Keizer convenience store turns social media
humor into real world customers

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Keizer Mart’s journey to viral success on social media started with a snorkel, a fishing pole, a shark costume borrowed from Kay’s World of Wigs, a beer island and a dead fish.

“I found a Corona palm tree in storage when I took over the store and I had been complaining about the sea of empty space in front of the coolers. I thought it’d be funny to put a desert island in the middle of that sea,” said owner Ryan Alonzo, who purchased the business in June. “From there it came to mind that it’d be even funnier to make a prop replica of Wilson from the film Castaway for the island.”

By the time he was finished building on the initial idea of an island, Alonzo enlisted a friend, Ronan Baker, and his daughter, Ashley, to help him create spoofs of Castaway, a Katy Perry Superbowl appearance and Discovery Channel’s Shark Week along with some other spur-of-the-moment silliness. The resulting video has been viewed more than 27,000 times on Facebook.

“When I was playing back the video clips I thought it was pretty entertaining. Once I started editing and putting in some audio, I felt like I was onto something. But still, at that point I would have been happy if it just made my friends laugh,” Alonzo said. “It’ll be fun to see how high that number goes.”

Many businesses struggle to navigate marketing in the social media sphere, before Alonzo took over, Keizer Mart was no different. When he purchased the store, the Keizer Mart Facebook page only had 177 followers and its history shows mostly deal-of-the-day type content. He switched tactics trying to find more humorous ways to present the Keizer Mart’s wares and the page has quadrupled its number of fans in five months.

“I run the store from the perspective of a customer more than that of a business owner. I think convenience stores are usually something you pull over at because you happen to be driving by, but we’ve even had a few people contact us online from almost an hour away wanting to bring their kids to come see the store. I really want this store to be a destination that’s worth taking a detour for,” he said.

That approach is evident in how Keizer Mart stocks its shelves and decorates. In addition to beverages of all types and other convenience store fare, visitors can pick up bonnets for their cats, miniature hands to put on fingers, a pair of overalls for liquor bottles and banana-flavored Sigmund Freud candies (don’t read too much into it).

The ice dispenser on the fountain machine sports a picture of rapper and actor Ice Cube and the store contains numerous superhero references, a holdover from Alonzo’s days as a comic book illustrator. The spirit of the shop also influences most of  Alonzo’s advertising in one way or another.

“Advertising is so boring and can be pretty obnoxious to see everywhere I go. My day needs a good laugh more than it needs a row of signs down River Road telling me who sells Red Bull the cheapest,” he said. “I have a sign out front that I should probably use to help sell beer but the thought of it makes me cringe a little. Instead, I just ordered a sign for it that says, ‘You should call your Mom today.’  It’s dumb, but at least it’s so dumb that I’ll laugh when I drive by and see it. And you really should call your Mom today,”

Most of the ideas he pursues to promote the business come on a whim over breakfast. A few hours later he’s on the way to the shop with new signage.

The next big event the store has planned is a celebration of Garbage Pail Kids. On Sunday, Oct. 21, Topps Trading Card artists Shawn Cruz and Floyd Sumner will be hanging out from 2 to 5 p.m.

“There will be some original paintings on display that were used to make Garbage Pail Kid cards, lots of unopened packs for sale going all the way back to 1986, and plenty of other gross goodies,” Alonzo said.

Alonzo is also planning a commercial contest for the local community. Customers and fans will be invited in to make their best Keizer Mart promotional videos with a new line of puppets available in the store or ones of their own making. Even if the videos don’t make the cut, creators will get feedback from two high profile judges: Lacey Mason from the Sesame Street Workshop, and award-winning writer/director/animator Alba Garcia-Rivas, who worked on Celebrity Death Match and recently did a puppet-based project for the Henson family. Check out the Keizer Mart Facebook page for details.

Alonzo’s advice for others trying to find their niche in online promotion is relatively simple, but it requires authenticity above all else.

“[Don’t] get entirely wrapped up in trying to sell products. Sell an experience instead. And when customers come to your business for the experience they’ll walk out the door with your products,” he said.