Alaska Flour Company
Delta Junction, Alaska
Alaska Flour Company is the only commercial flour mill in Alaska
Bryce Wrigley has lived in Delta Junction, Alaska, since 1983, when he moved there to start a business raising grain. Over the years, Bryce got used to life in rural Alaska, but one thing that did trouble him was the frequent weather-related food disruptions. “There’s a three-to-five day supply of food on the store shelves here, so any disruption to our supply results in empty shelves,” Bryce said. “That doesn’t bode well for public safety or security — people start wondering where they’ll get food from.” In 2011, Bryce did something about it and shifted his focus to milling barley flour, a secure, easy-to-raise product known for its health benefits. With his son Milo, Bryce established Alaska Flour Co. and began developing different products, like pancake mix, cream of barley cereal, and couscous. Because they were starting a new company in a remote part of Alaska, Bryce and Milo needed to get the word out, both locally and beyond. “We’re disconnected from the majority of our market,” said Milo. “Google has allowed us to make a connection with our market.”
By running ads on YouTube, Alaska Flour Co. has been able to tell its story. “A picture is worth a thousand words, but a one-minute video is worth a billion,” said Milo. YouTube also provides Milo with real-time analytics and audience retention reports, allowing him to optimize the ads on the fly. “If people are only watching to 14 seconds, but you don’t see our logo or product until 17 seconds, then we know to adjust,” he said. “YouTube and Google give us the basis for building a strong ad.” The company’s “eat more barley” hero video has been viewed more than 20,000 times. “That might not seem like a lot, but we’re 350 miles from the largest market in Alaska,” said Milo. “Where else could we reach 20,000 people?”
Inspired by a need to help solve food shortages, Alaska Flour Co. has done that and more. It attributes its tremendous year-over-year growth and surge in brand awareness to its digital ads. “For every dollar we spend on marketing on YouTube, we get $9.50 back in net income,” Milo said. The company pays it forward by donating food items to the community and is heavily involved in sustainable agriculture programs across Alaska. Moving forward, Bryce and Milo hope to explore the export market, but first they want to see their products sold in major retailers in their home state. “A company like ours can provide some stability to the region,” said Milo. “We measure success by how much we invest in our community, how many jobs we create, and how much money we put back into the local economy.”
Great Alaskan Holidays
140 employees during peak season
In Anchorage, where tourism is among a handful of major industries, small businesses are the backbone of the community. Bob Johnson is the director of marketing at Great Alaskan Holidays, an RV rental and sales company that’s been a pillar of hospitality since 1985. Born from humble beginnings, Great Alaskan Holidays started out on a small parking lot by the airport. “You could literally count the number of motorhomes we had on one hand,” Bob recalls. “There was a lot of room for growth.” The company set itself apart from competitors by offering customers everything they could want for a comfortable RV experience, including cookware, linens, sleeping bags, and laundry services. After years of unwavering customer service, two things happened, Bob notes. “First, we outgrew the parking lot. Second, we moved into a state-of-the-art, 27,000-square-foot facility.”
Great Alaskan Holidays began using AdWords, Google’s advertising program, in 2007 and has since seen exponential growth, says Bob. Their fleet now consists of hundreds of units, and during the summer season, they serve approximately 5,000 parties. Bob estimates that 65 percent of Great Alaskan’s business comes through their Google ads. Not only has their volume grown tremendously, their geographic reach has traveled far and wide as well. “About 90 percent of our rental customers are from outside Alaska, stretching from the lower 48 to countries on the other side of the world,” Bob explains. The company also uses Google Analytics to monitor their online performance “literally every day,” he adds. “Analytics is such a priority for us. Not only does it show us where we’re at today, but with it, we can see where we want to go.”
Great Alaskan Holidays is working to combine their online and offline efforts, building outreach ad campaigns on relationships they’ve cultivated with travel agents, visitor bureaus, and neighboring businesses. As a go-to option for locals in need of a quick getaway and one of Alaska’s champions in the tourism industry, they’re proud contributors to the Anchorage community. Their top-notch service and dedication to quality keep people coming back. “A great percentage of our business is repeat customers,” says Bob. For the Great Alaskan team, however, there’s still nothing quite like the first-timers, eager to explore The Last Frontier in a motorhome. “You can see the look on their faces—they’re in awe of all the beauty. I love when people come to our state and are so excited to be here, and that we’re a part of that.”
Majestic Heli Ski
Glacier View, Alaska
Challenges are huge and exciting in the Last Frontier. For guests of Majestic Heli Ski, they involve negotiating pristine snow and steep terrain in the Chugach and Talkeetna Mountains. For owner and pilot Njord Rota, however, the biggest challenge is winning customers in a competitive marketplace—but it isn’t anything the former U.S Army Aviation Officer can’t handle. Since their first season in 2013, Majestic Heli Ski has “more than doubled in guests and revenue,” says General Manager Kari Rowley. And the key tool for their growth? “I spoke with everyone who booked a trip for this week, and every single one of them told me they heard about us through Google,” Kari remarks.
The heli-ski business is highly seasonal, February through May in Alaska, and Majestic Heli Ski accepts only 16 guests at a time. They rely on AdWords, Google’s advertising program, to get the word out and maximize business during the few months of operation that they have. “AdWords is a critical tool for us to reach new customers who are researching a purchasing decision,” Njord says. “Our customers are sophisticated in selecting their options, so it’s important that our product makes it into their decision matrix.” AdWords now delivers about 40 percent of their new visitor sales, and two-thirds of the company's marketing budget goes toward digital advertising. Majestic also uses Google Analytics to better understand their customers and keep the website running efficiently. Through YouTube, they and their satisfied guests share compelling videos of the lodge and skiing experience. And G Suite tools, such as Gmail, Drive, and Docs, keep internal operations running smoothly.
Majestic Heli Ski grows about 20 percent annually. They hope to soon expand their air fleet beyond a single AStar 350B2 helicopter, own rather than lease their lodge, and serve additional visitors—all while maintaining the intimate feel of a boutique experience. Majestic also employs guides in their remote section of Alaska, donates to a youth-empowerment group that teaches underprivileged kids how to ski, and contributes to charity events throughout Alaska and Aspen, Colorado. “There are only small businesses in our community,” Kari says. “As our business grows, it’s important that we all operate as a community and take care of each other. Together, we can make heli skiing better for the world.”
When Big Ray's opened in 1947, founders and veterans Howard Cruver and Glenn Miller were simply trying to sell their surplus U.S. Army gear to hard-working Alaskans who needed it at a price they could afford. Fast forward 70 years, and Big Ray's is a trusted provider of cold-weather, protective, and flame-resistant clothing to outdoor adventurers, electricians, oil workers, and everyone else who makes the Alaskan economy run. Now, as Big Ray's looks to the future, they have their eyes set on another frontier. By leveraging the web and Google tools, they're expanding their business well beyond the Alaskan border.
"Online growth is endless. It's just a matter of finding the right audience," says Big Ray's Director of Marketing Deanna Miller. To keep on growing, Deanna uses AdWords, Google's advertising program, to find that audience and drive sales. "It's been a great tool to bring awareness to our brand, both locally and outside the state of Alaska," she says. "The brands we've promoted on AdWords are the biggest sellers on our site." Big Ray's also uses G Suite tools Gmail, Docs, and Calendar to quickly collaborate, clarify, and confirm large orders to outfit entire utility and oil crews. If it gets done in Alaska, it depends on Big Ray's—and Big Ray's depends on Google.
"We are an Alaskan company that knows what it takes and has the credibility to live and work in Alaska,” Deanna says. Big Ray's now employs 85 people, has five locations in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Kodiak, and is realizing 38 percent annual growth in online revenue. For Deanna, their real success is sharing an independent outdoor lifestyle with the local communities. "Small businesses are very important here. People are still trying to live the American Dream in Alaska," she says. Chances are good that Big Ray's will be outfitting those dreams for a long time to come.