Marc Schneider never intended to have his voice recognized at cocktail parties or be interviewed by the local paper as a quasi-celebrity. He was surprised when asked by the school board to speak on behalf of an upcoming levy, and he certainly never envisioned being called “Frasier Crane” by his wife.
As the president of Schneider Lumber, a $12 million, single-location dealer in Canton, Ohio, all he wanted was to sustain his pro customer base and reclaim some cash business from the big box home improvement retailers that had moved into town. “I'm just trying to sell lumber,” he says.
He chose the radio to deliver his message, specifically, a series of self-written and self-narrated 60-second spots that run nine months a year. No clever dialogue or jingles here—just Schneider talking about the great deals and selection of products available at his lumberyard that month, with an occasional quip about a timely community issue. “We wanted to set ourselves apart from the national ads and brands with a local voice and focus,” he says.
After generally abdicating retail sales and some contractor business to The Home Depot and Lowe's during the last decade, dealers like Schneider Lumber are trying to take back some market share by going head-to-knee with the giants. “We needed to protect our position in the market,” says Nate Bond, director of sales for Parr Lumber, a 23-location, $228 million operation based in Hillsboro, Ore.
Dealers in the same position have resorted to everything from logo-laden merchandise to contractor loyalty programs and full-blown ad campaigns—with mixed results. Successful efforts, say experts and savvy dealers, begin with creating a brand for the business, and then building awareness and loyalty in the market toward sustainable profits.
Stamping a Brand For Cape Cod Lumber's (CCL) two operations in Abington and Mansfield, Mass., Jack Meehan and his crew at Yellow Steel, a building industry–focused marketing firm in Portsmouth, N.H., developed a more focused brand for the business.
Under a tag line of “A Lumberyard for Contractors” supplemented by the slogan “No Carts. No Carriages. No Birdhouse Clinics.,” Cape Cod Lumber intended to remind local pros that it was better equipped to handle their business needs. “We went right after the big boxes,” says Meehan. “Cape Cod Lumber rebranded itself and the results have been phenomenal.” Inspired by the campaign, about 500 pros, primarily small- and medium-sized customers, joined CCL's alliance program and sales increased by an estimated $1 million compared to the previous year.
Parr Lumber took a similar approach to recapture cash sales. “Our competitors told us ‘You can have it' when it came to retail business,” says Bond. “Lowe's and Depot do a great job, but we saw an opportunity to attract certain segments of the market that were big-box-aversive.”
Using a variety of media vehicles, including newspaper and radio, Parr communicated a brand that promoted excellent service, unhurried and uncrowded stores, and pro-level expertise. Since initiating the effort in 2001, Parr's cash sales have increased by as much as $500,000 per month compared to the same months in previous years.
Schneider's approach was more subtle, though still effective, in attacking the national competitors. Leveraging co-op dollars and a near-monopolized radio market (the station he uses has 40 percent market share), Schneider's local focus and conversational tone presented a stark contrast to the polished, generic print and TV ads run by the box retailers. In two-plus years, cash sales have increased from 6 percent to 16 percent of revenue.