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Recession Proof Direct Mail Strategies

Furniture World Magazine


Part 7: Ways to bring in “Be-Back” and “Lost” Customers.

Last week I dropped in on a home furnishings retailer. I like to do that once in a while just to get a feel for what different stores are doing, and how they handle customers, the shopping experience, etc.

I asked the owner about his business. He said, “terrible”. Sales are slow, and the housing marketing is really bad. Last year we did over 7 million, this year if we can do half that and still keep the doors open I’ll be happy.”

I could see the fear in his eyes. He doesn’t have a strategy to keep customers coming in, he’s just going to sit by and let his business melt down. He’s going to “try” and “only” lose ? of his sales. He’s going to cut expenses, fire employee’s, and like a scared little turtle he’s going to shrink into a shell and try not to go out of business. That’s a bad strategy for surviving a recession.

In the last article we talked about some of the virtues of direct mail, which include the fact that it is targeted, customized and personal. We talked about elements that are essential to making it work well, such as good headlines, the right message, and personality.

What wasn’t discussed was how to use direct mail during a recession to guarantee that you gain more market share while competitors are running GOB sales.


If you’ve used direct mail in the past without success, you’re not alone. Many retailers have tried direct mail unsuccessfully. There are many reasons for this. One of the reasons a mailing fails is because the marketing piece is terrible. It’s another “Me Too” ad with products and prices, and “Sale” offers that don’t resonate with consumers.

Many retailers do bulk mailings with services that stuff your message in with 79 other offers that few customers have the time to go through or pay attention to.

If you want to get noticed by an attractive member of the opposite sex, what gives you the best chance for success? Introduce yourself with 100 other competitors at the same time, vying for their attention or… meet one on one in a private setting where you can converse, and get to know each other?
This approach does cost more, but cost is not what matters. Return on investment is what matters. Cheaper doesn’t mean better in direct mail. In fact it’s the inverse, usually the cheaper it is, the less effective it is.

The same goes for postcards. Postcards can work, but without question, letters have been proven to work much better than cold postcard mailings.

So when you send direct mail, you want it in an envelope, with a live stamp on it, looking like personal mail…NOT junk mail. This means no “BAR CODE” over the top of the address, and don’t address it to “Current Recipient.”

A second reason that retailers get poor results is that they don’t know the recipients and the recipients don’t know them. The best lists contain names that include current customers, be-backs and lost customers.

Lastly, mail fails because it’s simply poorly done. Let’s expand on the “getting noticed” dating comparison above. If you want to get noticed and form a personal relationship, your chances for success go up infinitely if there is some aspect of you that has the potential to be attractive to another person when looked at one-on-one. This can take the form of looks, personality, shared interests, or other traits you possess that have the potential to positively impact a relationship. Similarly, this is the only way to do direct mail if you want to receive maximum impact and success. You must make it personal and you must make your customer want to get into a relationship with you.

Bad headlines (or worse, NO headline at all) bad copy, boring “me too” offers, product and price instead of personality and personalization. The marketing pieces most home furnishings retailers send out are doomed to failure before they even leave the post office. They are bland and unappealing.

Two Effective Direct Mail Systems

Let’s look at 2 simple direct mail systems that can be implemented in just 14 days. Properly done, these will produce a marked improvement in sales.

System #1. The Be-back campaign
During tough times it’s essential to take advantage of every selling opportunity that you have. There are three ways people initiate contact with your company; on the phone, on the web, and walking into your store.

These are HOT, interested buyers, who WILL be buying what you sell at some point in the future. They may not be ready right this second to drop $5,000 on a new dining room set (image that!), but they will be buying in the future.
So here is something you can do to follow up with these people to make sure that when they buy, it is from you. Here’s how it works.

Step 1. Use what we call the Iron Clad Lead Capture System™ to capture contact information from your prospects. Some techniques you can use to capture email and physical addresses were presented in part 4 of this “Double Your Store Traffic” series posted to the furninfo.com website in May 2007. The article gives sample scripts and provides more detail, but basically this involves giving the prospect something of value, in order to get something of value.

To have any chance of success, the approach must be non-threatening. Your salespeople might give browsers a bottle of water, a soda or even a special offer coupon. Following this helpful approach, they can follow-up by offering to send them a free advisory or brochure about the category of home furnishings they are looking for. Of course, the customer must first supply their contact information!

Similar offers can be made on your website. Just give away some irresistible information in return for contact information.

Step 2. Once you’ve collected contact information you are ready to follow up multiple times over the next six weeks. Follow-up pieces should be personalized, with your customer’s name and in actual handwriting.

Another important point is that these mailings must be systematic. Experience has shown that relying on individual sales people, or even yourself to make sure this happens is a recipe for disaster.

Instead, set up an automatic system with a printer who knows how to manage multi-step mailings, and can personalize them with actual handwriting, not print that looks like handwriting. Sample mailing ideas can be found in, the previous article in this series, “Double Your Store Traffic - Part 6: Put A Stamp On It!”, posted to the furninfo.com article archives.

Step 3: Three mailings are the minimum that you’ll want to follow up with. Then you want to put those people on your newsletter campaign list or regular mailing list so that they constantly get reminded about you.

If you have trouble finding a printer that can do these personalized mailings for you, just send an email message to editor@furninfo.com requesting this information along with your name, store name, email and physical address. You will get the information by return email along with other valuable marketing information. Included will be the name of a company that actually has live human beings on staff that will handwrite your messages, and addresses (economically). This sounds like an irresistible offer, doesn’t it?

This is huge! No one sends out three handwritten follow-up cards in a row to people who haven’t even bought yet. This will totally differentiate you from all your competition, and generate a huge increase in sales.

Recession Busting System #2. The Lost Customer Saver™

At the risk of insulting some, I’ll repeat an overused, yet under utilized statistic that floats around in the business world. “It’s 7 times more expensive to get a new customer than it is to keep a current customer.”

Of course we’ve all heard it before. But how many of us truly live by that admonition? This second system that we’ll be talking about will show you how to do exactly that. Again, it’s a simple system.

Step 1. Find out when a customer is “late” buying from you. When does your average customer return and buy from you? Is it 12 months? 6 months? Whatever that number is, you need to know what it is.

From there, simply generate a list of customers who haven’t purchased in over that time period. For most furniture retailers 12 months is a good place to start.
Step 2. Use a 3 step sequence of mailings to get them back into the store.



There are some secrets to making these mailings work properly. The marketing pieces must include four key ingredients

•Identify them by name.
•Tell them you know they haven’t been in the store in a while.
•Show them that you value them as a customer, and miss them
•Give them a special offer to invite them back.

Sometimes retailers ask “If these people get my other ads and mailers and they haven’t responded, how is this going to work?” The answer to that is in the 4 key ingredients above.
People respond at much higher levels to offers when they feel they have been crafted specifically for them. When they feel like you care about them, and miss them, they respond.

In tough times, every customer is precious. Use these 2 systems to take advantage of the traffic and customers that you already have, and you’ll see a clear improvement in sales immediately.

Brett Kitchen and Ethan Kap are Co-founders of Furniture Marketing Systems, and are commonly known as the “Traffic Guys.” Brett and Ethan run a retailer Marketing Mastermind Group to help retailers increase store traffic and sales, while cutting the fat and waste from current advertising. They don’t sell advertising services. Questions on any aspect of direct response marketing can be sent to Brett and Ethan care of FURNITURE WORLD at bretk@furninfo.com.

If you want more information on how to thrive during a
recession and how to implement these systems in your store, you can get a free copy of the Popular White paper on Recession Proofing your Furniture Store at www.trafficguys.net.
 You can also listen to a free recorded seminar where we discuss in detail how to recession proof your company by using these systems and more.

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