Building Store Traffic - November 2012
By Sonya Jennings
When customers walk into a retail flooring store, they are usually in the market to buy flooring—not just browsing around and killing time. Many of them have already done some research on the Internet and a few may have even shopped at a home center. The goal for retailers is to attract those ready-to-buy customers to their front door. Online marketing is continuing to grow, targeting customers on the middle and younger end of the age spectrum. Even those stores that may not have a strong presence online today realize it’s time to put more focus in that area to stay current.
Traditional marketing methods like direct mail, radio and television are still working, and, as one retailer pointed out, never underestimate the value of having clean windows, a well-kept building and attractive landscaping. It’s all about creating an experience. We spoke with three retailers who are having success with their current efforts to drive store traffic: JP Flooring in Cincinnati, Ohio, Carpet King/Flooring Expo in Minneapolis/St.Paul, and Macco’s Flooring in Wisconsin and Florida.
DEMOGRAPHICS: WHO IS YOUR TARGET?
When it comes to purchasing flooring, women are still in the driver’s seat. All of the retailers we interviewed are still gearing their messages to women, although the age range varies from retailer to retailer. According to Phil Shrimper of JP Flooring in Cincinnati, Ohio, his target customer is middle to upper income and female. Most of the buying decisions that take place in his store are made by women age 40 and up. Each customer is offered a post-installation survey, and the surveys reveal that people are still shopping at home centers for flooring products. The reason they eventually buy from Shrimper is that JP Flooring employees are better at listening to customer needs and the service beats a home center. Shrimper adds, “What it boils down to is that people really do want to buy from people.”
Steve Brannen of Carpet King/Flooring Expo in Minneapolis targets basically the same demographic. His customers are women 35 and over who own their own homes and have enough wealth to make major design changes. Brannen notes, “Although she may bring her spouse along to the store, he is not driving the process. She is.” Jeff Macco of Macco’s Flooring, with six locations in Wisconsin and one in Ft. Meyers, Florida, sees most of his customers as female homeowners from the ages of 25 to 55 and at no specific income level.
BUILDING TRAFFIC VIA THE INTERNET
Internet marketing is an ever changing aspect of most retailers’ marketing plan. Just a few years ago, if your company had a website, your web presence was basically complete. Today, there are several social media sites that can help drive store traffic, and a lack of participation on these sites can give the impression that your business is behind the times. Macco’s Flooring has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Four Square, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Initially, Macco registered for a class on social media for businesses at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, the local community college in his area. The teacher of the course began by saying, “Whatever the question, Google is the answer, and in 18 months everything that is new now will be old.” While attending the class, he realized how much time and energy needed to be focused on an ever-changing comprehensive social media presence, so he hired the teacher of the course, Todd Lohenry, to manage the social media effort for the company.
One of Macco’s flooring designers creates a weekly blog that is immediately posted to all of the company’s social media sites. The blog features a new design idea each week, for instance, a photo of a new backsplash tile. The goal is to get customers talking online about the photo or idea. Questions such as “Do you like this look?” or “What do you think of this?” are placed in the caption, and customers are encouraged to give their own feedback. The company’s blog author can scan the Internet for photos of current trends and post them straight to the blog, giving photo credit to the original poster and beginning a conversation online with potential customers. Macco is not posting specific sales or specials through social media; rather, he uses it to build his brand and to position the company as flooring design experts with great ideas. On the other hand, Shrimper tells us that it has been effective to advertise a particular special or sale on the company’s Facebook page. In the past, JP Flooring posted a $379 one-room-installed Stainmaster carpet special on Facebook and this did bring in customers, albeit younger and not as affluent.
The next step for Macco’s Internet push was to clean up the company listing on the Internet sites that now take the place of the phone book. Macco discovered that many of the sites like Google Local, Bing and Yahoo had bad information in their listing, like the wrong phone numbers and incorrect map locations. Also, if there were any negative feedback experiences noted by shoppers on local online sites, the company was able to answer those directly to show good faith business practices. Taking a look at Google Analytics, Macco found that buying Google keywords was not an effective marketing strategy for his company. Through this analytics research, he found that consumers were typing in the specific name ‘Macco’s Flooring’ to find the company rather than typing in general search terms. This told him that the customer was already familiar with the store name through traditional marketing means, so buying keywords was not necessary. Macco did note that buying Google keywords might be necessary in a much larger market where the consumer has not necessarily heard of your store.
Another lucrative Internet tool for Macco’s Flooring is the lead generation feature on manufacturers’ websites. For instance, when anyone in the geographical area of a Macco’s store goes onto the Armstrong website, a $500 coupon appears on the screen with the Macco’s logo. This coupon can be used on any Armstrong product at a Macco’s Flooring location. On average, 14 sales per week are made with customers coming into Macco stores showing these types of coupons from manufacturers. Many manufacturers have these programs, and they have proven to be very effective in driving traffic to flooring stores.
LOCAL ADVERTISING STRATEGIES
Shrimper finds radio advertising an effective way to drive store traffic for JP Flooring. In Cincinnati, a locally popular radio host named Jim Scott is a main source of news, traffic and information during the morning drive time on 700 WLW. Scott promotes JP Flooring on air during his 5:00am to 9:00am show. He has been to the store, met the employees and even used JP Flooring to complete flooring projects in his home. Shrimper thinks this is an effective advertising method because Scott has built a level of trust with the community, so when he endorses a particular business, people believe him. He will also promote any store specials that are running at the time. Shrimper says, “Jim talks about his own experience and satisfaction with our company—he also says his wife loves the floors we placed in his home. The level of familiarity between the community and Jim makes it as if the listener is getting a recommendation from a friend.”
Billboards are still an effective means of delivering a message for many retailers. Shrimper uses billboards, and in the past he has tried to promote a certain sale or special on billboards, but now he uses them exclusively for branding. The message is short, sweet and to the point. A recent billboard features a cute dog that has had an ‘accident’ on the carpet. The caption says, “I’m sorry! Call JP Flooring.” Shrimper notes that the message has to be eye-catching and brief. Two billboards rotating around town with a different message every 30 days is the store’s recipe for success. Carpet King also uses billboard advertising, and Brannen sees it as a great way to promote the grand opening of a store. If there is no major event to promote, he will keep the message very simple and might offer free installation. Carpet King is on at least two billboards at a time, and the location of the billboards moves all around the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.
For many retailers, snail mail is still an effective medium for building store traffic. Brannen is a believer in the ‘call to action’ direct mail campaigns and believes they have the most consistent results of all his advertising methods. Promoting a private sale or weekend sale with a very specific timeline of one to four days is consistently effective for the company’s 13 stores. Typically once per quarter, each store has a direct mail campaign event. With these events, up to 30,000 pieces of direct mail are sent to past customers and top-selling zip codes. The information in the mailer always highlights a specific promotion or sale, and it states very clearly, “Come act now to get this amazing deal.”
Brannen uses the same promotional call-to-action message for Carpet King’s television advertising on both local news channels and cable channels like HGTV and Food Network. Brannen chooses cable networks with a primarily female viewing audience. Macco’s Flooring also advertises on local news television with a branding message of “We buy for less, so we can sell for less. Low prices, great value.”
Carpet King also promotes a current sale in “The Bulldog,” a separate sale flyer that the local newspaper distributes. It is delivered in mail boxes, and Brannen buys a spot on the front or back cover.
Every town has popular annual events that draw a large local crowd. In Cincinnati, the Home and Garden Show is a widely attended event drawing an average of 100,000 people. JP Flooring rents a 25’x40’ space every year at the Cincinnati Home and Garden show. A few years ago, Shrimper had a ‘bright’ idea to hire a lighting professional to enhance his booth’s appearance. He added what he calls rock star lights on top of his company’s booth. Shrimper notes, “It looked like the Eagles were about to show up and play.” The booth was clearly noticeable from anywhere in the convention center, so, of course, a few other companies copied the idea in later years. Today there is an unspoken rivalry every year for the best booth lighting. Shrimper adds, “Lighting is everything. When the lights are off, the booth looks fine, but when they are turned on, everything in the booth shines and stands out.” Over 100,000 people walk through the convention center during the Home and Garden show, and Shrimper is confident that they notice his company’s presence.
With the daily pressure of running a business, sometimes it’s easy to forget the little things. Shrimper believes JP Flooring’s outside appearance brings people inside the door. The landscaping, parking lot and building all work together to create a visual experience that causes a customer to think, ‘I want to go in there.’ The outside of the store is impeccably clean, with beautiful landscaping, clean windows, a spotless parking lot and a fresh updated look. Shrimper adds, “It is the type of place you want to walk into when making an important design decision like flooring in your home. It’s an experience.” He also believes that activity breeds activity, so he has several of his 53 employees park at the front of the store. Even when the store just opens, it appears that people are shopping inside. JP Flooring has a great location just off of a major interstate, and it is positioned between an Ikea and a Frontgate outlet store, increasing its visibility to shoppers.
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