“Selling Fun Drives Traffic”

True Value Home Center Keeps customers coming back by ensuring they have a good time — even if they didn’t buy anything.

Alan Bryant’s True Value Home Center Inc. may look like a typical hardware store, but what attracts many customers is hardly standard fare. True, the $2 million franchise in Yosemite, Calif., merchandises traditional do-it-yourself products. But its stock in trade is more basic: It sells fun. Bryant holds a variety of parking-lot events, nearing one a month now, that make customers want to drive in and see what the commotion is all about.

"Our events aren’t strictly designed to pull people into our store," explains Bryant, owner and general manager of the 11,200-square-foot franchise in Yosemite, Calif., a growing resort area. "They’re designed to get them to the store in the first place."

The business is located next to a mall off a busy highway, but it has its own parking lot. That means Bryant has to entice in drivers. "We want to give them a reason to pull into our parking lot and then leave having enjoyed the experience, whether they bought something or not. If we can do that, they’ll come back the next time they need a product," he adds.

Kids and Pets

How Bryant’s approach differs from retailers focusing on more product-related promotions can be seen in his annual Pet Vaccination Day event. Held each summer, it features local veterinarians staffing a tent in the parking lot and giving discounted vaccinations to pets.

"I never thought we’d get that much turnout. But we’ve learned that anything having to do with people’s kids or pets will bring out crowds," Bryant says.

That goal was reinforced by the turnout at another recent event, in which the store hired a band and set up an inflatable "bounce house" for kids. "People see it’s a carnival-type atmosphere, and they say, ‘Hey, what’s going on at True Value?’ " he explains. "We’ve been here five years, and we’re still introducing people to our store and our goods. These events help put us first in their minds and help them remember us. We know there are a lot of places they can go to buy light bulbs."

Some events center on product demonstrations or feature key products as part of the fun. The store’s popular Lawn Chief 500, for instance, allows customers to race through an obstacle course on a riding lawn mower, with prizes for the best times in different categories. The event started slowly five years ago, when the store sold only a few string trimmers and no walk-behind or riding mowers. Today, it’s become so popular that Bryant’s major concern is ensuring everyone has a chance to run the course during the event. While they wait, they can check out his growing array of lawn mowers, which he now orders in truckload quantities to keep up with demand.

"We’re going to stick with our trend of adding a new event each year," he vows. "Pretty soon, we’ll be putting our heads together to come up with something for next year."

Writer: Craig A. Shutt