Asuka Boutcher finds herself in a predicament most first-time entrepreneurs spend countless, sleepless nights trying to achieve – she can no longer actively market or advertise her product because she has reached the maximum capacity of customers she and her facility can handle.
Boutcher, known professionally as Azuka Bom, has created a fitness phenomenon in a large community center basement, affectionately referred to as ”The Underground”, in Alexandria, Va. Her product, Kazaxé (pronounced ka-za-shay), is an intense 60-minute dance fitness class that yelp.com reviewers describe as “Zumba on steroids… it becomes an addiction.”
But, Azuka doesn’t have her Yelp ratings memorized. She doesn’t spend hours monitoring the reviews that regularly pop up on the crowd-sourced site. In fact, she doesn’t even have a business account despite the company contacting her several times.
“I was shocked to see how many great reviews people had left on there, without even having to ask,” Azuka said.
LETTING THE CUSTOMERS DO THE TALKING
When it comes to word-of-mouth marketing, Azuka and Kazaxé make the perfect case study. Five years into her business, Azuka has done no paid advertising or marketing.
“We let the customer talk for us.”
And talk they do. Kazaxé has 49 reviews on Yelp with a perfect average rating of 5 stars. Earlier this summer, she reached the maximum number of Facebook friends allowed (5,000) so she launched a business page that already has 2,436 fans. Every update posted to the social network generates “likes” and comments from users.
Her father, Dave Boutcher, stressed the importance of three things that enabled Kazaxé’s positive WOM success: a fantastic product, excellent customer service and incentives.
“Incentives have to be truly free. They can’t be given while expecting something in return,” Dave explained.
To build awareness for Kazaxé in its early days, Azuka offered her students a deal:
bring five new people to class and receive five free classes.
“There was a woman who never paid for classes,” Azuka remarked. “She used to walk around the shopping center, looking for people wearing tennis shoes. She’d go up to them and say, ‘There’s this amazing fitness class you have to try. Just come with me!’”
The goal, according to Azuka, was to get people to try Kazaxé one time. Once they took a class, she knew the product would speak for itself and they’d most likely return. The team believed so strongly in Kazaxé that for more than four years first-time students could take one Kazaxé class free of charge.
The incentives worked. Word spread about the hot, new workout that felt “more like a night out than a fitness class,” and soon the staff at the Underground had to turn students away because they had reached the 435-person building capacity. Now, there are caps for the number of students who can take each class and, rarely, do classes fail to sell out.
Even as I sat talking with Azuka a full hour before her next class, a line had begun snaking its way around the large, open space where Kazaxé is held. The Underground was filled with people of all different races, body types and fitness levels waiting patiently to dance with Azuka and her team.
“I started out before Facebook and Twitter. I only recently started using them,” Azuka noted.
At that, Dave gave his daughter a knowing look. “Sometimes, I think, she uses it a little too much – says things that make me wonder, ‘does she really need to share that?’”
Azuka explained she is an open book online, but she thinks that’s why her customers are so loyal and committed to Kazaxé. They know they are part of a community where they are “seen as people, not just dollar signs.”
Never, she said, does she want to be only promoting Kazaxé and pushing her product on social channels.
“You see so many companies pushing and pushing, but you rarely see actual interaction taking place on their Facebook pages. Where are the conversations?”
Visit Azuka’s Facebook page and you’ll see there is no shortage of genuine conversations taking place. A recent post about how Kazaxé is different than Zumba garnered 28 “likes” and 26 comments, another post showing the effects of cat allergies on her eye received 22 comments.
The balance in the type of posts (a majority of them are not about the product!) and the relatability of her content have allowed Azuka to cultivate a highly engaged community of ambassadors who are constantly spreading the word about Kazaxé and The Underground.
EXCELLING AT CUSTOMER SERVICE
Building the extensive community of fans who actively share positive reviews and stories about Kazaxé would not have happened without remarkable customer service.
“Every day, remember the name of one new student,” Dave shared the advice he gave Azuka when she was first starting.
What started out as a joke has become a philosophy in The Underground, where Kazaxé classes are held 6-days a week.
Even with Kazaxé’s success and increasing number of students, Dave continues stressing the importance of treating customers well, which was demonstrated when he created and distributed customer service handbooks to the entire Underground staff.
“Good businesses are built on relationships,” Dave notes. “Focus on the relationship; build the trust. If your customers trust that you’re taking care of them, they’ll take care of you.”
An integral part of the Kazaxé team’s customer service is ensuring they regularly give back to the community. Each month, Azuka hosts a 2-hour long class called Megaxé and donates all profits from the event to local charities.
“We’ve had people tell us that they looked at other studios and classes, but chose us because of the charity work we do,” Azuka said. “That’s important to me, to all of us. We are big on community, on keeping all of this as human as possible.”
Even surrounded by hundreds of other people, patrons still feel like part of the Kazaxé family. Whether it’s a person’s first class or fiftieth, Azuka makes everyone feel welcome. She gives all students her personal cell phone number, letting them know they can contact her any time with questions.
That sort of personalization is what drives Kazaxé’s success, enhanced with the word-of-mouth customers so freely provide online and offline.
“Whatever you want to do, you have to go into it with an open heart,” Azuka says. “If you want it for the right reasons, if you’re passionate, if you’re being yourself, it will happen. People react well to that.”
For more information about Kazaxé, please visit http://www.azuka-bom.com. Classes take place 6-days a week and only cost $5. (Yes, you read that right – $5…) You can also interact with Azuka on Facebook and Twitter.