Welcome Wagon expands Advertising: The 68-year-old in-home advertising service is on the move in several Maryland counties.

June 17, 1996|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Dressed smartly in a yellow and navy-checked blazer and matching skirt, Jan Petrides deftly hikes up a steep, muddied hill in a new housing development in Woodbine. Her destination is a stately, just-built home at the top of a wooded lot.

"We go through anything," Petrides says as she checks her flower-festooned wicker basket and prepares to meet the Jones family. "I always have three pairs of shoes in my car."

A good Welcome Wagon representative is always prepared.

The 68-year-old company -- known for welcoming new residents to town with a brimming basket of key chains, pens, refrigerator magnets and other gifts from local businesses seeking new customers -- is making a comeback in the Maryland suburbs.

With Florida, Texas and other fast-growing regions, Welcome Wagon is expanding its presence in Howard, Carroll, Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Company officials hope to increase the number of sales representatives serving the area from 25 to 120 by the end of the year.

"There are 7,000 new movers coming into these counties each month we go where the growth is," said Scott Shapiro, a Welcome Wagon spokesman.

Within a few months, the company plans to have representatives in several high-growth areas in Howard and Carroll counties, including Clarksville, North Laurel, Eldersburg, Taneytown, Finksburg and Hampstead.

Welcome Wagon's expansion in Maryland is part of a nationwide campaign to bring a higher profile to the company, which bills itself as "a unique in-home greeting and advertising service."

Connecticut-based CUC International, a $1.4-billion-a-year membership services company, acquired Welcome Wagon for $20 million in 1995. CUC officials say they plan to dispatch 3,000 Welcome Wagon representatives to visit 750,000 homes across the country this year and expect to generate $25 million in revenue.

A large part of Welcome Wagon's appeal comes because it generally is perceived as a volunteer organization dedicated to the old-fashioned art of being neighborly. In fact, the company is selling those friendly visits to advertisers who value the one-on-one sales pitch and pay $2 to $3 a visit to be included in the Welcome Wagon basket.

"It's hard for people to believe that we're a profit-making company because our representatives are very warm and neighborly and truly want to help people," said Susan E. Gross, Welcome Wagon's national vice president for sales.

Petrides, 55, who became a Welcome Wagon representative two months ago, takes the company's neighborly advertising pitch to new residents -- also called movers -- and to pregnant women and newly engaged couples in the Mount Airy, Woodbine and Glenwood communities in Howard and Carroll counties.

Welcome home

She arrived at the home of Diane and David Jones last week in Woodbine's Village Green Estates, bearing a basket full of brochures about the local parks, library and post office and gifts from merchants eager for the business of newcomers.

Sitting comfortably in the den of her new home, Diane Jones listened to Petrides' sales pitches for more than 20 area businesses.

"They're part of your Welcome Basket and hope you're happy and comfortable in Mount Airy and Woodbine," she told Jones. With the free gifts, her presentation included personal asides about the various merchants.

"When I want a fresh ham they fix it exactly the way I want it," Petrides said of Wagner Brothers Mount Airy Locker Co. And she noted that Anne Dorsey of the Whistlestop bookstore "will go to the ends of the earth to get a book for you."

By the time Petrides had concluded her half-hour talk, Jones had four pens, two refrigerator magnets, two key chains, a ruler, a letter opener and coupons from local businesses for an aerobics class, a hanging flower basket, a pound of ground beef, a thermometer and a quart of motor oil -- all free.

"It's a minicommercial in a sense, but she gives you information you specifically ask for," said Jones, who moved to Woodbine from Montgomery County in April. "It's sort of a lifeline. When you're in a new community you're at your wits' end trying to find resources."

Before going on home visits, all Welcome Wagon representatives are required to complete a two-day training course and assemble a basket of sponsors. A typical basket includes businesses and services needed by most suburban families -- the video store, the pizza place, a beauty salon, the local pediatrician, dentist and veterinarian.

New customers

Jennifer Dougherty, owner of Jennifer's Restaurant in Frederick, said between 15 and 20 new customers have become regulars over the past six months after visiting with Welcome Wagon's Frederick representative, Gerri Puhl.

She said Welcome Wagon has worked well for her business because many residents moving into new developments surrounding Frederick tend to patronize suburban malls instead of downtown merchants.

Debbie King, who owns the Miracles on Main Street hair salon in Mount Airy and is included in Petrides' basket, said that 10 people have redeemed their coupons for free shampoo at her shop and at least five have returned to have their hair done.

Knocking on doors

Local Welcome Wagon representatives try to visit between 30 and 40 homes each month, typically earning $10,000 to $40,000 a year. They scan the newspapers for real estate transfer listings and birth announcements looking for potential customers. They also put in a lot of time knocking on doors and keeping tabs on house construction.

"When you find a house with no grass, you know that's a new house," Petrides said.

Pub Date: 6/17/96

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