In 1999, Kent, Ohio–based Carter Lumber executives were hunkered down in a marketing strategy meeting searching for a corporate-wide branding message. The brand—like all of Carter's marketing initiatives—had to capture a hometown feel and 70 years of traditional lumberyard customer services but still give a fresh image to more than 200 locations across nine states. “The ultimate goal was to make sure it fit who we are,” says Carter Vice President of Marketing David McCafferty. “We always want to make sure that customers know how we can help them, but we don't want to stand there and thump our chests. The old marketing adage rings true—it's not who you tell people you are, it's who they perceive you to be.”
To that end, McCafferty and the rest of the Carter marketing team began reviewing customer comments they had compiled as part of the branding effort when two words suddenly jumped out at them: The Yard. “All of the comments said—I'm heading down to ‘the yard' to grab this, I'm heading down to ‘the yard' to grab that. It was one of those things that was just staring you in the face, and we all immediately gravitated toward it. It came out of a planning session, but in reality, it came right from our contractors.”
Carter unveiled the “Carter Lumber—The Yard” branding initiative with TV and radio spots in all of its markets, targeting contractors and project-oriented DIYers. “As a marketing and branding concept, ‘The Yard' has given a face to the company,” McCafferty says. “It has helped us to establish ourselves as a regional brand, as a regional powerhouse.”
Mission completed, Carter scaled back from its initial ad blitz through the course of 2004, preferring to back up “The Yard” brand image with location-specific promotions, including support of high school football teams, a soap box derby, and contractor lunches. “Ads were great for branding, but now we really want to evolve and concentrate on local market solutions,” McCafferty says.
The show, which became a two-hour special that aired during sweeps last November, continues to generate buzz among Carter's customers, which McCafferty says has been the greatest marketing payoff of all. “ROI is the age-old question on marketing campaigns. Can you specifically quantify that number? No, but if you take marketing assets away, what kind of impact is your company ever going to have?”
As a bonus, the experience introduced Carter to a new contractor, and Carter's commitment to service success with the project has sealed the partnership and secured a new account. “It was a pleasure working with Carter Lumber on Extreme Makeover,” says Adam Becker, vice president of Fairway Construction in Southfield, Mich. “Because of how they stepped up to the plate, we definitely have brought them into our supply system and will probably start to throw a lot of business their way.”
That type of feedback from satisfied customers is the ultimate objective of any marketing program, says McCafferty. “You ultimately want them to say ‘Hey, you know that promotion you did? You hit it out of the ballpark.'”
Company: The Carter Lumber Co.
Year founded: 1932
Headquarters: Kent, Ohio
Number of locations: 240
Number of employees: 3,500
2004 gross sales: $675 million
Pro sales percentage: 70 percent
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