Case Study: How a Hardware Store Measures Hyperlocal Marketing Success

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ColeMerchant: Cole Hardware
Location: San Francisco, California
Platforms: Cardlytics, Constant Contact, Google Shopping Express, Instaply, QWIQQ
Bottom Line: Retailers want hyperlocal platforms that help build their brands.

From flash sales and local delivery, to social promotions, email marketing, text message customer service, and even print newsletters, Cole Hardware uses it all. The San Francisco hardware store takes a more-is-more approach to hyperlocal marketing. President Rick Karp says he’s inundated with pitches from technology vendors claiming they’ve created the next best thing in digital promotions.

“The people that are cold calling us for digital marketing and advertising, I pretty much ignore, unless they have something new to bring to the table,” Karp says. “Because we are in San Francisco, and we’re kind of the nucleus of the Internet here, we get a lot of people that are developing programs or apps that approach us about experimenting or partnering with them. I always listen to those and try to glean out what might work for us. Most of them are pie in the sky. Some of them fall through. Some of them we get to first base with. But I listen to all of them, because there’s always new ideas.”

Karp employs a team of people to handle Cole Hardware’s online marketing initiatives, and says managing multiple hyperlocal channels involves “less than you would think.”

“We have different people in our business doing different things. We have one person, for example, who generates the quick deals weekly. Another person generates our Flash Friday program. We have another person who does our digital email marketing and newsletter,” Karp says. “It’s a balancing act. We spread it out so that everybody in our business wears a lot of different hats. And we have a marketing coordinator who rides shotgun over everything.”

Cole Hardware works with hyperlocal vendors including Instaply, Cardlytics, Google Shopping Express, and QWIQQ, a social sales tool that merchants can use to sell products on Facebook, Twitter, and email. Karp says he met QWIQQ’s co-founder through a retail association, and that he was impressed with how he could customize the platform to fit his company’s needs.

“I looked at it and said, ‘Yeah, I don’t think this is for us.’ I see what he’s trying to do, but I don’t see the benefit for us,” Karp says. “Then, as I talked to [QWIQQ’s co-founder], I realized we could use this ourselves … we adapted it and made it work.”

The ability to customize a platform is important for Cole Hardware, and it’s something that Karp considers when deciding which vendors to work with.
In determining which hyperlocal channels are most effective, Karp believes some merchants can get overwhelmed by data. He prefers taking a more relaxed approach.

“We do some financial analysis, but we can go broke analyzing stuff. We measure [a platform’s viability] by footsteps that it might be bringing us, or if we feel it’s a good brand builder,” Karp says. “It’s not scientific.”

One of the reasons that Cole Hardware is able to try out so many different hyperlocal solutions is because Karp favors those platforms with low upfront costs. The fewer the associated costs, the more likely Cole Hardware is to use the platform without doing extensive data analysis.

“[With] a third-party provider, it can get expensive. We have to analyze [a platform like Cardlytics] a lot more carefully,” Karp says. “A program like QWIWW doesn’t cost a lot, so we can play with it for a lot longer to determine whether we think it’s a good thing for us. But if it’s got a huge price tag, then we need to be more careful.”

The Takeaway
Hyperlocal vendors can learn a lot from what Karp is saying. The retail veteran is eager to try out new digital marketing platforms, but says it’s important that salespeople focus on the costs and the customization capabilities when making their pitches. He prefers working with vendors that have adaptable platforms, and says he considers hyperlocal channels “brand builders” that help keep his business top of mind among local residents in the Bay Area.

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

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Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.