Case Study: Hardware Store Shifts Marketing Mix, Joins the ‘Buy Local’ Movement

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Merchant: Taylor’s Do it Center
Size: 11 stores
Locations: Virginia and North Carolina
Platforms: Facebook, YouTube, Google Analytics
Bottom Line: Local businesses are finding success by joining forces and making it easier for consumers to find independently-owned stores in their communities.

As a family-owned home improvement and maintenance business, Taylor’s Do it Center is never going to be able to compete with corporate heavyweights like Home Depot and Lowe’s. But the company is hoping to turn its locally owned status into an asset, rather than a liability, by partnering with other small businesses and educating consumers on the benefits of buying local.

“[The biggest challenge for us] is competing with the big boxes who have deeper pockets to devote to marketing and advertising. Staying top of mind with a much smaller budget is difficult,” says Tom Townsend, marketing manager at Taylor’s Do it Center.

During a “busy month,” Taylor’s Do it Center might run five or six ads, including one or two color newspaper inserts, TV commercial branding spots, and radio ads, while Townsend says his competitors are running at least four inserts per month and have TV and radio commercial spots running almost continually throughout the year.

“Big boxes spend more in one month than what we have in a budget for a year,” he says.

One of the ways that Taylor’s has been able to combat these challenges is by partnering up with other local businesses. The company joined Independent We Stand, a group of independently owned businesses across the country that work together to educate their communities on the importance of buying local. Independent We Stand also has a Buy Local mobile app that gives consumers a way to find independently-owned businesses in their own communities. Townsend was partly attracted to the organization because of the marketing opportunities it provided.

“It has opened up opportunities for us to participate in some of their advertising and marketing materials. In doing so, it further advanced our brand as an independent locally family owned business,” he says. “Additionally, we have used the statistical research and information they have conducted to show how shopping local and independent businesses helps to better support the local communities for whom they serve.”

Outside of the group, Townsend has focused on shifting his company’s marketing mix to include more digital channels. Although the majority of the company’s advertising is still in print, TV, and radio, Townsend says he’s been integrating more online channels with the use of a Facebook page, monthly emails to subscribers with news and tips, YouTube videos, and digital ads on media partner webpages.

“For a retailer like us, research still shows that printed inserts are still a big draw for customers. However, that is more in keeping with our customer demographics as they are now,” he says. “To reach a new and younger customer base, we are looking to expand with new technological media such as mobile phone marketing.”

With so many options available, Townsend says it becomes a challenge to invest in marketing channels strategically for the best ROI. But based on his research and personal experience, Townsend feels confident in his decision to move from 90% to 70% traditional media, with newer channels like social media making up the other 30% of the company’s marketing and advertising budget.

“I love the low-to-no cost of some of the social media platforms, however I hate trying to keep up with the latest rules or guideline changes, as well as the ever changing landscape of new platforms,” he says. “It is hard to know what is reaching the most people and how effective it actually is in bring in new customers.”

Taylor’s also runs a loyalty program and uses its customer database to send personalized direct mail offers, like cards on customer’s birthdays.

“[The loyalty program] is a good way of rewarding loyal shoppers while encouraging them to continue shopping with us as they build up their rewards,” he says. “It also provides us with a large database of customers and their demographics. This can help with future marketing offers and rewards.”

The loyalty program and direct mail coupons also play an integral role in the way that Townsend gauges the success of his offline campaigns. If a campaign involves running coupons, then he compares the number of coupons redeemed to the number sent out to measure the effectiveness of the campaign. For branding campaigns, he looks at sales during the period when the advertisement was running. Online campaigns can be easier to track, since the platforms provide metrics for Townsend to review.

“Google and Facebook analytics give us a good idea of what customers are looking for, interested in, and responding to. Additionally, there are always responses from posts from our customers,” he says. “These are still new and emerging methods of marketing for us, and we are still learning and looking at the effectiveness of social media.”

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.