By Chris Jensen
Bart Raser, president of Carr Hardware, stresses the importance of cause marketing as part of the culture of the business.»
Carr Hardware, which is closing in on a century of operation, includes five stores in Massachusetts and two in Connecticut. The business was bought by the Raser family in 1962 and Bart Raser has followed in the footsteps of his father Marshall as president.
The Do it Best member has become known for its cause marketing and community involvement, which has helped it be named the National Independent Small Business of the Year in 2017 and be voted Best of the Berkshires 23 years in a row.
Raser and Amy Goddard, director of marketing, shared insights into how to find the right balance of being a good community citizen and reinforcing that connection to their customers. At a time when all retailers are working to grow their relevance in a crowded retail arena and build customer loyalty, Carr Hardware has developed a winning formula.
Much of their cause marketing efforts such as bucket sales and round-up campaigns take place in Carr Hardware stores.»
As Raser points out, “It’s about developing an organization that has significant local outreach. We’re integrated fully in the community and it’s a core part of our culture. We’ve always been community oriented since the business was founded in 1928. We have focused on organizations that help with kids, food and shelter, animals and the local economy.”
Adds Goddard, “We make sure we’re involved in different organizations that are important to our employees and are something they’re passionate about.”
With more than 100 total employees, each Carr Hardware location prides itself on offering years of specialty experience. The business supports many organizations including Rotary Club, Pittsfield Economic Redevelopment Commission, multiple Chambers of Commerce, Downtown Pittsfield Association, Boys & Girls Club, Berkshire Humane Society, Volunteer Dogs for the Blind and The Vocational & Technical Scholarship Fund. In addition, employees are encouraged to volunteer in their communities and have served on volunteer fire departments and coached local sports teams.
Raser recommends that retailers engage and involve employees in their cause marketing efforts. “It encourages other folks who would not have got engaged. It’s great for employees and for the organizations they support,” he says. “Sometimes non-profits have a hard time finding volunteers, so our employees help those efforts.”
The team at Carr Hardware is engaged and involved with cause marketing efforts.»
Supporting the Community
In January, Carr Hardware donated $1,221.82 to the Enfield Dog Park and $1,423.25 to Gifts of Love (which distributes goods and services to neighbors in need) as a result of a successful “Round Up with Carr’’ campaign over the holiday season. The original plan to support these organizations with a bucket sale had to be scrapped due to COVID.
Another “Round Up with Carr” campaign in November, with their customers’ help, led to $5,735.35 being donated to the Berkshire Humane Society. “Our friends over at the Berkshire Humane Society do an amazing job for the community and we are thrilled to help them raise funds during these challenging times,” Raser says.
When Carr Hardware was honored as National Independent Small Business of the Year in 2017, they donated the $5,000 cash prize to a park revitalization project in Pittsfield, Mass. Marshall Raser (2nd from right) bought the business in 1962.»
The business has a long relationship supporting the Berkshire Humane Society.»
“It’s always great when customers come through and recognize what you’ve been doing with social media to promote various causes,” adds Goddard. “We’ve been supporting the Humane Society for many years—they’ve been a great partner. All our stores are pet-friendly and we give out dog treats, so that helps build the connection.”
When Carr Hardware won the National Independent Small Business of the Year Award in 2017, it donated the $5,000 cash award to a park revitalization project in Pittsfield, Mass., home to the company’s main branch.
Also in 2017, Carr Hardware provided its customers with a platform to support hurricane relief efforts for those affected by Hurricane Harvey in Houston. “Our community supports us, and we support them. We saw that come full circle with our hurricane relief efforts in Houston,” said Raser. “It’s nice to know we live in a community that appreciates the value and impact of independent small businesses. Shopping local is part of our culture; it’s how we build community.”
Raser adds, “We encourage other folks to get involved, whether it’s employees or people in the community. We keep a database on customers and that can be used to support community actions too. For causes that are important to our employees, we let them know we will use our time, energy and resources to support them. If they are a member of Rotary or coach soccer, we’ll give them support and create hyper local involvement.”
Combining a “Round-up for the Schools” campaign and change collection jars with a company match, Carr Hardware was able to donate more than $8,500 worth of personal protective equipment this past fall to three local school districts. Raser stated, “Our kids and schools need our help more than ever and school safety is paramount. We are thrilled to be in a position to do our part and appreciative of the generosity of our customers who supported our teachers and our students.”
Lee Superintendent Michael Richard commented, “The efforts of Carr Hardware is what distinguishes their stores from others—they truly care about the communities that they serve.”
“The goal during COVID was to reapply our efforts and help those in need. There’s now a bigger percentage of our marketing budget going into these community efforts,” Raser points out. “We raised $20,000 through our various round-up campaigns for targeted local organizations that can really help those in need. We got great feedback from the community, and we received press coverage and a lot of social media coverage.”
Bart Raser and Carr Hardware donated $8,500 of personal protective equipment to three local school districts.»
Spreading Through Social Media
Raser credits Goddard with helping Carr Hardware enter the 21st century with its marketing efforts, noting their approach has changed with the times and is more intentional. “When we engage with an organization that has their own database, it ends up expanding our reach,” he says.
Adds Goddard, “We have a really great mix. We always make sure we’re getting good photos, there’s a special section on our website, we send out press releases, share on social media and then use non-profits’ reach to help get the word out.”
Carr Hardware’s cause marketing strategy is designed to dovetail with their overall social media strategy.
“With our social media we’re trying to dial in customer connections on an emotional level,” Goddard says. “Putting tips and reminders and helpful hints and showing how great our employees are. It’s great to tie in cause marketing and highlight cause marketing.”
Bart Raser and Amy Goddard of Carr Hardware have found a winning formula for building close connections with customers.»
Adds Raser, “It is all about building an emotional connection with customers. We’re trying to build relationships.”
Goddard says it is a hard habit to get into to always take pictures of community involvement and cause marketing efforts, so those can be posted on social media. “Our advice is to take some of those opportunities and get employees involved with what’s going on in the store,” she says.
Carr Hardware has three different Facebook accounts for their stores. There is one for their five stores in the Berkshires, which Goddard manages. Then two others that have their own content but sometimes use centralized content. “What’s great is we encourage employees at each store to share content and know what’s happening in their community. That really helps us connect with all stores,” she says.
Their community outreach was forced to change during the pandemic. “We went to social media very quickly. When the pandemic first hit it was all about the supply chain and when we’re receiving masks,” Raser says. “We worked with a group of local women who made masks when no one had masks. We were sending cars and trucks to get product for folk and got the word out.”Bart Raser, shown here with a customer, learned the value of giving back to the community from his father, Marshall, who bought the business in 1962.»
Raser still remembers a Halloween storm many years ago when they got in a truckload of generators and had to call around to all the stores in the area to tell them they had generators available. “Today, you can spread the word very quickly on social media,” he points out.
Carr Hardware’s long history makes it easier to project credibility with the cause marketing projects it supports. “Because of that history we have a reputation for being a community business that gives back. We have gotten a lot back from our community. It feels good to our customers to support us because we give back.”
Raser and Goddard both say it’s alright for retailers to toot their own horn, while also allowing nonprofits to toot their horn for them. “It’s not bragging, but taking the achievements of the store and getting everyone involved,” Goddard points out.
Ultimately, the success of any cause marketing effort has to come from the top of the company, according to Raser. “It’s all about the culture of the business. My father before me and I have always been involved in the Rotary, various boards, the Chamber of Commerce, hospital, Boys and Girls Club, the Humane Society. By encouraging these organizations to let us know how we can help them we’ve found a way to form a tighter bond to the communities we serve,” he says.
The World’s Worst Do-it-Yourselfers—the Dewitts
Carr Hardware has found a fun and creative way to further build their store identity through a series of humorous videos starring a bumbling husband-wife team called the Dewitts.
“We’ve been doing the Dewitt videos about five years,” Bart Raser says. “They are the brainchild of a previous marketing person with a film background. The actors come up every other year and film a bunch of spots.”
“It’s been fun to attach our name to it and just showcase our stores in a fun way,” says Amy Goddard, marketing director. “The Dewitts are great—they are the worst DIYers.”
She adds, “Bart and I are very active and collaborative with the ideas. We also do a lot of content with store managers so the community will recognize the themes. We use these videos across social media, online, digital, local TV, streaming TV and as in-store videos.”
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