We chatted with Melanie Green about her new B2B holiday campaign in Hutchinson, Kansas. Green reached out to local employers with gift suggestions, and the results have been encouraging!
Can you describe your business-to-business (B2B) gift program?
I really wanted to highlight some regional gift books that I have fallen in love with and thought they would appeal to companies looking for a Christmas gift idea. I also wanted to show the range of cool books that could make great company-wide or client-wide gifts. And I wanted companies to understand that we could be a resource for these great unique gifts. So I approached our local businesses w a direct mail featuring our B2B options—with additional discounts for bulk orders, wrapping, and presentation. I’ve also promoted the program with an in-store display, signs, on my website, Facebook, and e-newsletter.
How long have you been offering it?
This is the first year.
What gave you the idea?
I was reading back thru some notes on a B2B presentation—I think it may have been from something I attended at winter institute—and I realized that it was something that I really needed to be doing. The holidays seemed like the ideal time to introduce it.
What types of companies are you hearing from?
I’ve received my first significant order from our local bank. Manufacturing companies also have responded.
I’m not too familiar with Hutchinson. Can you describe the local landscape in terms of businesses? Who are the ideal candidates for a promotion like this?
Our largest employer is the local hospital. We have a good deal of manufacturing as well. I selected recipients of my direct mail promotion by a number of factors 1) size of business, 2) if I knew they had done employee or client holiday gifts in the past 3) if they were listed in the local chamber business listings and 4) if I had a personal connection with the owner or someone in the organization.
Is there a different process in selecting a book for this program than there is for a smaller-scale handsell?
Absolutely, because you have to think in more broad terms and try and find something that will appeal to a number of different people. I found the best choices (most successful) were regionally focused books. It is tricky to not pick a book that comes across as preachy to someone who isn’t asking for it. Many inspirational gift books can been interpreted that way. Most owners want to steer clear of that and just picked nice pretty or informational books about Kansas and our region.
How do you advertise the program?
Since this is a brand new program, getting the word out is going to take a lot of legwork. Direct mail, in-store, social media, web, e-newsletter, networking with local business owners. I plan to follow up my mailing with phone calls as I have time. As I begin to receive the orders and prepare them for delivery or pick up, I plan to post to social media to hopefully continue to generate some buzz that this is a good idea for businesses to do for their clients/employees and they can do so locally. As it picks up, I am hoping to generate some good word of mouth.
It really strikes me that you have to reach new channels to make this sort of promotion work—are you doing anything in particular to extend beyond your already loyal customers, the folks who already like you on Facebook? You mentioned networking with local business owners—could you speak a bit more to that?
I always promote heavily to my loyal audience and this was no exception. My hope was that they might have a connection to a local business and would reach out to those people on my behalf. I did not come out and ask them to do that directly, but next year I think I will. This being the first year, my best success was with people I already had a connection with. I hope to extend that next year by asking my loyal customers to reach out to their contacts and help me promote the program.
It seems like there would be quite a workload associated with a program like this. Is that something to keep in mind if a store is considering following in your footsteps?
So far the workload is just my time up front to create and execute promotions. The back side work load will occur when the orders come in and need to be processed, branded, and packaged. I have cheap labor (my kids!) that make this feasible—it doesn’t take away staff time from selling books on the floor. That is definitely something to keep in mind. Also the physical space required to prepare the orders as I don’t want to take up selling footprint in the store. It may be I’ll need to take the books home to do that!
Incidentally, I am packaging the books before the company gives them to recipients so that I can add my brand and get more exposure that way. Each book will be “plated” with a book plate sticker that we will apply to the inside front cover. It will be customized w the company’s logo—saying “happy holidays from … ” and then “brought to you by Bluebird Books.” We’ll add bookmarks and any other branding to the packaging that we can get away with!
This is just a personal question, but I tend to try and preserve my books in their original condition–so stickers and nameplates would bother me. I think it’s a brilliant idea from a branding standpoint, but are there any areas (nameplates or otherwise) where you foresee any kind of blowback?
Actually, I found that businesses want to put their own nameplate stickers in the books rather than the co-branded ones that I offered. I thought this was interesting and did present a challenge because I certainly wanted to put my brand on the package as well. I had to get a little creative in some instances!
Have you heard any feedback from publishers or reps about the program? Were they in the loop at all as you devised it? Or do you just intend to place larger orders when the participating companies place theirs?
I placed one very large order and several smaller orders with the publisher of the best Kansas gift books on the market. They were very pleased! Though their books have been around for a while, the Hutchinson market was more or less untapped for their books. Other than that, I have not heard back from publishers. I checked with the pubs of all the books I featured to make sure they had a B2B program and could fulfill larger orders. For some businesses, I did a little more research in finding just the right book but always stuck with pubs that I had already established B2B terms.
Any surprises about this offering that you didn’t see coming?
I’ve sold several of the featured books off the display and customers who received the mailing just came in to buy the books but not to place a B2B order. So I guess that means I picked some good ones??
On one last note – I did get a number of orders directly from this promotion and so it was definitely worthwhile. But I also connected with quite a number of business people who while they didn’t choose to purchase books outright, they did agree to promote my store with their employees/clients. Several others simply bought gift cards for employees rather than a book. It was definitely a successful promotion and one on which I intend to build for next year!