Social Media Marketing Strategies in Times of Uncertainty
By Chris Jensen
If hardware retailers have learned one key lesson during the pandemic, it is the importance of having a strong social media presence for their business. During the COVID-19 crisis, retailers have relied on social media to keep customers informed about changing hours, new shopping protocols, the availability of curbside service and the arrival of in-demand items like cleaning supplies and masks.
They are adopting best practices for social media use that will undoubtedly continue after retail life returns to the new state of normal.
Read on to discover the social media marketing strategies of two high-performance retailers: David Strano, co-owner of Ambridge Do it Best Home Center in Ambridge, Pa.; and Samantha Post, marketing manager for family-owned T&M Hardware and Rental, with six Do it Best stores in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Keeping Customers Informed
Post acknowledges their social media presence was higher than ever during the lockdown. “Facebook is the fastest way to frequently update our customers and communities about essential products. We quickly shifted from promoting sales to communicating about stock status, business operations and emergency preparedness, along with videos on trends and light-hearted hardware-related posts. If we didn’t have the exact product customers asked for, we could quickly show them alternative products via Facebook.”
She notes that her hometown is where their original store was, and she now lives where their two newest stores are located. “I’m friends with tons of people on my personal Facebook page. I started talking and doing videos on my personal page, and I started to see that my friends and classmates were sharing my posts,” she says.
Post would share some information on their business page, but that has to reach across six stores. “I was documenting everything that was going on with the business and started talking about trends, urging people to please stay home and here’s what essential merchandise really means. It was just much more personal than my typical posts,” she points out.
Now that things are settling down a little she gets posts of gratification. “Our customers share great feedback. I was tagging businesses and it prompted people to check us out. We’re getting rave reviews. Had a lot of people say ‘I’m going to support you more now because I love what you’re doing.’ We now have a deeper personal bond with customers,” Post says.
As things started to reopen, Post upped the engagement level. “Humorous posts got people talking more. My community rallied around us. People sent meals from local restaurants to our staff. Now customers are bypassing the website and phone and going straight to me and other employees on Facebook Messenger,” she says.
Post believes this has changed how she approaches social media going forward. “Initially, I didn’t feel right hopping on the company page and speaking from the heart, because I don’t feel I have the same relationship in other communities. But all I was talking about was company business. I’m going to be transparent now,” she points out.
Admitting they were initially ill-prepared for curbside pickup, Post says they have turned into personal shoppers now. “We filled up our cars and dropped off products to people. Everybody would express their gratitude by posting pictures showing us pulling up with our mask on. People are posting a lot of pictures of completed projects,” she notes.
Their stores are definitely picking up more sales as a direct result of social media. “You’re dead in the water without the megaphone you can have on social media,” Post says.
She points out that they have waiting lists for customers wanting in-demand items such as cleaning supplies. In early March, they were able to secure a large emergency order of BactroKill, which is a locally made cleaning product. Post shared a picture showing a car filled with it, so their customers knew it was about to arrive in all their stores.
“I believe that our social media marketing was a game changer for us during this pandemic,” says Post. “By being proactive, we got our name out in front of new and current customers and let them know we had what they needed. We showed them what their ‘small’ hardware store is capable of, how convenient and easy we are to do business with, and just how much we care about our community. I believe that our efforts during this time will provide a huge return on investment going forward.”
Strano, a longtime champion of social media, has relied on it heavily during the pandemic. “We needed to inform customers of the changes for in-store shopping, adjusted hours, and delivery and curbside services,” he says.
He adds, “Any time toilet paper, hand sanitizer or Lysol wipes came in and we posted about it, people arrived within 10 minutes. We called it ‘the storm.’ Posts about face masks skyrocketed everywhere when they got shared, too. We took pre-orders on 40,000 masks, and 90 percent of those came in through Facebook and Instagram. Local followers shared those posts, and that’s how we helped folks in other parts of the country find masks.”
He doesn’t like to overwhelm people, posting just once a day on Facebook and Instagram, but those posts are more frequently about the pandemic. “I’ve learned a lot in this whole process. I’m only posting about essential items—Yeti is not an essential item. Also, you have to be careful what you post. With two posts some people thought we were price gouging on masks and toilet paper, so we had to explain how much extra it was costing us,” he points out.
Last December, Ambridge Do it Best Home Center had 8,290 followers on Facebook and they have 10,570 today, so they have picked up well over 2,000 new followers. “We have really built up our audience and we’ve received a lot of feedback,” Strano says. “We let them know we’re a family-run business.”
Since starting with social media 10 years ago, it has become Strano’s number one priority most days. “You have to take it seriously and have to keep people remembering you every day,” he points out.
Operating during the pandemic has been very stressful, but Strano says they have definitely picked up new customers due to their social media presence. “Once a month, I type up what I want to advertise. There are some things that pop up, like getting in a shipment of baby pools. When it comes to social media, be clear to customers. If things are changing, let them know. With our social media posts, we’re sending a clear message about who we are as a business and what expectations should be,” he says.
Ambridge Do it Best Home Center is always thinking of fun and creative ways to engage customers with the new offerings in their store. They recently created a short video with some puppet friends to show everyone their expanded selection of Melissa and Doug toys. As Strano explains, “My assistant Terry is very high on the Melissa and Doug toy line, so she and another employee, Melissa, did it all. People thought it was cute and some came in specifically to buy those puppets.” Click here to watch the video on their Facebook page.
Another recent success was shared heavily on social media. “We were going to do free pictures with the Easter Bunny, so we had to pivot and have parents or grandparents submit names and something special about the child,” Strano says. “We did personalized video messages to each one with Melissa in a bunny costume, which were emailed to the parent or grandparent. We did over 250 videos and it gave us a great perception that we’re community oriented.”
Sales are up 50 percent during the pandemic, which is a blessing in disguise. More importantly, Strano has reinforced his belief in the power of social media. “It makes me feel good, because it lets me know that what we’re doing works, and we’ve received tons of letters and emails thanking us for helping our community. I know that social media marketing is going to help us gain customers for years to come.”
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