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Our Store Newsletter

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

What began as a simple way to speak to our regular customers, has now grown to become one of our most effective advertising tools. We had been receiving from a number of the lumber yards and home centers, their internal newsletters which are sent to their employees. It appeared as a wonderful way to get a message delivered. However, as we are but a neighborhood hardware store, it did seem to make sense to us to create a publication that would have a circulation that would be less than 20. It was the right type of idea to allow us to talk to our customers.

In 1992, we had approximately 300 charge accounts, of which only 125 had an open balance in any given month. This in house charge account system had been around our store for many years. It was originally established for the small number of contractors, neighborhood handymen, and some of the residents of south St. Petersburg. It was on a very personal basis, as shown by example that as recent as 1982 the charge customers would write up their own charge tickets at a service desk in the front of the store.

What concerned us was the thought that in any given month, over half of the customers had not charged anything. This would indicate a possibility that these people had not even been in our store. The beginning of this development was to have our computer issue a statement for every customer each month, even if they had a zero balance. We would take the time to put a handwritten note on every statement.

Customers were addressed by name where possible in the short message. The first sign that we were on the right path was the occasional customer that would make a point to say that they appreciated our efforts. The usual message to a customer with a zero balance was, "You don't owe us anything, we wish you did. Please come see us."

As an enticement to all of our charge customers, we began to include a coupon for a free item. Most every month the product would be a private label consumable item, in an effort to get customers to try new products. In October, the item would always be a private label 9 volt battery. Our local fire department makes a big push that month to remind folks to change their smoke detector batteries, and this allowed a natural tie in. A surprise to us was that we found months when the redemption rate would reach 25%.

We began to experiment with a single page insert to the statements that not only had a coupon on it, but would tell our customers the dates of the sales flyers in the next month. With our sales flyers, we have them scheduled with an in home date of Tuesday or Wednesday. We distribute from 10,000 to 22,000 copies, depending on whether or not the sales flyer has substantial items in it that are suitable for apartment residents.

On the Wednesday evening prior to distribution, we do the necessary display and computer work so that when we open on Thursday morning, our sale is started. This Thursday to Tuesday time period is what we call our preview sale. We tell our customers by way of the newsletter that this is an excellent way for them to purchase from our sales flyer before it is distributed to the general public. For us, this allows us several days to find out what the best selling items will be, and do any necessary reordering before the sales flyer is delivered.

There are several items which appear on a regular basis in our newsletter. One is an update on the store's pet cat. This became essential after having several youngsters, parents in tow, coming into the store and asking where the cat is sleeping today. There is a column titled Tom's Topics in which we tell people interesting bits of information about our store and community. We have used a number of these columns to review a market survey that we commissioned in 1994. We have always accented the positive of our community as witnessed by several customers having told us that they feel our newsletter is the "south St. Petersburg cheerleader".

Roque Anderson, our newsletter creator and editor, always provides a positive and cheerful commentary. As Roque is an avid fisherman, there is frequent mention of where and what type of fishing is currently best. We also have a column that introduces, in detail, one of our team members to our customers. Roque includes a picture and the sale price of the upcoming special products that will be featured in our wholesaler's advertising during the coming month. The key is that we are making a special effort to tell our customers that they are special to us, and that we are going to let them in on the promoted items and sales flyers for the following month.

As we mentioned, our original mailing list was the 300 charge accounts. Since that time, we have added all of the customers that have check cashing cards on file, and all of those that have used our UPS package sending service. As we have actively participated with the various neighborhood associations, we have added several of their mailing lists to ours. Between all of these, and our continued promotion of house charge accounts, we are now sending our newsletter to over 1,600 homes each month.

We are also beginning to print coupons from some of the neighborhood stores. The fast food places seem to like it the best. At this time, we do not charge them for this service, but we make sure that they are regular customers in our store.

Surprisingly, the total cost of this event is less than $500. each month. Design and production is done by one of our customers in her home. In the future, we anticipate that this will allow us to modify our advertising so that we would send a direct mail piece to homes during the first part of the month, and perhaps include a small eight page flyer in the newsletter which would be sent during the second half of the month. If we find this successful, we anticipate that we can save substantially in our advertising. Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Great savings for special people, only at Skyway Hardware!

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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PO Box 1577
St. Petersburg, Fl 33731
(727) 464-2182
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