Living in Boulder, Colorado, I recently got to experience a natural disaster first hand, a terrible flood. I also watched first hand how building material suppliers reacted and saw many opportunities for improvement.
From a distance, I have watched building material suppliers reaction to hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and wildfires. This time I got to see their actions first hand in live time and here’s what I learned….
Disasters are viewed as a short term gift.
1. It is a feast for everyone. There is more work than there is labor so contractors are having a field day.
2. Big boxes, distributors and dealers work with manufacturers to quickly stock up on those products that are most in demand.
3. At a time when local marketing is needed, national companies don’t know how to act on a local level. Their command and control strategy can’t move fast enough or in meaningful way. Local suppliers don’t have the marketing expertise to know what to do.
4. Many companies make a donation to a local charity and send out a press release. I see most of these donations as a wasted “We should do something” effort. An effort that makes them feel better but is usually a wasted effort and the lazy way out.
This short term thinking of “We’ll sell a bunch of stuff and then it will be over” misses opportunities to gain market share, loyalty and to sell upgraded building products.
Here’s how building material suppliers can help the community and themselves.
1. Get on social media like Twitter.
I saw the value of Twitter during the storm. I followed #boulderflood and #coloradoflood. For several days before, during and after the flood, it was alive with commentary from people who live in the area, in live time 24 hours a day.
I saw people providing news, sharing stories and making new friends. What I didn’t see were any building material suppliers offering support, advice or news.
What an opportunity to build loyalty by showing that you care by just being there or by offering advice. It’s also an opportunity to communicate information from you such as;
- We’re opening early tomorrow to help you get what you need
- We have ordered a truckload of wet-dry vacs that we will be discounting
- We have a team of people ready to answer your questions in store, on the phone or online.
These are the types of messages that can work well on social media. As no one else is doing it, the companies that do will be rewarded with more short and long term business as they build goodwill in the community.
Home Depot has a great website covering all types of disasters but I didn’t see them promote it locally. Lowe’s also has a good site but it only covers hurricanes.
2. Advertise and promote your support.
I only saw an ad from a hardware store about what they were doing to help out. Home Depot did a great job in-store but you had to go in the store to find out about their commitment so they only reached a portion of the public..
Home Depot should have also been outside of the store to draw more traffic such as local advertising or outdoor banners promoting their flood recovery solutions.
The local lumber yards did nothing which reinforces to the consumer that they don’t want their business.
3. Promote premium products.
Rather than just donating money, building product manufacturers should use a disaster as an opportunity to show how their products can help buildings better stand up to disasters.
For example, a number of manufacturers have been building “storm proof” demonstration homes in areas effected by high winds. Showing the local population how they can prevent damage in the future, when the latest disaster is fresh on their minds is smart.
This leads to owners asking contractors and builders for these better products. It can also lead to code changes requiring the use of these products, many of which are a tough sale without the fresh memory of a disaster.
An opportunity for you to build your building product business…now and over time
Hurricanes are easy to plan for because you know they are coming and you know where they are going to strike. Fires, floods, tornadoes and earthquakes are tougher but can be just as much of an opportunity for you to build your business over the long term as you help people recover in the short term.
I believe they will forget who mailed a check and they will remember who reached out and really cared.
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