By Chris Jensen
One of the advantages of being small is that independent hardware retailers can operate more nimbly, and that is especially true when it comes to digital marketing.
Read on to learn how two independent hardware/home improvement retailers are learning to unleash the power of digital marketing tools to help them attract new customers and grow their businesses.
Reaching New Heights
Peter and Beth Ballhaussen are relative newcomers to the hardware industry, so they were not stuck on the old ways of marketing when they acquired Town Hardware & General Store in Black Mountain, N.C., back in 2013.
Peter, who has an MBA, previously worked in the telecommunications industry, while Beth had experience as a nurse and a teacher. Peter was downsized from his corporate job in 2012 and wasn’t ready to retire yet, but they discovered an old-fashioned hardware store for sale in the scenic town where they had bought retirement property.
Close to Asheville and the Blue Ridge Parkway in the western part of the state, Black Mountain is surrounded by waterfalls and beautiful mountain vistas, making it a popular tourist destination. The town’s year-round population of 8,000 swells considerably during the summer and fall peak seasons.
Once the Ballhaussens took over ownership of the business, they dove into their new responsibilities running a hardware store that is nearly a century old. The 5,000-square-foot Do it Best store crams a ton of products into a small space spread out over three historic buildings, with 3,000 square feet devoted to hardware and 2,000 square feet devoted to gift and housewares. With squeeky wood floors, tin ceiling and an eclectic assortment, Town Hardware is a tourist destination by itself.
The old method of marketing and promoting a hardware store was to blanket a community with monthly circulars, which were either mailed or inserted in the Sunday newspaper. The biggest benefits to digital marketing are the fact it’s much cheaper and allows for greater targeting of specific people such as customers who shop regularly.
The Ballhaussens subscribe to Do it Best’s Digital Dashboard, a proprietary program that allows them to plan, budget and measure their digital spend with targeted emails, Google search words and Google display ads. The Digital Dashboard provides single-site functionality to retailers like the Ballhaussens who want to utilize multiple digital tools to attract new and existing customers.
“We look at the number of emails read and the number of impressions on Google. We’re getting a 20 to 25 percent open rate on emails, which is pretty good,” says Peter.
He adds, “The challenge is it’s hard to see why a particular customer is coming into the store. We don’t ask how they found us, but I’m sure some customers did use a Google search.”
Town Hardware has adopted the Do it Best Rewards program, which has been paying dividends. “We get a lot of feedback from the loyalty program. It’s good to stay in front of those regular customers, so we send out a weekly email to them,” Peter says.
They surveyed 500 of their best customers about starting a delivery service and got 100 responses. “So, we bought a delivery van in February and started that up just in time for the COVID crisis to hit,” Peter points out.
“We set a marketing budget that is allocated for the year and we’ve increased our digital spend every year,” he adds.
Although they still do some circulars and mailers, they got rid of the hefty charge for the store’s Yellow Pages listing. Town Hardware has a presence on the Explore Asheville and Asheville Chamber of Commerce websites and the Destination Tours site for towns in the Southeast.
Peter makes it a priority to stay on top of their Google Business Listing and he tries to respond every couple of weeks to Google reviews. He says they don’t get many Yelp reviews, which are more prevalent in bigger cities.
He notes that most people have turned to their phones and social networks during the pandemic. “That’s why it’s so important to have a digital presence in order for people to still interact and do business with your store,” he points out.
Although they haven’t boosted the store’s social media presence during the pandemic, they have been proactive on their website. “We added a page for curbside service and for delivery service and also promoted those some on Facebook. We will continue to offer those services after the pandemic ends,” Peter says.
The Ballhaussens had a young staffer who was handling social media activity, but now they are transitioning to someone else while also looking into using a local marketing company.
“We try to be regular posters on Facebook but don’t boost very many Facebook posts. We work through the Digital Dashboard, which does Facebook posts for us on a weekly basis,” Peter says.
In terms of Facebook analytics, Peter looks at how many shares and likes they get and also tracks page views on their website.
Town Hardware’s website offers great promise for future growth. They use Do it Best’s proprietary e-commerce website called MOCE, which they customized to reflect their store brand.
“We were doing e-commerce before and had our own website with a link to the Do it Best site. They offered a new program where it doesn’t say it’s Do it Best, and we transitioned to that last year. We can offer our customers 60,000 items available through the Do it Best warehouse,” Peter explains.
He adds, “We’ve seeing much more activity on the website and have seen a significant increase in orders through the site. We used to have several hundred items on a website and it was hit and miss. Now it’s steady—most are ship-to-store orders, so we can sell them more stuff once them come into the store. We had someone requesting 48 bags of insulation when we don’t even carry that product.”
Peter points out that he was an early adopter of Pointy, which helps turn online searches into in-store sales. “Pointy has been really good for our business. It tracks our POS and features items that are selling in the store,” he says. “We set up a monthly budget with ad spend for Pointy. You can adjust the radius—we do a 10-mile radius.”
In an average month, 50,000 people are seeing their Pointy ads, and 400 to 500 people are searching the store to find out more information, according to Peter. “We get a lot of phone calls from Pointy, like asking if we have canning jars,” he says.
Taking full advantage of search functions is what separates high-performance retailers from underachievers. People often end up shopping where their phone tells them to go. As Peter explains, their Digital Dashboard is focused on “Hardware Stores Near Me” and associated search words. On Pointy, they get a list of different searches that lead to their store such as “Paint Near Me.”
The Ballhaussens are always eager to jump on programs and recommendations to enhance their connectivity to their customers with a focus on reaching customers wherever they are and whenever they are ready to shop.
“I think our digital marketing strategies are helping us attract a younger group of customers,” Peter says. “The younger crowd uses Google searches and they look more on their phones, so we’re using all the tools to make sure they find our store.”
Growing in New Markets
Lee Nabors of Nabors Do it Best Home Center just bought his fourth store in Mississippi—C&D Lumber in Amory—and he knows exactly how to go about growing that new market.
“We will have to be more aggressive with digital marketing, because there is more competition in that market. We will modernize the store and make it more female friendly, then spread the word around,” he says.
Nabors points out that Jackie Strong, his chief operating officer, strongly recommended they go bigger with digital and it’s really made a difference in his business. “When we use the Google tools it’s really effective,” he says.
Nabors subscribes to Do it Best’s Digital Dashboard. “I analyze the metrics, but Jackie also does that. We get so many tools from Do it Best and use them as a promotional asset. During the lawn and garden season, we promote zero-turn mowers and we can see how that pays off,” he explains.
He adds, “Our advertising cost went up tremendously, but it’s because people were calling the store after a Google hit—that’s a good thing. So, our revenue also went up. Digital marketing has exceeded all expectations.”
Overall, since they have leveraged these digital tools, Nabors Do it Best Home Center has seen significant increased activity in website visits and a 40 percent uptick in phone calls coming into their stores.
A closer look at the analytics reveals the effectiveness of their digital marketing strategy. In June of this year, using Google tools, their Houston, Miss., store received:
- 3,985 page views of their current promotions
- 71 directions
- 70 click to call
- 345 website views
They did not activate the Google tools in July and received:
- 87 page views of their current promotions
- 0 directions
- 2 click to call
- 5 website views
“We realize that some of this is due to COVID-10, but even before the outbreak, we experienced more traffic in the months we use the Google tools,” says Strong.
Another powerful tool has been the Do it Best Rewards program, which has been a tremendous hit for the business. “We empowered our cashiers to hand out $5 instant credit for any customer who signs up for the Do it Best Rewards program. We now have over 4,500 Rewards members. That really drives customers to our stores,” Nabors says.
He adds, “We focus a lot of energy into paint. We’re going to get more creative and do more promotions to our best customers. We’ve pretty much abandoned the idea of sending out fliers to everyone—we just send mailers to Rewards members.”
Nabors uses Facebook because that’s something he understands, planning to get more into Instagram and Twitter later on. “We have one person designated to do the social media page at each store. They have a number of items to promote at each store, but they tend to pick items they are most passionate about,” he says.
When it comes to traditional sources of advertising, Nabors feels a sense of responsibility to support local newspapers because there is a local benefit. Although radio and TV are still major players, he believes digital marketing is the wave of the future.
“Advertising is much like fertilizer. If you throw fertilizer on a lawn, you’ll see the fruits of your labor once it rains. I can see which Rewards members have come into the store and bought something,” he points out.
Nabors plans to place more focus on online shopping. “It’s growing more and more. We offer curbside pickup anyway, so we might as well expand what we have to offer them. We can compete with the big boxes and online sites by using these digital marketing tools,” he says.
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