While a fly-fishing tour-operator might know the best place to catch the big fish, they may get a little lost in the complexities of digital marketing. That’s where a new software company based out of Missoula aims to provide guidance, helping tour-operators and guides find new clients they need to grow their businesses.
With the arrival of spring, business is picking up for Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop in downtown Missoula. Several customers look up at the waders lining the walls, while others get some advice on fly rods. Grizzly Hackle also offers guided fishing tours.
Shop owner Brendan Bannigan says that in the past, "we were relying mostly on repeat customers and whatever we could use off of our website and attract people and hope that we would get call-ins."
In 2016, Montana received 12 million visitors, supporting over 50,000 jobs and generating $4.8 billion in outputs. As travel reservations continue to move more online and to mobile, small-to-medium sized outfitters and guides are looking for affordable and effective marketing to attract new clients.
“Our mission is to grow but to grow in a sustainable rate," says Bannigan. "I think the software that we’re using is going to allow us to expand our network in terms of reaching a broader audience and finding new customers. To us it’s really important. We have a great return clientele, but we want to start picking up new clients."
That software Bannigan mentions is called TOMIS.
"TOMIS stands for Tour Operator Marketing Intelligence Software," says Evan Tipton, a University of Montana graduate student who developed TOMIS. "TOMIS is your personal digital marketing assistant. It tells you what to do and when to do it."
TOMIS just won first place in the Montana Small Business Development Center Shark Tank competition.
It’s designed for small-to-mid sized outfitters and guides in Montana and around the world. Tipton developed it because he says the marketing software available was either too expensive or too complex for this clientele.
"So we said, ‘hey, let’s make it simple," Tipton says. "Let’s make this work for a very focused, kind of niched-set of businesses. We started building in about November."
Basically, TOMIS will take all of a businesses marketing and sales data and aggregate it into one place. It will provide notifications like 'your website server just went down' or suggest an e-mail campaign. It can even predict how much revenue a business will generate if it sends out a targeted social media add at a specific time of day.
Brendan Bannigan over at the Grizzly Hackle isn’t using all of these services yet, but he says, "they are helping us with building strategy and targeting those SEO search words that are so important for us like 'Bitterroot River' and 'Clark Fork' and 'Montana fly fishing'.”
Those SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, words make it easier for Grizzly Hackle to pop up when someone does a search on the internet.
"When people in Dallas, TX, or New York are searching for somewhere to fish in Montana, they’re making us relevant," says Banngian.
After the people at TOMIS helped Grizzly Hackle build its new website, Bannigan says online traffic is up by 40 percent. They’ve also been attracting more clients who discovered Grizzly Hackle through social media and pop-up ads, thanks to this new software.
"I think working with these guys it’s just really dynamic," says Bannigan. "They’re young; they’re eager; they’ve got a great software. And I feel like our shop is very similar to what they have going on. We’re young; we’re eager; we want to grow. And so it’s just been really fun working with them the last couple of years and I’m excited to see where it goes."
TOMIS headquarters is located just down the street from Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop. It used to be an FBI office. But now it’s decked out with couches, a kitchen stocked with healthy snacks, and even a dog.
Tipton worked for a software company in Silicon Valley that helped tour operators and activity providers manage reservations.
Tipton says he learned a lot, but "I’m much more of a mountains person than a Silicon Valley person."
Tipton, who has a bachelor’s degree from UM, is currently finishing up a master’s program in Rural Economic Development focused on tourism. He launched his business last fall and already has 14 employees.
Tipton says he wasn’t planning on starting a marketing agency when he returned to Missoula, but some of the clients he worked with in Silicon Valley, “followed me, that trusted me, and figured I know how to grow your business.”
Right now, Tipton is fine-tuning his business’s services, preparing for its public launch in May. Tipton says he wants TOMIS to hire 32 more people over the next two years. He credits his time at UM with his success, and says he will continue working with the UM Business School to create more ‘dream jobs’ for recent graduates.
"As they say, we will nail it and then scale it," says Tipton.
Learn more about the business plan competition Tipton’s company won.