the Outer Banks, you weren’t necessarily familiar with the brand. 

Which was funny, I texted two of my friends who always took their families to Outer Banks. I’m like, “Hey, have you heard of this Duck Donuts place? They reached out about doing an interview,” and they both were emphatic with their responses. They’re like, “Oh, my gosh, Duck Donuts is the best.” And they’re going on, and I’m sitting there thinking they’re this excited about a donut concept. I was just so confused. 

So just their interest in the brand is what made me take the interview with the founder, who was the CEO, of course, at the time, Russ. So I met with Russ and the COO at the time, and they painted this picture of here’s this brand that people who know it, love it, that have gone to the Outer Banks so much that they were basically being harassed to open in other locations throughout the country. So they decided to start franchising. 

So when you hear that as a marketer, you’re like, oh, my gosh, okay, here’s a brand that’s pretty solid. Definitely needs to evolve and to grow, but could be a national household name is the goal. Couldn’t resist the opportunity as a marketing person to be able to come in, and that seven years ago. 

It was literally taking a step back and saying, okay, you don’t always use the same logo, and we have two ducks, and we’re not even using pictures of donuts because there was no photo shoots. So that’s literally where we were seven years ago as a brand. So it was a marketing person’s dream to be able to come in and help evolve and create a marketing strategy, and the branding piece of that to really set up the company for this growth.

Justin Ulrich
Yeah, it really is a neat brand. Specifically for the visuals, like for social. I mean, you guys have so many cool images, but it’s because the product serves itself so well to being photographed. The vivid colors, beautiful donuts. It’s incredible.

Betsy Hamm
And you know what’s funny is when we first started actually taking photos, they were picture perfect, like, the icing. We would actually freeze the donuts in the icing, so nothing was drippy and melting. Everything picture perfect. 

And then we hired a new creative person, and they’re like, “Why are you making the donuts look like this? They’re not.” And her whole thing when she went wrong is it’s like that curated, messy look, right? People love when they open that box, and because the donuts warm, the icing is dripping down the donut and sprinkles might be a little messy or whatever it is. 

So we started really portraying that actual ooey gooey part of eating the donut. The icing, it definitely has evolved.

Justin Ulrich
For sure, and it’s so authentic too. What you see is what you get. If you look at marketing in years past, it’s always been like you’re saying you freeze the donuts, like burger companies, like injecting the stuff into it’s, like clay on the inside or whatever. Like the pizza is glued to the thing so they can get the stretch on the cheese. 

It’s just so inauthentic. But yeah, what you’re doing over there is great. What I’d like to hear though is more about with the brand being so incredible and you have a lot of rabid fans for the brand, so how are you engaging the local customers around each of your units?

Betsy Hamm
No, that’s a great question. So our locations are all franchised. So of course as the franchisee, we’re responsible for that national calendar and promotions and website and social presence. So we do that from a national perspective and we plan out the calendar for the year. 

But then as we do that, we talk to our franchisees about the fact that that local piece is really important because that’s really what’s going to engage their customers on the local level. And we have learned through the years that our most successful franchisees with the highest AUVs are the ones who are engaged in their local community. 

So that can take on a couple different formats, I guess you could say. One is even the fact that from a social perspective we have only a national Instagram, X, and TikTok account and then Facebook we have the national account and then each shop has a local page. So we’re pushing content, of course, to those local pages. 

But the franchisees who can get on there and also post engaging content and highlighting things that are happening on a local level, whether it’s events that they’re involved with fundraisers, just those types of things really helps their engagement. And a lot of times the ones who are doing that are because they’re doing these special events or fundraisers. 

So that’s where we see the biggest impact and that can know partnering with schools or PTAs or sponsoring little league teams, giving out free product. I just saw one of our franchisees in Winchester, Virginia, did a cool program where they partnered with the SPCA. And it was a weekend where they told people to bring out their dogs. And all the dogs got a free little pop cup and they had the SPCA on site. And a portion of their sales that day went to support the local SPCA.

So just a really cool event to sponsor something that’s important in the local community. And of course, things with animals, especially dogs, always does well. I think it’s those types of events that really engage customers on the local level.

Justin Ulrich
Very cool. Do you guys get a lot of user generated content that you promote to your channels?

Betsy Hamm
We do. As we mentioned, our donuts are beautiful and pretty, and people are so excited when they get our donuts. So we do get a lot of great user generated content that we will reshare, whether it’s just a picture of their pretty perfect donuts or them enjoying their donuts. 

We’ve learned that people love to celebrate occasions with their donuts. So whether it’s a first birthday or even some of those little baby pictures of every month or taking a picture, and the number of donuts beside the baby increases. So the baby’s two months old. There’s two donuts, three months. 

So there’s been so many cool occasion photos because we’re so lucky to have that opportunity to celebrate occasions with our customers. So seeing those birthday parties, gender reveal parties, weddings, people love to have the donut walls at their weddings. So those types of opportunities for us are great. 

Then, of course, to share for our guests and those types of pictures just, I think, make us happy. And that’s why we talk about Duck Donuts, having that ability to sprinkle happiness.

Justin Ulrich
Yeah, for sure. The example you gave of the baby sitting next to the donuts, if I took that picture, the baby would keep getting older and there’d be no donuts. Just more and more crumbs, I guess.

Betsy Hamm
Totally acceptable.

Justin Ulrich
Oh, man. So those are all really good examples. I love hearing when our guests talk about community engagement and how their operators at a local level will attend different events. 

They’ll partner with different companies nearby that they may have a product that goes hand in hand or complementary to what it is that they provide. So the donuts partnering maybe a coffee shop nearby, or we’ve got other examples of fitness companies that partner with smoothie shops, stuff like that. Anytime you can kind of go hand in hand, it works really well for the community.

Betsy Hamm
Absolutely. And even things like a lot of our shops partner with car dealerships. So, of course, if you’re waiting and trying to buy a car or maintenance and you’re hanging out, they, of course, usually have some snacks, some beverages there. So on the weekends, I know some of our shops will partner with those car dealerships, and they’ll provide a couple of dozen donuts. They’re buying them on a weekly basis. It’s that nice reoccurring sale when you can have those types of relationships. 

Same thing with realtors, especially when the real estate market was so incredibly hot. They’re doing an open house. They mentioned, hey, stop by the open house, and they have Duck Donuts at the open house as well.

So just those types of business relationships where it’s a win win, right? Like they’re providing something to their customers, and we’re getting that exposure to people that maybe weren’t familiar with us or have never been into a shop. It’s that great way to make those connections. 

Our marketing budgets are not huge, and our locations are fairly spread out, so we don’t have a ton. We’re in 24 states. We have 136 locations in 24 states, so we don’t have a lot of mass and a lot of markets. So while, of course paid media is great, of course paid social especially is very important to us, but it’s that local level stuff that’s a little bit harder to ignore, that really makes an impact on sales.

Justin Ulrich
Yeah, one of the things that we help clients do is we just help leverage their local data to kind of market to their folks within region of their restaurants, leveraging paid media. So it’s definitely a good channel for folks as well. 

What are some things that you’ve actually seen, your other locations that have tried? You mentioned they go to different events and they partner with folks nearby to do certain engagements. What are some other things that you’ve seen people try that seem to work at the location level?

Betsy Hamm
Because we’re a sweet treat, people use us as a reward or something fun and different. So we talk a lot about one of our demographics is the “Office Hero”. So if you’re that person who grabs a few donuts on your way to the office, like you’re the hero, when you walk into that meeting, you’re rocking the donuts. 

So being able to find, whether it’s individuals or businesses, we have some locations who have been really lucky to partner with some massive warehouses where they’ll go on site and do hundreds and thousands of donuts for an event that’s just a nice to have for the employees and even hospitals. 

I know one of our franchisees in North Carolina just partnered with a local hospital where each employee got two donuts and like a thank you from the hospital for all the hard work that these employees were doing. So when you can be on that end of again, that win-win of getting that, you know, selling the donuts, that’s huge and it makes their employees feel good. So it’s a definitely win for everyone, for sure.

Justin Ulrich
For sure. It makes a ton of a sense. I had an episode on with Scot Turner recently and he talked about how he was leveraging LinkedIn to engage folks at businesses nearby the location to try to bring them in. 

And then I had another example of it was Jim Taylor and Adam Lamb. They have a podcast called Turning the Table. And they had Geoff Alexander from Wow Bao on there, and he was talking about how he was going to whenever they come into a new location, they open a new restaurant. They take their food for the first week or so just to the businesses that are local nearby and just give free lunch on them. And it puts their hand, just like you’re saying with the example of the hospital, it puts your food, your product in the hands of those who are working there.

Betsy Hamm

Justin Ulrich
Even though they’re not purchasing, they’re getting a taste of it, and they’re going to come back for more.

Betsy Hamm
Absolutely, yeah. And we strongly encourage our franchisees when their shops opening for the first time in a market that they should be trying to hand out as many, whether it’s a half a dozen or two donuts or whatever, just dropping them off at all those businesses. 

Because if people are obviously in the area, they might stop by if that employee knows, like, “Oh, yeah, I had one of those donuts. They’re really good.” It definitely helps with that word-of-mouth. I mean, word-of-mouth has been around forever. It’s never going away.

And of course, amplification of those reviews and social media and everything. It just makes it more important. So somebody takes picture of themselves eating this amazing donut from this new donut shop. I mean, that’s great. Obviously marketing. 

Justin Ulrich
For sure. What would you suggest if someone has a location that they’re maybe struggling to drive business or drive revenue, drive traffic, any sort of goal, what would you suggest they could do? Maybe this week or today even. And it can be very tactical just to start moving in the right direction and get some positive momentum.

Betsy Hamm
I think the biggest thing is knowing your market and what’s around you so and what you think your niche could be. And of course, most of the time, people live where their business is, so they might think they know. 

But literally driving around your location and understanding what’s there. So whether it’s the car dealerships or realizing you have a ton of churches or schools, maybe there’s a big office building. I think it’s just driving around, literally, and looking at what’s around you and then coming back and prioritizing, “Okay, I know there’s so many churches or schools or office buildings” and just prioritizing who you’re going to try to connect with and then having some kind of marketing material. 

And if you have product that you can drop off, then just start making those drop offs and you might do it once and you might not get anything. And I think that’s the hard part about those grassroots marketing is people think, well, I did that once. I dropped stuff off and I didn’t get anything. Okay, well, it takes more than one time, a lot of time, or it takes a bit more of an engaging relationship, but just really trying to prioritize that you’re going to drop off x number of, in our case, donuts, a week and try to make x number of relationships. 

And there’s local organizations that sometimes can make that more impactful, whether it’s a chamber of commerce or some kind of business networking. There’s so many of those groups, and some of them are fabulous. Some of them, of course, aren’t. But if you can find some of those local business groups that maybe you sponsor the lunch or you provide the donuts. 

Again, it just is that relationship piece, and it takes time, and it isn’t a once and done thing, which I think is what sometimes owners get a little discouraged on, is I did it once, it didn’t work. Well, we got to keep doing it a couple of times and finding those right people.

Justin Ulrich
Yeah, I agree. That’s definitely. I think just from the marketing standpoint, a lot of times you just have to be patient. You have to try something, try it a couple of times, wait, give it enough time to actually get results that are significant. You can’t say they’re statistical significance in some of these things because you don’t have a lot of numbers. But it’s like you got to give it some time for it to work through.

Betsy Hamm
Absolutely. And it’s like Marketing 101. Right. We all learned about reach and frequency. That’s how we used to buy TV and radio back in the day. It was all about reach and frequency. And the reality is, that’s still true. It’s just that the outlets are different. 

And even with the grassroots marketing, how many people are you reaching? How often have you reached them just to be able to become top of mind with customers or those businesses?

Justin Ulrich
Yeah, for sure. Do you have anyone that you think is doing something really awesome or they’re doing local marketing really well that you want to give a shout out to?

Betsy Hamm
It’s kind of funny because I spend a lot of time in high school gyms because my daughter plays volleyball and it’s high school volleyball season. So when thinking about that, I can’t help but think all the time I’ve been spending in gyms is that Chick fil A partners with every high school that I’ve been into in the last however many months. 

And Chick fil A is huge. They have huge marketing budgets and they have huge brand awareness. Who doesn’t know Chick fil A? They have all the big, you know, TV online commercials that I could only dream of having budgets for. But despite all that, they’re still involved on the local level. 

So they’re doing the deals with the concession stands where they sell their chicken sandwiches for X number of dollars to the schools and reselling them for a profit. So it’s every location I’ve been into, every school, there’s a Chick Fil A presence, which I just find pretty amazing considering how big they are. They still know it’s really important to be involved in that community level as well.

Justin Ulrich
Yeah, that’s true. We had, again, our guest that was recent, Scot Turner. He talks about Chick fil A and how they develop just like raving fans. They really do have a solid following. And it’s like you said, it’s the commercial it’s, every touch point, the commercials, the food’s great, they’re everywhere. You see them everywhere you go. 

When I lived in Colorado, we had a location, a Chick fil A location that the lines were so backed up they had to open another second location just across the highway, basically. So it was like a quarter mile apart for two locations, and they were always packed.

Betsy Hamm
There’s lines all the time. And ironically, on the way home from a volleyball game last night, we stopped Chick fil A at like 09:00 at night, and the drive thru line, double drive-through all the way around the building. I’m like, it’s nine. Like, what’s happening? It’s amazing. 

But you have that consistent experience, right? Like the person who order was so friendly. You got your order pretty quickly, so it’s very reliable and consistent, which is why people continue to go back, you know what you’re going to get, and they continue to provide that great product and the great experience.

Justin Ulrich
Yeah. Maybe you should do a collaboration. Get a chicken patty between two donuts. Are you kidding me?

Betsy Hamm
I’m in. I’m totally in for that. Chick Fil A, call me.

Justin Ulrich
Yeah, we’re after you, we’re on to you Chick Fil A. Awesome. No, that was a great call out. One thing that you did mention was that you’re constantly in the gym for your daughter’s basketball games. You also like to do a little bit of yoga to help keep you sane, as I understand.

Betsy Hamm
Absolutely, yes.

Justin Ulrich
And I also understand that you like to travel. So I got an image of you on the beach in Mexico, which a little duck told me you like to go to Mexico.

Betsy Hamm
Oh my god that’s hilarious.

Justin Ulrich
And I figured I’d put a picture of you or someone somewhat resembling you on Ollie’s older brother. But yeah.

Betsy Hamm
That’s awesome. 

Justin Ulrich
Anyways, we like to do a little AI image for people, and it’s hit or miss. Sometimes you can get a pretty good one, but sometimes it’s just impossible. So we’ll look for the update on your main homepage for this to be the main hero image soon. 

Oh, man. Well, hey, Betsy, it was a ton of fun having you on, but before I let you go, how can fans follow you? How can they follow your brand?

Betsy Hamm
Yeah, so check us out on duckdonuts.com for website. We’re on all social media platforms. Follow Duck Donuts and you can find me on LinkedIn.

Justin Ulrich
Very cool. Yeah. Follow Betsy. Follow her brand. There’s really good content. Not only is it delicious looking food, but there’s also really touching content. I noticed there’s some Make-A-Wish content and stuff. And I saw a letter from one of your fans that was just like, thanking you for giving them such awesome donuts. I think the child’s parents wanted them for their anniversary or something.

Betsy Hamm
Yeah, it was so cute. Yeah, but hearing it from kids, how much they love your product, that they took enough of time to write a note to you is pretty cool. And I should mention, I can’t even tell you how many weddings we get invitations to here in the corporate office of people just because they love the brand. I don’t know if they’re inviting Ollie. I don’t know, but we’re getting the duck. We get lots of wedding invitations and really sweet cards from kids. 

That just puts it in perspective of that’s why we do what we it’s it’s that I talk about the sprinkle happiness. And it’s true. People are so happy when they get to eat a Duck Donut. So just sometimes we get so busy with the grind of just running operations and supporting the franchisees, but when you take a step back and realize what you’re doing it for and how it makes people feel, it’s pretty very cool. 

Justin Ulrich
No very cool. Very cool. Well, that does it for today, Betsy. Again, ton of fun having you on. If you’re not following, Duck Donuts. If you’re not following Betsy, give them a follow. Stop into Duck Donuts. Get a maple bacon donut, get a dozen of them, and you will call me thanking me. All right. Well, thanks, Betsy. Thank you for joining us in the lab.

As always, thanks for joining us in the local marketing lab. This podcast was sponsored by Evocalize. To learn more about how Evocalize can help you grow your business, visit evocalize.com

If you learned something from today’s episode, don’t forget to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform and follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook at evocalize. That’s Evocalize and on X at Evocalize. 

And remember, keep innovating and testing new things. You’ll never know what connects with your customers best unless you try. Until next time. Thanks for listening.

Betsy Hamm

CEO of Duck Donuts

Meet Betsy Hamm

Our guest for today’s episode is none other than Betsy Hamm, a true powerhouse in the world of hospitality and restaurant marketing. With a career spanning over 22 years, Betsy has climbed the ladder from marketing to operations, ultimately landing the role of CEO at Duck Donuts. Juggling her roles as a part-time runner, a part-time yoga pro, and a full-time busy mom, Betsy has managed to bring her expertise and passion to the forefront of the Duck Donuts brand.

With a vision to expand the brand nationally, Betsy has been instrumental in creating a marketing strategy that not only engages the local communities but also sparks genuine excitement and connection.

Host of the Local Marketing Lab podcast, Justin Ulrich - Headshot

Justin Ulrich

VP of Marketing at Evocalize

Meet the host

Justin is a seasoned marketing leader known for his creative expertise and innovative go-to-market strategies. With vast experience spanning both B2B and B2C landscapes, Justin has made his mark across a spectrum of industries including software, POS, restaurant, real estate, franchise, home services, telecom, and more.

Justin’s career is steeped in transformative strategies and impactful initiatives. With specialties ranging from channel marketing and brand management to demand generation, his strategic vision and execution have consistently translated into tangible results.

Recent episodes

< All episodes

Empower your franchisees.
Drive real local results.

Not every franchisee on your team is a marketing pro — yet.
Let’s change that. Reach out, and we’ll show you how!