We’ve heard about the economic downturn and associated financial crisis far too often in recent months. Everyday, new stimulus packages are being created and handed-out by governments to help ease the burden on business; however, the reality is I’ve only heard of one private investigator ever being a recipient of such benefits (read the story here).
I began incorporating social media in to our marketing campaign in June of this year which allowed me the pleasure to put faces with many people I’ve done business with over the years from the various Yahoo! Groups which most in our industry use. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet, network and expand business relationships with a multitude of professionals from all corners of the world. There’s been one trending theme I’ve seen (especially in the US).: the reality is that many in our industry are struggling.
Not a day goes by where I don’t receive 3-4 messages from colleagues asking me how I market to various demographics and asking for advice on how I`ve set up my social media campaigns, to literally begging and pleading for any work or referrals I have. I don’t hold an economics degree or a marketing degree, nor am I a statistician or a social media guru. I am however privileged to be in a unique niche that allows me a totally different perspective on identifying marketing opportunities which many don`t see. In fact 80% of my business either originates from outside Canada, or is performed for Canadians outside of the country. My niche is a direct result of bridging the gap between Canada and the world in an investigative capacity.
The good news about the recession is that economies overlap, allowing you to capitalize on outside markets you might not know exist right at home. Although I`m using travel relationships between Canadians and the United States as the basis for the article (referred to as “snowflakes” and “snowbirds”), private investigators in other countries, can use similar models. For example, travel relationships between the UK and Spain, Croatia or Bali. Regular travel habits and the migration from colder climates to warmer ones exist all over the world at different times of the year opening numerous new streams of potential clientele.
You may be surprised to know that just below my home Province of Saskatchewan, there were 722,000 overnight visits by Canadians to North Dakota and 650,000 visits to Montana in 2008 according to Statistics Canada . Combined, that`s more visits than the entire population of either state which resulted in close to 400 million dollars in revenue for those two small states and a total of just over 3.5 million nights stayed; an average of approximately 2.5 nights per person.
We refer to these Canadians as “snowflakes”; those who travel just over the border for short periods, like a long weekend getaway or shopping excursion. The same relationship exists between western Canadians who primarily travel to Washington, Idaho and Oregon and eastern Canadians who primarily travel to Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. The same is true for Canadians who reside in the Maritimes and primarily travel to Maine, Vermont and New York. According to National Geographic , 75 percent of Canadians live within 161 kilometres (100 miles) of the U.S. border. This figure alone opens up a myriad of opportunities to US private investigators.
As an example, my office routinely receives inquiries from Americans who have spouses or significant others travelling to Canada for a myriad of reasons (hunting and fishing excursions, trade shows and conventions or to attend sporting events) requesting activity checks and surveillance related to infidelity. Parents request the same services for their children heading to Canada for a weekend getaway or drinking excursions (Canada’s drinking age is 18 compared to 21 in the US) as do insurance companies verifying the validity of claims.
The same market exists for the United States in regards to Canadians travelling south for spring break, gambling excursions, sporting events or even those receiving medical care. Online dating has opened the doors for relationships between border communities; Windsor and Detroit are a perfect example. Business partnerships are common between Americans and Canadians. The potential for background checks and due diligence exist and continue to increase. Fraud is another example, whereas many Canadians (particularly noted recently in the east) run various mail order scams and use a US mailing address in close proximity to the border. Why not set up a reciprocal relationship with a Canadian vendor and market these services locally? Why not advertise to target markets in Canada who are not aware of your services in the United States? This is not about thinking outside the box; rather recognizing the potential value of these markets and capitalizing on them. The high Canadian dollar will continue to increase these trends.
In my eyes, Facebook is an ideal platform for marketing these types of services to “snowflakes” for the simple reason you can focus your marketing campaign by demographic in an extremely cost effective manner, to only those you wish to reach. Facebook uses the personal information of its users and gives you the power to control who see’s your ad by factors such as age, sex, relationship status and location. You can narrow it down further by a number of other criteria for example interest (i.e. travel). Why would you pay to market infidelity services to a 16 year old single girl or a single male? With print, radio or television you don’t have this type of control. Finally you control your budget on a per day bases and have the option of paying per click or per 1000 impressions. I’ve used it both at home and abroad successfully – it works.
On the other side of the same coin, I now turn to those Canadians who escape the long, cold winters and stay for extended periods in the United States. Stays can range from several weeks to several months. According to the United States Embassy, Canadian visitors are generally granted a stay in the U.S. for up to six months at the time of entry without a Visa . The high Canadian dollar is expanding not just the number of Canadians who travel to warmer climates, but the duration of their stay and total number of trips taken annually. Furthermore, Canadians are now purchasing vacation properties as the loonie edges close to par with the US greenback, and property values deminish in US. Travel expenditures from inbound Canadian tourists grew substantially from 2004-2007 (16%, 10%, 5%, and 13% respectively), and are predicted to continue this upward trend as long as the Canadian economy remains robust (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2007) . Although, the US is by far the most popular destination, travel is increasing dramatically between Mexico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic as well which creates the same opportunities for PI’s in those countries. We refer to these travellers as “snowbirds”.
Compare my previous “snowflake” examples of North Dakota and Montana to Florida, our “snowbird” example. In 2008 2.8 million Canadians travelled to Florida resulting in over 3.2 billion dollars being injected into the economy. A major difference is the duration of stay, with over 48 million nights stayed; an average of almost 17 nights per traveller. Vegas for example had over 1 million visits and only 4.9 million nights stayed, while New York had over 3 million visits by Canadians; however, only 8.6 million nights were spent. Do you see the difference? Arizona, Texas & California are also popular “snowbird” destinations for extended stays.
My office receives numerous calls each year from realtors, property managers and landlords looking to screen these long term Canadian tenants. This is an untapped marketing opportunity for US private investigators. Although, I can’t confirm the validity of this statement, one property manager made me aware that their tenancy from December through March is over 85% Canadian. By pre-screening their tenants, their insurance premiums are greatly reduced. I would suggest based on this statement, the savings must outweigh the cost associated with pre-screening their tenants. Have you considered marketing these services? Did you even know they existed?
Many of the “snowbirds” staying in the US for extended periods are older Canadians. Here are just a few other examples of investigative services which can be of value:
- Collision reconstruction and accident investigations: Both the Canadian and US insurance and legal systems run on two completely different parallels. How can you position yourself? Several personal injury attorneys’ already market to Canadians.
- Elder abuse risk management investigations: Provide the families of the elderly peace of mind by assisting in abuse prevention and activity checks as well as electronic monitoring.
- Mortgage and real-estate, due diligence: With the increase of Canadians buying vacation property in the US, risk management services are needed by both the buyer (Canadian) and seller (American). Property and neighbourhood demographic verifications can also be pursued.
- Spring Break Activity Checks: Thousands of young Canadians travel to various parts of the Unites States for Spring break and there is a large market for activity checks, surveillance and monitoring.
The key to meshing these opportunities together is to have a cost effective and timely vendor who can assist between the client you are marketing to, and the information you need on the Canadian subject. You are the gateway and therefore require a Canadian point man for the deliverables I’m discussing. If you already have a good business relationship with a Canadian vendor, discuss your requirements and pricing with them. If you don’t have one, I would be happy to assist you, or refer you to somebody who can based on your requirements. I’m also more than happy to provide you with required releases required for the screening products and services such as criminal records check and credit check to provide to your clients.
The marketing approach here is vast and may be specific to the area of the United States you are located in; I will only touch on a few examples; however, you have the ability to market to both Americans and to Canadians in many reciprocating roles as their gateway. Marketing screening products directly to landlords and property managers is crucial and remains virtually untapped as many aren’t aware of the service or associated benefits. Market your strategic alliance of Canadian contacts to US attorneys’ and insurance companies. Sell them on the fact that you specialize in asset investigations, service of process and witness location in Canada.
Canada has an association called the Canadian Snowbird Association (http://www.snowbirds.org) where many different types of US vendors advertise; from insurance providers to currency exchange services. I’ve already touched on marketing to specific demographics using Facebook. The various state and local tourism associations and their various tourism and community publications are another viable option. Market directly to the local community associations where Canadians reside; why not put on a clinic to the community. The opportunities are endless. In this instance I pass the torch on to you. You know your communities better than I do; however, I can assure you the opportunities exist. Remember, economies overlap; when one door closes another always opens. It’s up to you to identify and capitalize on these opportunities. If you won’t, somebody else will.
J. Ryan Winter is the Managing Director, Acting Privacy Officer and Lead Investigator of Telematics-Online Research & Investigation; a Canadian investigative and intelligence firm headquartered in Regina, SK. He also created and oversees PI Newswire; an international news aggregation service for private investigators, process servers, bail bondsmen, lawyers, law enforcement and other related professionals which delivers over 700 monthly news stories from around the world . He is well known by his online branding of CanadianPI and has over 25,000 followers across various social media platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn & Facebook.