The following is part of a continuing series of retailer and contractor forums Floor Trends is doing over the course of the year.
These “roundtable” discussions focus on a specific topic, in this case the numerous ways specialty dealers market themselves. For the story, we interviewed owners, managers and other executives of retail operations around the country. These businesses are of all different shapes and sizes, but in each case the retailer has found certain levels of success in marketing their businesses across the various mediums available—including social media.
For this topic we asked a range of questions, from the different types of marketing forums a dealer uses to what works and doesn’t to how all this has changed in recent years.
The idea of this series is to put forth a set of best practices, and while there are clearly a variety of answers that came from each retailer we encourage readers to pay attention to both the similarities and differences—and more important the reasons given—to give you a better perspective on how these companies handle their marketing compared to how you currently do.
Here’s what they had to say:
• As a specialty retailer, how has your marketing techniques/methods changed over the last five to 10 years?
Josh Ambrose, Eheart Interior Solutions: We have moved away from traditional mediums we relied on 10 years ago—radio, cable TV, newsprint, Yellow Pages. In the last five years we have also quit direct mail and placed [more] emphasis on electronic mediums. (www.eheartdesign.com)
Michele Batye, Dave Griggs Flooring America: It’s a whole new world out there to get in front of your consumer. Ten years ago we could advertise in the Yellow Pages and run traditional television and radio spots to get in front of our consumer, but buying habits have shifted and we have had to shift dollars to upgrading websites, online marketing campaigns, personnel and advertising dollars toward social media.
In the past five years we have been focusing on reviews and building word of mouth reviews through social media.
Cathy Buchanan, Independent Carpet One Floor & Home: Being a member of Carpet One I have the advantage of having a website already in place that I can micromanage. The cost involved in creating a professional and well put together website can be quite costly. And besides that I am a flooring retailer not an IT person; I don’t have the time to manage a website and update pertinent information that the consumer today finds valid.
So today, when the millennials are surfing the web and consumers predetermined their shopping experience based on website I have to be right their in front of them.
I never thought of web advertising 10 years ago and over the past five years Carpet One has incorporated the One Stop Digital program where we can have [assistance] with managing our microsite: Adding content, handling pricing, pictures of our staff to make it more personal, testimonials, a visualizer, TV ads, [events] we’ve been a part of and so much more can be handled for the retailer who isn’t comfortable with Internet advertising or even computers in general. I provide the content and they handle it for me.
I also do pay per click and am able to view the performance. Our lead generation from the website is bringing a number of customers into our store.
Driving traffic is what advertising is all about and I would say this is the one big technique that is a must and is working. I have also invested in a 10 x 20-ft. digital message board that we installed in March 2014. We found immediate results when people came in saying they never knew our store was here. What? We have been in this location since 1989 when we built the store. And people were drawn in with signage about a remnant sale.
We have [a company] to thank for the creative to support our four Carpet One national campaigns.
And then I have changed my TV advertising from cable to broadcast. Always thought it would be too expensive but we have been advertising now for a year on our local NBC affiliate and let’s just say our business is up close to 20%.
Jerry Bush, Stroup Flooring America: What worked 10 years ago is no longer effective. We still do radio but it’s a lot less effective. Direct mail and circulars do not work at all now. These two methods were very popular 10 years ago but have zero affect today.
Gary Cissell, Mill Creek Carpet & Tile: Marketing has become more scientific in the approach. As technology evolves, it becomes more apparent that as retailers we must reinvent our approach to connecting with our customer base.
Peter Goedecke, Goedecke Flooring & Design Center: In the last 10 years we have done consistent TV advertising and this has been very successful. We receive the most comments in regard to TV than any other media. Random people recognize us when we are in public, so we know they are seen.
Of course web media is used, but I feel the pay per click ads are a waste even though we still participate.
Having a good, changing website is the most important.
John Taylor, Taylor Carpet One Floor & Home: We continue to advertise on TV, which is our main source of advertising, but we now also rely on the Internet.
Traditional methods for us like newspaper and radio are not as effective today as they used to be. Also, the Internet was not a factor 10 years ago.
• Has marketing become harder or easier in recent years?
Ambrose: For us, I believe it is easier today. Our market was so fragmented 10 years ago we had to spread our budget so thin across multiple areas to get coverage across our market. Our network TV designated market area (DMA) is so large it was unaffordable. With the web and social media we can effectively reach our customers within our budget.
Batye: The choices for marketing are endless so it is much harder to choose how to spend your marketing budget.
There is a shift even in how consumers are watching television and listening to the radio with more choices: Satellite, TiVo, XM, etc.
Bush: Marketing in today’s market is harder then ever from the past. In the old days, you did newspaper and radio and you reached 90% of your desired market. Today with so many radio options and lack of readership in the newspaper it is very hard to find the right mix.
Cissell: Marketing has become a series of hide-and-seek with our customers. As customers continue to discover new technology and the way they go to market continues to change, it has become harder to keep up.
Goede: Private sales lost their effectiveness for us five to six years ago.
Batye: We still hold two annual private letter sales a year. I think the gig is up on a one-day private sale, as consumers are more savvy and they don’t really think you have targeted just them for the special offer. But by sweeping our best demographics with a letter or postcard for a three- or four-day sale does get us in front of our audience and create some urgency to buy.
Buchanan: I haven’t had a private sale, but I have had events that have brought people into the store. We have had two “Tiger Nights,” where we host past Detroit Tigers for meet-and-greets and autograph signings, and tied in the Tigressa sale during the events.
I have held two wine tasting events as fundraisers that have brought traffic through our doors. This year we advertised on TV and on our message board.
The message board is a definite advantage and I would recommend anyone to make that form of investment.
Bush: We no longer do private sales. Ten years ago private sales went very well and we had a great ROI. Today, if you send out 3,500 pieces, we may get two to four people who respond and that is after we contacted our current and previous customers.
Cissell: We do continue with private sales events and the effectiveness is still good. We spend a lot of energy data mining for our correct customer profile in order to find the most effective way to reach our target market.
Goedecke: No, we do almost no sales except for area rugs a few times a year. We do some promos but we feel they do not help close the sale most of the time.
Taylor: We do try them, but they have changed from a single-day event to a multi-day event. They were certainly more effective 10 years ago and not nearly as effective today.
• What about other special events? Do you hold any, and how do you market them to the community?
Ambrose: We will selectively host wine and cheese parties in our client’s homes upon completion of major projects. The invitation list includes the client’s friends, neighbors and family.
Batye: We do several community events. Whether it be sponsoring a chamber of commerce event or partnering with a non-for-profit.
Usually on these occasions we are paying for the event to get our name out to the community.
Buchanan: The fundraising events I have had were both wine tasting affairs.
The first one was to assist in a local youth orchestra and was publicized through posters, social media and word of mouth. We raised close to $1,500 for the group and wrote maybe $20,000 worth of business.
The second event, which continues to raise money, was publicized through our message board, social media, posters and BNI meetings. We raised over $3,500. But as mentioned, the latest event we advertised on broadcast TV, posters, website and social media, and we joined forces with an athletic clothing company that donated prizes, and it also helped to promote for us.
We had 100 people in a two-hour period and business is still coming in from the event.
Bush: In the last three years we have held several special events promoted through radio, newspaper and TV. The results were less then expected and had a very low ROI.
Cissell: We do limited community events on a market-by-market basis.
Taylor: We have done chamber of commerce and designer events, but they are more targeted.
• Do you tie any of your marketing into any types of national promotions?
Ambrose: Yes, we primarily tie into promotions with Flooring America.
Batye: We try to pair our marketing with the national Flooring America promotions and then add on with our specialties.
Buchanan: All my advertising ties in with my group’s national campaigns. I make sure that everything ties together—TV, message board, social media (Facebook/Twitter) and additional creative is added to our website over and above what Carpet One does.
Bush: We always tie into national promotions through Flooring America, as well as those from Karastan and Stainmaster.
Cissell: We do participate in several national events with some of our key suppliers.
The success of these events is directly proportional to the detail of the plan and the level of execution put forth with each event.
Goedecke: We promote mostly our name and have built a good local brand. Because the business varies so much we have a hard time focusing on just one vendor, but if the co-op money is there we use it all.
Taylor: Yes. One example is Karastan month, [though] we do not find it as effective—mostly because [I feel it] brand awareness has diminished.
We also tie into Carpet One events and find them to be more effective because of better pricing and more exclusive product offerings.
• Do you use social media as a marketing tool? If so, what platforms do you use?
Ambrose: Yes, we take advantage of Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Houzz, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube. We also have a blog that is updated at least twice a month.
Batye: We use them all.
Buchanan: We use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Houzz.
Bush: We have followed Flooring America’s direction in using Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Houzz and Instagram. These social media sites are maintained by Flooring America’s services.
As a part of this, we add local content to these sites such as bath remodels on Houzz, tie local events into our Facebook pages and ask our followers to add content to whatever media they are on. We add content to our Facebook page about our local major league affiliate baseball team.
Cissell: Social media is a great way to connect with our customers. We continue to put additional effort into social media efforts like Facebook, Twitter and other outlets.
Goedecke: We use Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Houzz and Instagram.
Taylor: We use Facebook and Twitter.
• If you do use social media for marketing, how so?
Ambrose: We have had good conversions when we place the same message on all our social media platforms. Every promotion we have gets placed in the specials board on Pinterest. We also place the same message on Instagram, Facebook and Google+.
We take advantage of product specific videos on YouTube. Our YouTube page gets a new video about once a month allowing us to constantly change the featured video to keep viewers coming back.
Batye: Houzz, Instagram, Pinterest and even Facebook are such a great tool to reach consumers with the visualization of our products. Twitter, meanwhile, can [help] create urgency during a promotion.
Bush: One of the biggest things we have done is work with our partners at Web.com to enhance our Google presence so that we have more traffic to our website and our leads have increased greatly. Web.com monitors our web presence and recommends changes to continuously better our web presence.
Cissell: Essentially we utilize Facebook to connect with our customers. We have had some recent success encouraging our customers to post comments on our Facebook site.
Goedecke: We need to work on getting more reviews.
Taylor: We are constantly floating design ideas on the site as well as informational posts. Our hope is to make them think, and then when they need flooring they think of us. It’s hard to track though.
• Are there any other marketing efforts or techniques you want to mention?
Ambrose: Flooring America’s FAST program has been instrumental in giving us content we can modify and use in our marketplace. Flooring America works on creating all the content and images, then allows us to post when and how we feel it will best work in our market.
Batye: The Flooring America team does a wonderful job with its FAST program by feeding to our social media sites and then we supplement the content with local events and happenings.
Many times we will run campaigns on our Facebook page to honor local not-for-profits. This may be through a contest or event.
Buchanan: We place lawn signs on every customer’s yard after each and every installation. We may not know the return on the investment but we are out there everywhere—they are like a billboard in your neighborhood.
Goedecke: We do a welcome wagon campaign for new homeowners, which includes a coupon for a free gallon of paint. These help bring in some new folks in the area.
Taylor: The Internet has made it difficult and traditional media is a big question mark as to if [any of it] works. We keep using them, but how effective they are is, again, hard to track.