Could email help one of America’s great cities get back on its feet? That might sound crazy—until you hear what Andy Didorosi is up to with The Detroit Bus Company.
So far, the 21st century has not been too kind to Detroit. The city’s already-declining population was decimated by the 2008 financial crisis, leading to widespread unemployment and urban decay. For a while, it seemed like a proposed light rail system would revive the city by connecting its blighted downtown and more populous outskirts. But those plans stalled out just as budget cuts hit the existing transit system. That’s when Didorosi, a local entrepreneur and transportation enthusiast, took one of the Motor City’s problems into his own hands.
In 2012, The Detroit Bus Company launched a fleet of 4 wildly painted, biofuel-powered buses that Detroiters can charter for company outings, wedding parties, nights on the town, and more. The DBC also offers guided tours of the city—some focused on history, others on booze. And beginning with the 2013-14 school year, they’re contributing to the community through their Youth Transit Alliance, which gives kids in underserved neighborhoods free rides to after-school programs.
“We’re a social enterprise that provides free or low-cost rides to folks in the city of Detroit and we make that happen by offering bus rentals and great tours,” Andy says. “It’s a little bit like TOMS, but with buses.”
As the self-described “low-profit” DBC has grown, it’s become more and more important for the company to stay in touch with its riders, drivers, and supporters. And Didorosi—who handles all of the company’s email marketing and social media himself—has found MailChimp to be just the ticket.
“Email is totally the underdog right now. Everybody is focusing on Facebook while email is this quiet little monster of marketing,” he says. “We send our thoughtful letters to our fans and supporters, and a good majority of them respond in-kind with their own thoughts.”
In recent campaigns, The Detroit Bus Company has shared its year-end report, launched a transit survey, and kicked off a major fundraiser. Recently, Didorosi also began experimenting with MailChimp Snap to send on-the-go, photo-based updates—a perfect fit for a guy who’s literally on-the-go.
“We started sending out historic and current photos of Detroit—whatever sparked our interest,” Andy says. “We’ve gotten a landslide of emails back from folks saying they think it’s a great idea. It’s a little bit of joy in their daily email check-up that makes all the difference.”
But of course, email isn’t a one-way street. Sometimes the DBC needs to call upon its supporters—the folks they’ve been working so hard to delight—to help them in a big way. Like this February, when they launched a fundraising campaign to keep the Youth Transit Alliance on the road. (When we published this blog post, the fundraiser had 7 days left and $2,203 left to go.)
“There’s no other way we can touch 5,000-plus people in an instant than with our email newsletter,” Andy says. “We’re careful not to hit people too much, but since we’ve curated a great list of folks we have a high participation rate. If anything, I want to make it better and better content so we can elate our people even more.”
Giving rides and delivering joy to a city in need of both? We’re on board with that.