Turn on the television or open a newspaper in Jay, Plattsburgh, or Malone, N.Y., and you're bound to see one of the many faces of Ward Lumber. Whether it's president Jay Ward in his Saturday sports column, an employee in a TV ad, or the dealer's mascot Woody the Woodchuck on ice skates at a local hockey event, the Ward name is ever-present in the communities where its three stores operate.
Putting real people in ads and placing emphasis on family–both blood-line ownership and its employee stock–is a key element to Ward Lumber's extensive marketing program. A diverse menu–from ads to builder kits to pro dinners–leverages the dealer's 115-year heritage and its respected reputation to reach out with a message that Ward Lumber is a loyal member of the community ready and willing to build strong partnerships to serve its customers' needs.
"We're trying to do things to build relationships," says fourth-generation president Jay Ward. "I have a strong [opinion] that it's all about the relationships. And price is somewhere in the equation–but people buy from people they like."
Between the three yards, Ward Lumber services a 70 percent pro customer base, but two of the branches–Plattsburgh and Malone–count around 50 percent of sales from consumers. Reaching both groups has led to an expansive mix of marketing efforts, with each method carefully tailored to each audience and all building on a community-centric theme. "Over the last few years, we've focused more on image marketing than item and price," says Ward. "[We're] trying to promote the human side, the image side, as opposed to '2x4s for 99 cents.'"
Generic, non-product television and radio ads featuring Jay Ward and employees depict Ward Lumber as a loyal, trustworthy supply chain partner to both pros and consumers. Price usually only takes center stage in weekly display ads targeted toward retail customers, while relationship-building is the key message going out to pros through most of the other marketing programs, which include the traditional (such as newsletters and giveaways), the unique (a hunting contest or the woodchuck mascot appearing at community events), and everything in between (including product installation training).
One of the company's most important efforts is its annual Pro Appreciation Dinner, a first-class event for about 60 top customers and their spouses designed to show thanks while reaching beyond the shop talk to the human side of the transaction. "Somehow sharing a meal with somebody just creates a bit of a different relationship than just business, business, business," says Ward, who adds that getting to know the spouses is just as important as getting closer to customers.
The dealer wields the power of cuisine again to thank customer crews in the field through weekly summer barbeques the dealer sets up right on the jobsites–with Jay Ward himself manning the grill. "I'm adamant that I want to be flipping the burgers," he says. "It's important for me to do it because it's my opportunity to say thank you."
Ward also is looking to fill pros up with useful information through events such as the dealer's annual Contractor Pro Night, an expo featuring booths from more than 40 vendors, product displays, demonstrations, food, and giveaways. The company offers numerous training opportunities for contractors, including installation demos and off-season accredited seminars. One recent training session on Dow's Styrofoam T-Mass poured-in-place foundation system was held on the building site of the local Champlain Valley Habitat for Humanity, an organization that Ward Lumber supports every year with donated and discounted materials. In addition to learning about the product alongside Ward's other customers, by the end of the day the Habitat team also had a completed foundation.
And the list goes on (and on), including an annual buck contest for customers who hunt, birthday cards with lottery tickets, a weekly newspaper sports trivia column authored by Jay, and monthly statement stuffers that promote deals, products, and events. Most recently, Ward began offering a Marketing Tool Kit, a package for new builders with business cards, jobsite signs, and truck decals. E-mail blasts are used to publicize specials and events.
Though extensive, the company's broad scope of marketing programs is by no means haphazard. Some programs, such as the pro nights and buck contest, have been proven effective for years, while new ideas are carefully brainstormed and planned by not only marketing director Mary Rankin, but with the support of Jay Ward, vice president of building materials Jim Rushia, and store managers, all of whom meet monthly to go over ideas. "To have an effective marketing campaign, you have to get input from everyone," Rankin says. "If everyone's not feeling that they're part of it then they won't feel that there is added value to it. But if everyone has input, it's going to add value to the marketing campaign and make it most effective."