Marketing a seasonal business can be tricky. Reach out at the wrong time, and you might as well kiss your marketing dollars goodbye. And only advertising when your competitors do can get you lost in the crowd.

Jack Robertson, owner of Robertson Lawn Care in Springfield, Illinois, has mastered the art of off-season promotion. His annual Thanksgiving pie giveaway has become a much-anticipated community event that keeps his company top-of-mind at a time when landscaping is the last thing on anyone’s mind.

It started 25 years ago when he decided to reward his oldest 100 accounts with a thank-you certificate for a free pie from Baker’s Square at Thanksgiving. Baker’s Square was right around the corner from the Robertson Lawn Care office, and customers were encouraged to stop in and say, “Hi” when they came to pick up their pie. Robertson is a big believer in relationship marketing and the power of a kind gesture to generate customer loyalty. “I want people talking to our staff. I want the relationship from the first day — I want them to know about us, see that we have a building, a staff, people who work here year round.”

It worked. Out of 100 certificates, 78 people picked up a pie, and the majority came in to thank the Robertson staff. “Do something like that, and now you’ve got a good relationship,” Robertson explains. “My objective is not just to gain but to retain customers. We want the ‘hole at the bottom of bag’ (customer loss) to be as tight as it can be so our new customer intake doesn’t have to be as large.”

The promotion was so successful that Robertson decided to turn it into a Community and Customer Appreciation Day, using radio and social media to promote the event. “When people pick up a pie, they don’t have to be a customer or fill anything out. We just ask them to smile. Every 50 pies, we post a picture of that person with the pie. It’s become a huge event in town.”

The pie promotion has grown year by year. Last November, the Robertson staff gave away over 1,000 pumpkin pies in a four-hour period. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun, and it’s been extremely beneficial for us,” says Robertson. “Those pies are going right on the Thanksgiving Day table. You can imagine the attention we’re getting in an off-season period.”

Attention is one thing, but results are another — and the pies deliver. Since starting the promotion, Robertson Lawn Care receives regular calls for estimates in November and December — months that are normally very slow. And, says Robertson, the goodwill and brand recognition the event generates has a positive effect on business all year long.

Don’t be afraid to have a little fun with your marketing. While most companies would never alter their logo, Robertson Lawn Care uses logo variations as attention-getting entertainment throughout the year.