Thinking ‘local’ at Bliffert Lumber & Hardware

A Wisconsin store shares how to build long-lasting community connections.
Local Marketing, Riverwest24 bike ride group
Riverwest 24-hour bike ride organizers: “You won’t remember your final lap count as well as you’ll remember the neighborhood cheering you on, and the kindness of a snack shared with someone you just met.”

“Neighbors unite!”

That could be the mantra for Anytown U.S.A., particularly when the expression describes local events like, for instance, an all-night community bike ride.

Getting “local” also means opportunities for hardware owners to be right in the mix of events and ideas.

Community activities can include a summer picnic in the park; fun runs; sidewalk crawls; and many more town events we all recognize. They bring people out to support a worthy cause and just be together.

And “main street” retailers like the local bakery, coffee shop, town barber, hair salon, and your own hardware store, can get in on the action and support their neighbors.

One hardware owner explains the importance of connecting on that very local level.

Eli Bliffert, owner of Bliffert Lumber & Hardware in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, said “localized marketing is a unique market approach that hardware stores can use to adapt to their specific location or market by looking at cultural and economic differences, purchasing habits, behaviors, and specific housing needs.”

He said “thinking local” enhances the customer experience and helps retain customers.

Started in 1904, family owned Bliffert Lumber & Hardware has been serving contractors and homeowners in Southeastern Wisconsin; and for the last two decades has expanded to eight lumber yards, two hardware stores and four design centers.

An owner can best stay connected to their community by following some simple measures.

“Owners should get to know their neighbors,” said Bliffert. “Find out who the other businesses, clubs and non-profits are in your community, and how you can help. We are all in this together.”

‘Be’ the memory

Bliffert discussed the community events his family business gets involved in.

“All of our locations support local non-profit groups, school events and food pantries. Our hardware store on the eastside of Milwaukee participates in many neighborhood events, including the 24-hour neighborhood bike race,” the owner said.

Bliffert talked in more detail about this particular and special community event: “The race was changed to a ride the last two summers due to COVID. The ride is held the last full weekend of July, from 7 p.m. Friday to 7 p.m. Saturday.” (Note: This year it is July 29-30, 2022.)

The Riverwest 24 ride, known as RW24, was born out of community block watches throughout the eclectic neighborhoods of Riverwest; an area on the northeast side of the city of Milwaukee, west of the Milwaukee river.

The summer event, said Bliffert, “is a way for our neighborhood to welcome new people, strengthen relationships within the community and beyond; and show everyone why Riverwest is amazing.”

From riders to volunteers, organizers to community sponsors, everyone brings a different talent and interest to the table, he said.

“The goal is to strengthen our neighborhood. By encouraging bikers and spectators to come out for a full day we hope to show off Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood and encourage biking in an urban environment.”

Bliffert Susan Komen walk
The Bliffert family and team participate in community events such as the Susan G. Komen Foundation breast cancer research walk and run.

Local, Involved

As a hardware owner, are you wanting to get started but not certain how to go about it?

“Most community events started off with a donation but soon evolved into hosting events or employees volunteering,” said Bliffert.

He passed along a tip to anyone thinking of supporting their own community organizations: “Start small and grow from there. If you see a need, ask how you can help.”

He indicated that it is very important for store owners to support local events. “When people see you in the community, they will remember you, and shop local.”

Another example is the Bliffert Pink Truck, part of getting active and involved in the local community.

“We donate to the Susan G. Komen Wisconsin foundation at the end of the year, and we put a team together for the annual walk and run,” said Bliffert.

Bliffert pink truck
The Bliffert pink truck helps raise awareness of cancer research in the community.

For the local retailer, there are many opportunities to make a difference.

Get cooking with town activities and support your neighboring businesses. Jump in and get active. Look for ways to help – they’re there if you seek them out and take part.

Support your town’s activities – all of them, or as much as you can – in your own personalized neighborly style.

“Localized marketing works best when you support other local businesses,” said Bliffert. “Eat at your neighborhood restaurants, buy from local manufacturers and retailers.”

Hardware doesn’t have to be hard – just make it real; or as Bliffert says: “Build your community by keeping it local.”