Building A Nostalgic Customer Relationship

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There are only 21 drive in outdoor movie theatres remaining in Ontario, and Pembroke is lucky to have one of them! In fact, the city’s 60 year old Sky Light Drive In was recently saved, when it was brought back to life after sitting idle this summer because the owner was unprepared to make the substantial investment needed to install a new digital projection system.

You can understand the owner’s position. He could no longer access films on 35 millimeter reels, and therefore he had a choice to make. He could either close the Drive In, or spend a lot of money on a digital projector system that would significantly improve the movie watching experience for his customers, and hope it would generate enough business to make the investment worthwhile. He wasn’t willing to take that risk.

Selling the Drive In to someone who would be willing to make that investment wasn’t considered a viable option, until Kevin Marshall and Kathy Lepine, stepped forward and said they were interested. The couple had experience restoring older theatres in both Renfrew and Arnprior, but running a Drive In would be a new experience for both of them.

They assessed the situation, and determined that if they strategically invested in making the experience better for customers and used the right marketing approach, there was a strong business case to buy the facility and turn it into a seven day operation during the peak summer season. Their business plan focused on a business to customer (B2C) sales pitch that celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Drive In, by pulling on the emotional strings of people who had fond memories of taking in a movie at the iconic theatre.

With only a week-and-a-half window from the time they purchased the property to opening night, there wasn’t a lot of time to make a deep connection to prospective customers, and so the new owners turned to social media to spread the word. In a week, they generated more than 2500 likes on their new Facebook page, starting a conversation that captured the nostalgic relationship that many people have with historic structures like Drive Ins, wooden rollercoasters and old ballparks.

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Very quickly there was a buzz in the community and true admiration for the new owners for rescuing the Drive In from the wrecking ball. Opening weekend was a success with hundreds of cars arriving to take in a movie, but moving forward the owners will have to make sure they are listening to their customers.

For example, I was disappointed there wasn’t more engagement on their Facebook site on opening weekend. While the number of likes has grown to almost 4,000 people, there was little posted on the site about how people enjoyed their experience at the Drive In. I thought it was a missed opportunity to keep the dialogue going, and to generate more interest in everything the facility has to offer.


The re-opening of the Sky Light Drive In is a wonderful story, but for it to have a happy ending, the new owners will need to continue to build a customer relationship that will lead to repeat business. They have excelled in generating interest in their business through the use of Facebook, but now the hard work begins. They need to listen attentively, engage and measure what their customers are saying.

Hopefully, they will recognize the power of their Facebook site as a customer relationship tool quickly, and take advantage of other social media platforms to spread the word further. Twitter, blogging, Linked In and other social media outlets will create opportunities for both B2C and B2B (business to business) engagements. If they use social media well, and combine it with other communication tools such as an effective web site, media releases, promotional brochures and paid advertisements, they will have a great story to tell.

After all, it’s not easy to find a Drive In these days, and there are lots of people that will travel to find one because history has a way of reminding us that it feels good to wind back the clock and re-live a cherished experience. Drive Ins truly are a special place.

I’d love to hear about your Drive In experience. Please share.