Marketing to the community

MARKETING FOR FUN At Western Ohio True Value, Pumpkin Painting Day, a grill demo weekend and Pansy Days (left to right) promote the store and draw traffic.

In 28 years in the hardware business, Linda Kuenning, who owns Western Ohio True Value with her husband and two sons, has initiated several successful advertising campaigns. She has also had her share of duds.

If there’s one thing you learn over the years, coming up with a marketing plan is not a science; it’s an art,” Kuenning said. “You try many things and learn what works and what doesn’t. It’s a continual learning experience.”

The store was open ed by Kuenning’s father-in-law, Stanley, in 1953 as a 3,000-square-foot business in down town New Bremen, Ohio—not far from the Indiana border. In 1987, after joining TruServ, Linda and Scott Kuenning moved the business to a 14,000-square-foot building in nearby Minster.

After two expansions—in 1997 and 2003—the store is now 40,000 square feet and offers a full range of core hardware departments, a greenhouse, rental department, outdoor power equipment area and an extensive lawn and garden department. In 2004, the family open ed a new 16,000-square-foot store about 20 miles away in St. Henry, which has seen double-digit increases in the last two years.

With two stores in two different markets, Kuenning has had to adapt her marketing strategies and become more flexible. As such, she was a prime candidate to use the True Value Marketing Planning Tool (MPT), introduced by the co-op two years ago to help stores develop an annual marketing plan.

When you schedule an appointment with a True Value retail consultant, it makes you set aside that time,” she said. “And you’re no longer working by the seat of your pants but “with a fact- based tool.

Looking at the previous year’s numbers by month and by department can help the retailer zero in on the times his customers are most likely to spend, as well as when they’re out of the notion. And even though the MPT measures by month, Kuenning likes to look at the seasonal numbers as well because so much of her business depends on the weather.

“Last year we had a better March than this year, and this year’s April is better than last,” she said. “It’s a plan, a plan that needs to be revisited and challenged. You have to ask yourself, ‘Has anything changed that should make me alter it?’”

Kuenning also said it’s important to make advertising mediums accountable, especially since the industry has become so fragmented. In addition to news papers, she has used TV, radio, billboards and direct marketing to her True Value Rewards customers

“I look at what I did and how much of a lift we got out of it during any given promotion,” she said. “And I tend to mix things up because if you do the same thing forever—even if it’s been successful for you—it won’t have the same kind of impact any more.

Western Ohio has four annual events that are always part of the marketing plan: a pansy- planting day for children the Saturday before Easter; a spring open house with refreshments and prizes; a kids’ pumpkin painting day in October; and an invitation only ladies night in early November for loyal customers who get the first peak at fresh Christmas merchandise.

“During these events, even if people aren’t making purchases, they may see that we have things they hadn’t noticed before,” Kuenning said. “It’s a goodwill type of thing, and we hope we’re building relationships.”

All told, Western True Value spends about $80,000 (not counting co-op dollars) on advertising each year, which represents about 2 percent of its total annual consumer sales. Kuenning is happy with that balance, but she also believes in constantly mixing things up to make those dollars work best for the stores. “When you’re a small business like us, you don’t have endless pits, so it’s important to continually evaluate what’s working and what’s not working,” she said.

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