MOBILE, ALA.—Putting together an “open house” event at your store can be stressful in and of itself. Throw in a lingering recession, a rare Bengal tiger, a kangaroo and a kinkjous (a nocturnal tree-dweller from Central and South America) and the stress level rises exponentially in the hopes that not only will people show up but hopefully the animals will not destroy the store.
Mix in the uncertainty of using some of the latest marketing techniques to help create excitement leading up to and during the event and, for many, it can add up to dropping the idea altogether and going back to the drawing board.
Not if you are named Lauren Rhodes-Braden and your parents are Keith and Vicki Rhodes, owners of Floor Trader of Mobile. For the younger Rhodes-Braden, a flooring consultant for the three-store chain here and across the border in nearby Mississippi, it was a challenge she could not turn down.
Everything took place this past summer shortly after Floor Trader brought in carpet styles featuring the new Tigressá branded fiber by Shaw Industries and created exclusively for retailers in the CCA Global Partners network (FCNews, May 31/June 7). Because this is not your ordinary fiber, Braden “wanted to do something that brought the product Tigressá into the homes of an average family in the Mobile County area.”
Adding to this was the fact she “loved the idea” that Shaw had teamed with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Save the Tiger Fund (STF) by donating a portion of Tigressá sales. While the mill’s philanthropic efforts were on a national level Braden felt “doing something locally was of vital importance.” The family, which has flooring roots dating back to Keith’s dad who opened a store 1947, has a history of charitable community involvement, both individually and through each store location.
Upon some investigation, Braden found she could get a live tiger cub and other animals to the store by working with the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo.
If the zoo sounds familiar, it is because it was featured on Animal Planet’s “The Little Zoo That Could,” which documented the zoo’s efforts to reopen after being battered by three major hurricanes—Ivan in 2004 and then Dennis and Katrina in 2005.
“We partnered with the zoo,” she said, “and made a donation as well.” While the zoo provides animal encounters within its walls, the facility does offer out-reach programs that include visits to special events. Zoo keepers escort beasts to these events, offering the public an opportunity to see and learn about exotic animals outside the traditional zoo environment.
Now that Braden had what she wanted it was time to get the word out. From newspapers to TV to radio, Braden was set to flood the market, and all at no cost. Even though the news was out, she wanted to reach a broader audience. “We wanted to reach the people on Facebook, Merchant Circle and Mobile Area Young Professionals.”
FCNews brings confidence
While Braden was reaching out with Facebook status updates from the store’s profile, created an event and shared it, announced it on Twitter, used email blasts, a blog, there was still something missing. That’s when she read the “Guide to Using Social Media in Business,” a 24-page supplement published by Floor Covering News earlier in the summer.
“[We] took the advice that [FCNews] gave in the ‘Guide to using Social Media in Business’ to heart and ran with it,” she s aid. Braden was no stranger to using social media, but was relatively new to flooring, having only joined the family business a few months earlier.
“After reading the supplement,” she explained, “it just made me more comfortable and confident that we were going to reach people that traditional means wouldn’t necessarily touch. The supplement helped me distinguish between social marketing and social networking and how they need to work together but separately to be more effective. It has also helped me understand what we need to do with our Twitter and Facebook pages in order to better engage and help our customers. I always had planned on using social media (as a product of the technology generation), but [the Guide] just helped me streamline it better.”
Time to roar
Being it was the summer and in Alabama, one might think Floor Trader held the event in its parking lot. Not to mention that between a tiger, kangaroo and kinkjous, it might not be the best of ideas to have them roaming around the store.
But Braden is not like most people and, sure enough, “everything took place in our store. We cleared out an area near our Tigressá a-frames and laid down a 12 x 12 piece of Tigressá carpet. Guests gathered around the carpet and had the opportunity to be up close and personal with all of the animals. After the first encounter, the tiger got used to the area and began roaming around the store.”
Luckily, the store, at about 18,000 square feet, was large enough to let a Bengal tiger, albeit a baby, roam around. Overall, “We had the kinkjous in one corner, the kangaroo in the back near the hardwood and the tiger was bounding from one roll of carpet to the next. It was quite a sight to see.”
And seen it was. “The turnout exceeded our expectations with having over 200 people visit our store in 3 hours,” she said. “The use of social media along with other traditional outlets was a huge success. We reached out to a broad range of ages as we had grandparents bringing their grand children and some brought their great-grandchildren. We had people posting live pictures of our event directly to their Facebook and Twitter pages with their cell phones as well as using Yelp and Foursquare to tell others on Facebook they were at the Floor Trader petting live tigers. You can’t pay for media like that. It was a huge success and we hope to continue using social media as a supplement to our current marketing strategies.”
More than visitors
What really added to the event’s success, Braden added, was help the store received from Shaw. “When our local Shaw rep [Chad Kiehn] and his sales manager [Neal Passman] heard of our efforts they asked if they could help. They offered a giveaway of 25 yards of Tigressá and brought 25 stuffed tigers. Plus they were there to talk with our visitors. It was great participation and support on their part.”
The real success for the store, though, was “We had a few customers purchase flooring. Some were already there to shop and stayed the extra time to see the animals when they heard what was happening. Others spent time looking around before the event and picked out what they wanted, then came back to purchase after receiving a quote that day.” To handle the crowd, she said, “We had the owners on the floor helping answer questions and, selling; there were six other flooring consultants available and, at any given time doing quotes and educating the customers about what we had to offer.” Braden feels even if people didn’t buy anything it was still worth it. “We believe it built goodwill and has hopefully brought Floor Trader to the top of everyone’s mind when they think of flooring.”
The day after
While everything worked better than expected, Braden said she learn a great deal and knows what should would do differently if “I had the chance to do this event again. I would certainly take more advantage of [social media] and encourage everyone to post live pictures and check-in through Yelp, Foursquare and Facebook through- out the event.
“I remember at one point,” she continued “I looked up and there was a teenager saying, ‘Bobby commented on my picture asking where I was petting a tiger. He should be up here in a minute.’ I started taking note, and all these people were taking pictures with their cell phones and uploading them.”
Braden concluded, “We have done well with other events without social media but it is a different world today and to be successful in today’s business climate we need to have social media in the forefront of all our marketing.”