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Buyer beware: Hastings woman says her business was the target of a marketing scam

Brenda Koch has a word of warning to business owners in the Hastings area: When it comes to marketing your business, don't pay up front.

Koch and Randy Brady operate Safer Roads Driving School in Hastings and Woodbury. They were contacted by a man from Eden Prairie who sat down with them in their office and explained some marketing options to them. The man was paid up front.

Now, Koch believes she was scammed by that man, who works with Florida-based Student Relations, Inc.

Koch says she didn't get what she was promised, and she wants other businesses to know that people like this are out there.

It all started for Koch and Brady in early November, when they were contacted by a man who said he could deliver flyers to local high schools for them. The flyers would get to the school as part of a packet of information. Since their driving school is often frequented by youths, it seemed a perfect fit.

Koch talked to the general manager of the business, and she reviewed their website.

"It seemed very reputable," she said. "Indeed, it was not."

Koch said the man promised her the product would be delivered to the schools in December, but when she hadn't seen anything by Christmas, she got concerned and tried getting in touch with the man. While he was very eager to talk with her to set up the initial purchase, that all changed in December and she could no longer get in touch with him.

Koch started calling area schools and learned they knew of no such business. They knew of no marketing packet, either.

The Better Business Bureau gives Student Relations a B+ rating. Fourteen complaints have been filed against the business, but the company's response to those complaints has helped raise their rating. Student Relations is not accredited by the BBB.

A search on Google for "Student Relations, Inc." turns up many unflattering reviews of the firm.

They have also apparently begun marketing themselves under a new name, TCB Sports Marketing Group. They sell calendars for sports teams and put together drug and alcohol prevention folders that they say "can be seen in schools and communities across the nation."

All this information comes too late for Koch, but they're not letting the setback stop them from growing their business.

"It's been a tough recovery, but we're making a comeback," she said.

Koch has since learned of another Woodbury business that was hit by the same firm.

"It's definitely been a learning experience," she said. "We've decided to do our own marketing. Trust is going to have to be something that is re-established."

Koch declined to say how much money she lost in the ordeal.