Andy Alcosser is the director of sales for Connoisseur Media in the Milford, CT market, and Tony Bellantoni is a senior account manager in the cluster. Andy and Tony introduced us to Bill Keough from Keough’s Paint & Hardware, which has two locations in Connecticut. Keough’s is a family-owned business, started in 1972 by Bill’s mom and dad.
Hardware is a tough category to be in when you have big-boxes like Home Depot and Lowes selling everything a local hardware store would sell, with many items at lower prices. However, Keough’s has been and continues to be a successful local business. And Bill Keough gives a lot of the credit to his use of radio for advertising and the relationship he’s built up over the years with Andy and Tony.
RI: Tell us about how your company advertises.
Keough: When my father started the business, I was only 6 years old, in 1972, so I didn’t have a whole lot of input back then. My father came from corporate, so he pretty much followed whatever the hardware supplier at the time was presenting to him in terms of what to use for advertising. The mainstay then, and it still is for a lot of hardware stores, is flyers, whether it’s a fourpage, eight-page, 12-page color flyer that you insert in the newspaper, or mail out via direct mail. We did that for many years.
When I graduated from college in 1988, we were using some radio. A radio station brought in a jingle guy — that had to be 30 years ago. I was sold on it. It made a lot of sense in terms of putting out advertising, reaching out to people without them really knowing you’re reaching them, and getting your message across. Radio, once it’s out there, it’s gone. But whoever had the radio on at that time is going to hear it. If you have the right message, they’re going to hear it and hopefully respond to it.
Doing print, if someone didn’t look at their newspaper that day, or just throws it away, there’s no chance at all that they’re going to look at it. I was really sold on that idea and the idea that you need to dominate on the station you’re on. You can’t just dabble in it. You can’t just buy a few spots here and there and expect to get results. You need to pick a station and try to dominate it within your budget. Obviously, budgets are not unlimited, but try to dominate within your budget.
With that said, over the years, I started shifting dollars out of print advertising to radio. At one point we stopped doing those circulars and flyers and took all that money and put it into radio. And we still have the same jingle that we had 30 years ago.
RI: When you first started using radio, did you notice results?
Keough: That’s always the hard question, right? How do you measure results? One way is that people tell you they heard it on the radio. The question of sales growth is really the only way you’re going to know for sure, so the answer is yes, we’ve always been successful. We’ve had growth pretty much for 45 years, not huge growth, but during recessions, our business has stayed pretty strong when a lot of businesses went out.
I like to believe that a lot of it has to do with the perception that we have, the product we deliver in the store and the service. What kind of image are you getting out reminding people you’re there? With radio, you can do that. You can be on the same level with national advertisers. Home Depot is buying the same spots I’m buying. My production can be just as good as their production.
If you’re doing print, it’s expensive to buy a full-page ad. And if you had a tiny ad on one page and the next page was a full-page ad from your competitor, you looked too small. You look like you couldn’t compete with them. In radio, you’re competing on the same level. You may not be able to buy as many spots on as many stations, but you’re at least competing with the same framework of the ad.
RI: How difficult is it to compete with the big-box stores?
Keough: We just focus on what we do best. Price is not what we’re trying to beat them on. Luckily, my stores are in markets where I don’t have them next door to me. We’re competing with them with advertising — and people do drive to their stores. We try to compete with them on what we are, which is a hometown store that provides great service, has a great quality mix of products, and we try to give a price range of good, better, best. We don’t try to bring in any cheap, lowline price on anything to compete there.
It’s continuing to hire good people that are customer-focused, friendly, attentive. That’s the way we compete. It’s worked for 45 years, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do. We try to find new products, innovative products, things that maybe some of the big-boxes wouldn’t carry or they just don’t do well. But we never try to compete with them head-to-head on price.
RI: Talk about the relationship you have with the Connoisseur stations, with Andy and Tony, and why you think it works.
Keough: We’ve been doing business with Tony and Andy and their stations for some time. We have gone through a couple of different ownerships, even with those stations. The current ownership has been great. I don’t know how a new salesperson can get to where we are. It takes a lot. Our relationship is so good that I feel like Tony is part of my team. I count on him a lot. He knows what we should be doing, because we’ve been doing it so long.
We don’t try to reinvent the wheel each time. We’ll take a look at what we’ve done in the past, and Tony has a great file that keeps track of everything we’ve done. He’ll present that to me and say, “This is what we did last year. Is this what we should be doing now?” And then we will tweak it and make some adjustments, and then run with it.
That relationship makes my life so much easier. We’re not trying to create new copy every single time. I don’t have to explain my business philosophy, the way I do business, the way I think, to the sales rep or whoever is writing the copy because there’s just been that long-term relationship built. Tony truly understands my business, and it just makes it a lot easier.
RI: Andy and Tony, why do you think the relationship works?
Bellantoni: To Bill’s point, I consider myself a surrogate member of his staff. I take pride in trying to help him increase his bottom line every single month, every single year, to the point where we talk once a month on how his business is, what’s moving, what’s not moving, and what we can improve. I take it as seriously as if it were my own business. Bill knows that. We’re here to help.
We don’t want to rest on our laurels, either. We really try to come up with ideas. The “Keep It in Connecticut” idea that we came up with last year was really a refreshing jolt for the stations and enabled Bill to get more presence on the station and position his business as a local Connecticut business.
Alcosser: I can say that we know that Bill and people like Bill have so many choices about where they’re going to advertise, that we really do respect and appreciate the relationship and the trust in us. I kind of look at it like the programming director’s goal is to pick the right songs. Our goal in sales, in a way, is to pick the right advertisers. If you have good advertising on the station, it enhances the listeners’ experience. If you hear a lousy ad, just like hearing a lousy song, someone is likely to turn off the station.
Hearing the local advertisers really becomes news, in a way. What’s new going on? What new products are out there? To have someone as credible as Bill being able to present that, I equate it similarly to playing a good song. Bill’s always been very open to that with us.
This new thing that we are doing, “Keep It in Connecticut” — we recognize how tough it is to run a business these days, especially in this category of hardware. We created this initiative called “Keep It in Connecticut,” a shop-local initiative. We play it on all of our stations, encouraging people that shopping local helps the economy, shopping local supports local communities. When you have a chance, shop local. And then we have these vignettes, and Bill is one of them, talking about the history of Keough’s hardware in Fairfield County.
RI: Bill, you are running a business. You’re busy. There are so many salespeople coming at business owners these days. What are a couple of things that you think sales reps should always avoid?
Keough: Most people literally get 10 to 15 seconds to catch my attention. The one thing they need to avoid is cold calling without doing research prior to coming into my business or calling me. If they have no idea what I do or what my industry does, I don’t want to have to teach them.
A lot of media reps, that’s their first-time job, which is fine, but they don’t have either the right training or the right experience to catch my attention and gain my trust to have a followup meeting. Don’t try to sell me on the first phone call. Don’t try to sell me walking in my store. Just introduce yourself and introduce what you do and ask for a followup appointment to see if you can provide something for my business.
RI: So, don’t waste your time?
Keough: Yes. Don’t waste my time.
RI: If you had a chance to talk to other advertisers not using radio, what would you tell them?
Keough: You can really get more of a feeling out to people of what you’re all about with radio as opposed to print. Print media is fine — listen, I do some print, but my budget is skewed towards radio more than print. When you’re on the radio, you can get a message out there about what makes you different and why people should shop at your store, without giving anything away.
I will loop back to what salespeople shouldn’t do. One of the worst things ever is “Let’s find an item we can blow out at a great sales price and run ads for that, because that will drive traffic.” Maybe it does for certain businesses, but that’s not my business, and a salesperson needs to know that. I have 30,000 SKUs in my store. There’s not one SKU that’s going to make me successful. Putting one SKU out there at a great sales price is not going to drive traffic into my store — not enough to pay for an ad, that’s for sure.
I am not out there hammering away that I’ve got a sale going on. I’m trying to explain to people what we’re all about and make people feel comfortable about coming to my store. When they do and they get that same experience in the store, it gets reinforced by their visit, and it gets reinforced again by hearing it in the ad.
RI: Why do you believe your philosophy on advertising has worked for so long?Keough: I do think adding the personal touch of having me voice my own ads helps. I get comments all the time from friends and customers that hear the ads; they’re like, “Oh, boy, you’re a big star.” Anybody can be a star when they spend the money to buy the ads and to put their voice in it.
But if it’s done right, with the right copy and with the right help — Tony is great. When I go into the studio, he’s given me criticism that’s going to help. He doesn’t let me just cut it and it’s a horrible spot. You hear that a lot, whether it’s TV or radio, sometimes the owner is so dry and boring and you’re like, “Why did they even bother?” Tony helps encourage me to bring a little more energy, or just to do it again because it didn’t sound quite right. He still keeps it within who I am. Don’t try to make it sound like I am Crazy Eddie from back in the day.
Again, that relationship, that trust that I have in Tony and his honesty, helps keep that relationship going longer. To be totally frank, there’s a big radio station in our market that calls on me several times a year, and I don’t even talk to them because I feel like I am getting what I need for my business out of the two stations that I advertise on with Tony and Andy, and I just don’t need another station and another rep trying to start all over again. It works, so of course I’m going to keep doing it. It’s just that relationship that we’ve built that keeps it going.
If the owners and Tony change their attitudes, it would be easier to move on and try to find another station to be successful on. But because of what they do for me and what they do in the market and how they do it, I think it works. Back to trying to make it feel local, I think Tony and Andy’s radio stations do that in terms of having more of the local feel, and they try to do things on the air to try to make it more local. I think that’s why people still listen to radio.
Some people will talk to me and say, “Why are you on the radio? No one listens to radio anymore. They’ve got SiriusXM going.” And I say, if that was true, people wouldn’t be telling me that they hear me on the radio all the time. People still do want to tune into radio. I don’t know what the stats are and how it’s going on your side of it, but I do hear enough that people are hearing it, that I feel it is working.