It’s one of the toughest things you do when you have a retail business. Deciding where to spend your advertising dollars. You can throw tens of thousands of dollars at many different outlets all while not truly knowing which outlet worked. The Internet side is a little easier because there are conversion rates and other trackable data, but in local traffic, customers don’t have a tracker on them when they visit. We do have our own way of tracking at the nursery and 2011 was by far the best marketing year regarding results vs. outlay of dollars. Here’s why and what we did.
Television: By far the toughest form of media to gauge. Most customers don’t stop in and say “I’m here because I saw you tv ad”. You could have certain product on sale but changing the ad frequently for weekly specials is cost and time prohibitive. We’re a small business and changing the ad is $500 or more each time you edit. Another challenging part of television are the numerous choices for the viewer. While there used to be a few stations, then came more channels but you could still narrow it down to the top 20 watched, now we have the cable channels like A&E and Starz putting out quality programming which further dilutes the viewing audience. It’s almost like throwing darts with television. Combine that with the high cost and we had to come up with a better plan. Here’s what we did. We concentrated on local programming. We sought after the shows that offered local information. News, local magazine style shows. Our very informal surveys figured out that most people watched some form of local news in the morning. As opposed to evening news which tended to be split between 6 pm viewers and 10pm viewers, almost everyone watched local news somewhere between 6 am and 7:30 am before they went to work. To make the choice even easier was the fact that one station dominates the local news market. So we signed an annual contract to get the best rates and randomly covered that spot most mornings. It was a bonus that the morning news is one of the best prices of the day at a fifth of the cost of the ten o’clock news despite being close in viewership.
To cover some of the other morning people we advertised on the only other local television station that has a morning show. I work as a Garden Guy on the 11 mid day news already with the same crew so I already have a great relationship with them. I only wish they had a bigger audience in the morning. I also am on a gardening show on PBS that airs on Thursday nights and is one of the most popular locally produced programs in the area. It because so popular it got picked up throught the entire Midwest. I don’t get paid but it’s some of the best advertising our company gets. But everyone tells me I have a face for radio soooooooooooo
Radio: Ten years ago we didn’t believe in radio. That has all changed. This year we decided to give it a try. Our focus was simple. Commuters that buy plants. Our choice for most bang for the back was country radio. In the past we thought targeting the higher income levels worked best. We did a lot of talk radio, easy listening. What we found was the baby boomers stopped buying lately. The downturn in the economy caused them to start saving more to make sure they had enough to retire. So we switched our focus to the working families. Dual incomes, 35-50 year olds that are building their life, homes, and family. Country radio has a lot of these people, or that’s what we found out. We do three commercials a day, two on the morning commute and one at lunch. We do that for all 9 months of our season. We sign a contract that gives us bonus commercials and I use those to hit the holidays. We had 15 commercials on the 4th of July. I record all the commercials myself. My voice is synonomous with the nursery. I can go to the grocery store and when I talk to the cashier she instantly knows who I am. You would think I was on 20 times a day the way people talk. They hear me every single day on the way to work. Our employees complain they can’t get away from me. Radio works unbelievably IF you are consistent and have some kind of hook so they know instantly who the commercial is for. I changed the commercial every week and always put some incredible deal so they had a reason to listen. And they did this year
Newspaper: Newspaper can get expensive if you are consistent and advertise in color. We were spending $400 a week and not getting good response. That was only one decent size ad but it was right under the weather. While $400 doesn’t seem like a lot of money it adds up. Especially when it didn’t seem to prompt any kind of a response. Newspapers know their readership is dropping but their rates haven’t. On the positive side, there are still thousands of people that use the paper for local news and information. So we had several meetings with the paper about how to get the cost down and consistency up. The answer initially was to post a coupon online every week. We did, but they threw in a small 4X4 ad with the same verbiage on page three or 4 of the paper for $25 more. It should have been the other way around but they were trying to push their online content. We signed up for entire year because the cost was 1/4 of the color ad each week. To make it more trackable I made the coupon a “have to come in” coupon. Three gallon boxwoods for $8.88 and gloves for $.99. Because we grow things ourselves I was able to blow out things and still make money. I also worked with our vendors to get some good deals just to move with the coupons. The results was an increase of 20 fold in the amount of people that came in for the coupon. The consistency and the great deals made the coupon successful. It also made it very easy to track its success.
YellowPages: Used to be a huge part of our marketing. No more. Our costs have gone down from $10K 8 years ago to less than $1000 a year now. The only reason it’s even that high is some of the yellow page companies have secured some pretty good front page Google placements and it’s cheaper to buy those than Google Adwords. I have been able to put my resources towards SEO and keyword plant domains. These are already paying off but the real payoff will be when we start selling plants online. We also have realized the keywords we want to key on all contain a geo city in front. We don’t care about traffic from anywhere else than where they can drive to our store. So now we are targeting keywords like Champaign trees and Urbana trees. This is what the local people tend to be typing in to try and avoid getting a nursery in Idaho. It also has made it much easier to rank because the competition is extremely low. Not many garden centers practice SEO.
Online: Presently our web presence is simple. Have a pretty site that is easy on the eyes and easy to navigate. We’re getting closer to the latter and it looks fine. We do update it every week and keep it fresh. That has kept visitors coming back to check for information and sales. If I don’t update it on Thursday the phone calls start coming. Since we don’t sell online yet we have focused on information. It’s OK, but I’m working on making it better. It just takes a lot of time gathering pictures for 10,000 different plants.
Billboards: Did them last year and it was one of the worst investments we made. Probably good for a national brand or a company that gets money to advertise from corporate, but the cost to value is low. A billboard here is 2-3K a month. You can get a lot of bang in other forms of media for that. A billboard absolutely can work if you keep it there long enough and the message is strong. I can tell you what’s on 4 of the 400 billboards in town because of the message. It may be more because the guy on the board is fat and not that attractive. I know it’s wrong, but it works because I remember the company because his head is 30 foot across and I have driven buy it for 2 years. It’s not for us though. We would have to plow 25-30K into boards to make them effective.
Newsletter: The best value in all of advertising because it’s virtually free. Our newsletter is full of people that want to be on the newsletter. No tricks to get them to sign up. No giving away a prize or gift in exchange for getting their email address. We had 6, count that 6, people unsubscribe out of 1100 this year. Five of them moved out of town and 1 quit because they said I didn’t like gays. The reality is my uncle shares the same name and is our State Senator and he voted against civil unions in Illinois and she thought that was me. I write our newsletter every other week and the response is always strong. We ususally have 20 people that day or the following day coming out for something the read about. The coupons draw another 20 or so. While that may not seem like many, I still reached the most targeted audience I have for free. It’s the most important marketing program I have. I am constantly building that list and using that list to build our online presense. I ask them each newsletter to rate us on yelp and google. That newsletter is worth $20,000 to us in terms of savings in advertising.
Facebook: We just started Facebook this year. I always figured the only thing worse than not doing Facebook was to start Facebook and let it go dormant. We had a person in charge of managing it and she did a good job. You can tell she’s off for the winter because it hasn’t been updated in two weeks. This is reminding me to get on it. The users are small but growing. Aweber, our newsletter management software, automatically sends the newsletter to Facebook as well so we get more bang for our buck. We are finding that the Facebook friends are already signed up for the newsletter so we haven’t gotten much extra pull from it. I’m working on it though and my approach is going to be a daily approach compared to the bi weekly approach of the newsletter. I like having friends but I like making money better, I just need to work on how to get both.
We spent just a little more in advertising than last year but the sales were up a few hundred thousand and dropped advertising to 2.5% of revenue which I find fantastic. So that’s it. It may be interesting for some of you, others who are all online, probably not. Feel free to pick my brain or give ideas. I’m always looking to improve.
PS: The picture has nothing to do with advertising. It was the photo I sent to the person that said they didn’t like my gay vote. I responded with “wrong person” and sent this picture (it’s of me and one of my best friends at the end of Hood to Coast relay)