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Got hardware? The MHA wants to know

REGIONAL SUPPORT Bob Schmidt, MHA president and owner of Gasser...
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On the Green Bay Packers Radio Network recently—between reports on the dramatic comeback of local football hero Brett Favre—listeners began hearing ads about “My Local Hardware Store.”

“Local ownership is good for football teams, and for hardware stores,” Packers football announcer Wayne Larrivee tells listeners in one of three ads that will run through December on more than 70 radio stations carrying Green Bay Packers broadcasts and the Wisconsin Radio Network. “Get real Wisconsin. Head to My Local Hardware Store.”

This marketing campaign, launched in late July by the Midwest Hardware Association (MHA), is designed to communicate the benefits of independent, locally owned hardware stores to customers across Wisconsin. What the “Got Milk” campaign has done for lactose beverages, the new campaign hopes to do for hardware stores—raise the profile.

“Just as milk producers promote the generic benefits of their product, we’re encouraging people to shop their locally owned, independent hardware store first,” said Bob Schmidt, MHA president and owner of Gasser Hardware in Lancaster, Wis. “It’s about pooling resources. It’s a good way for us to gain exposure.”

MHA began talking about the idea two years ago, after the Minnesota-Dakotas Retail Hardware Association initiated a similar campaign with the My Local Hardware Store moniker. But MHA has taken it a step further, using the radio spots to promote a Web site, www.mylocalhardwarestore.com, where local hardware stores are identified—each with an address, a brief description of the product mix and store hours.

The marketing campaign also includes the phrase, “Real People. Real Help. Real Close.” meant to promote the strengths of the hardware store in the retail spectrum.

“Yes, we sell a lot of the same merchandise [as the big boxes],” said John Haka, managing director of the MHA. “They focus on size and product turnover. But a local hardware store is really based on service, convenience and people.”

The program is up against some massive competition from the home center trio of Menards, Lowe’s and Home Depot—all of which promote varying service and convenience stories of their own on a very large media stage. In the case of Home Depot, the stage included the Beijing Olympics. (See story, page 5.)

Participation in the MHA program is voluntary among the group’s 300 Wisconsin-based member stores, who have to pay a fee to be listed on the Web site. With this, they receive supporting materials, including in-store signage and floor and window decals. (MHA also has about 250 Illinois-based stores that are not involved in the program.)

Schmidt said participation among MHA members—nearing the 120-store mark—has surpassed his expectations. He believes the true measure of the program’s success will come through hits on the Web site and comments from customers. “It’s a well-thought-out program, and I believe it’s going to be valuable to individual hardware stores to bring out our name a little bit,” he said.

Matt Dorn, owner of five Dorn Hardware stores in the Madison area and a My Local Hardware Store participant, believes the campaign sends a good message to Wisconsin home improvement shoppers.

“The main thing is that the local hardware store has better service and selection,” Dorn said. “And we’re in the neighborhood, so you don’t have to drive all over the place.”

As for the timing of the ads—right smack in the middle of the coverage of Favre, who has since been traded to the New York Jets—said Schmidt: “if we ever hit a jackpot, this was it.”

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