Nearly two decades ago, John D. Engelbrecht was in an East Coast hotel when he discovered a TV show promoting local restaurants. Engelbrecht, the president of Evansville’s South Central Communications, thought a version of this show would work for his city. When Engelbrecht returned from his trip, he contacted Jim Knauff, a friend and entrepreneur with marketing businesses. The two envisioned a Knauff-hosted Dining Discoveries, an hour-long program with restaurant discounts for viewers.
In the days of dial-up Internet, this TV show was Groupon, the Internet’s nationwide coupon program, before there was a Groupon, says Knauff. Today, Groupon’s business is booming. In November 2011, the company sold $700 million of shares in its initial public offering. That figure made it the largest IPO for a U.S. tech company since Internet search giant Google went public in 2004. The success came from efforts earlier this year when Groupon pressed into smaller markets including Evansville, and yet Dining Discoveries, the show that first aired in 1996, grew.
The traction from national powerhouses boosted public interest in Knauff’s show (Knauff bought out Engelbrecht in 2002), and local restaurateurs wanted to work with a company without so much muscle. “If you look at most small businesses,” Knauff says, “they have a tough time with the major folks who do that because they sell so many of them that it lowers the margins.” This has long been a gripe against Groupon from owners across the nation. In the April issue of Philadelphia magazine, the headline read, “Why Philly Restaurateurs Get Grouchy About Groupon.”
Dining Discoveries sets a per-week limit on the number of discounts sold, and their show on WEHT 25, the ABC affiliate, draws attention to businesses even if a customer misses the offer.
Lynne Finney, the sales director and executive producer of Dining Discoveries, and Knauff recently added “…& More” to the title of the show. The change reflects that the duo offers more than restaurant deals. Discounts on hotels, tourist attractions, and spas are part of the package.
The show pushed into the Louisville market a year ago and switched to the Kentucky city’s Fox affiliate WDRB in November 2011. It’s a different city, but the idea is the same: “People come where people are,” Knauff says, “and all we want to do is help fill in some of the seats that are always vacant. It helps other people see the activity.”