Smiths’ social media success
19 August 2020
Intelligent use of social media and digital marketing is one of the reasons why Smiths Equipment Hire has performed strongly throughout the pandemic.
The award-winning, family-owned independent, based in Blackpool, was amongst the first hirers to realise the potential of new technology and this has played a major role in keeping staff and customers informed.
“My fellow Directors, David and Thomas Smith and I, sat down and carefully devised a plan for the way forward,” says Marketing Director David Turner. “We kept open six of our 13 depots (Blackpool, Preston, Liverpool, Warrington, Manchester and Leeds) with full staff levels, which enabled us to maintain regional coverage.
Importance of communication
“Marketing and communications played a key part in explaining our strategy to our whole team when many of them were at home. Otherwise, some might have wondered while they were being furloughed while others were not, for example.
“We contacted everyone regularly to make sure they were safe, to reassure them that the business was financially stable and to keep them informed about the decisions we were taking,” says David.
“Whenever the government announced changes to the coronavirus guidance, our strategy had to change accordingly. I think the decisions we made were important factors in our success and helped us trade strongly throughout.”
The senior management thought long and hard about what sort of equipment would be in demand during lockdown, and which of its locations would be best placed to provide it to homeowners and construction workers.
Demand from cash customers
“One area of business that grew by as much as 500% was demand from small builders, landscapers, DIY hirers and cash customers. This is where our website came into its own,” says David.
“The messaging on the site changed constantly to reflect new developments. Initially the home page gave a prominent initial Covid-19 statement about preventative measures we had introduced at the depots and how orders could be placed. Over time, as people got used to the situation and sites re-opened, a message about working together - ‘our team helping yours’ - was added.”
David says that Smiths’ social media strategy complemented these web initiatives. “Across all the channels, we told people how we were handling the situation and that we were open and ready to do business.
“And the message subtly shifted: eventually it was down to customers to decide what was essential - it wasn’t for us to dictate to them. That was crucial, and we were basically following government guidelines.”
The products highlighted on the home page also changed to reflect prevailing demand. “When construction sites closed we focused on the cash customer and, of course, the social media audience is so much broader. Everyone with a house in the north west of England became a potential customer as they were based at home cleaning the house, maintaining the garden and doing groundwork for patios.”
Without giving many trade secrets away, Smiths redesigned their Google Adwords campaigns to target such customers in terms of location and household, with advertising messages written slightly differently to appeal to each type. Enquiries for certain items can also be directed to the depots specialising in them.
Top of the list
“We initially found that, on products like DIY and gardening equipment, while we would usually expect to be at or near the top of any Google search list through SEO (search engine optimisation), regardless of our Adwords campaigns, many of our main hire competitors seemed to vanish from the lists because they had not yet re-opened. So our main competition seemed to be from the likes of eBay and Amazon, who were retailers!
“We saw the opportunity and promoted a message saying, ‘Why buy when you can hire?’ Someone might only need equipment for a day, and if they hire they benefit from having a well-maintained machine that is probably better suited to the task. They can hand it back afterwards and don’t have to store it. The number of hires like this simply rocketed.”
David makes it sound easy, but a lot of background planning and web technology goes into the process.
When an enquirer clicks on link or an ad, a small Google Adwords fee is paid (pay-per-click or PPC).
“We also know that most people now search for virtually everything on their mobile phones and do all the research from the comfort of their chair,” says David. “They’ll click on the link that takes them to the appropriate page on our website. At the top is a geographically tracked phone number. If you click on that and make a call, we use technology that can provide details about the enquiry.”
It’s an approach that is obviously working. David says that in July, Smiths had its best month ever in terms of turnover during the 49 years since the hire operation became a limited business.
“That reflects the effort that we are putting in to ensure we deal with customers in the right way, and the emphasis the whole team puts on service. And we know we get repeat business on the back of that.”