If you were asked which company you thought was the biggest online thought leader in the kitchen appliance space, you’d probably assume that it was one of the major manufacturers you’ve been seeing in kitchens for years -- names like General Electric, Whirlpool, Kenmore, and Frigidaire.
Worth hundreds of millions of dollars each, these companies, at least in theory, should “own” the digital space.
However, you might be surprised to learn that not only is the go-to consumer information source in the appliance industry not one of the leading manufacturers, it’s also not a manufacturer at all.
The company that is making a killing by providing educational articles, videos, buyer’s guides, and ebooks that answer the most pressing questions potential buyers have about appliances is a regional retail store located in Boston, Massachusetts called Yale Appliance.
Yale Appliance has been selling to and servicing the people of Boston with all of their home appliance and lighting needs since 1923. From the Great Depression of the late 1920s to the Great Recession of 2008, Yale Appliance has persevered through it all.
So, how does a local appliance store maintain longevity through many generations, while many other businesses in their field have been forced to shutter their doors during periods of economic decline?
The answer is simple:
They turned to their customers and started paying close attention to the habits, problems, and needs of appliance consumers.
In 2007, Yale Appliance CEO Steve Sheinkopf decided it was time to start taking control of online conversations about home appliances by starting a business blog for Yale Appliances. And for four years, Sheinkopf was pleased with the online results he was seeing -- a growing social media presence, as well as a steady (albeit slight) uptick in monthly traffic.
And as much as he personally despised traditional outbound advertising, there were times when he believed that he had no choice but to turn it.
“I’ve never been sold on advertising, even though we were doing some radio and television ads, and buying space in the Boston Globe,” Steve explained.
“We were spending a lot of money. When the recession hit, I had read somewhere that refrigerators actually sold better during recessions like the Great Depression, so we advertised even more, but we didn’t really get anything out of it.”
The recession forced Steve to reevaluate his business goals and plans.
“When I was struggling during the recession, we had to ask ourselves the same two questions every other business has to -- ‘How do I reduce expenses?’ and ‘How do I add revenue?’ And it usually boiled down to the same answers -- ‘I need to sell more,’ and ‘I need to cut more.’ And that’s really hard to do. Anybody with compassion hates to cut people,” he said.
It was during these tough economic times that Steve decided to explore further why his inbound marketing strategy wasn’t producing the results he was after, so he turned to the internet for answers.
It was through his research about HubSpot that he stumbled across the River Pools & Spas story and decided to reach out to Marcus Sheridan (partner of IMPACT) to see whether having an on-site inbound marketing workshop with his employees could help turn around his company’s inbound marketing efforts.
But, as Steve recalls, the first conversation didn’t quite go as he had anticipated.
“How I met Marcus is actually a pretty funny story,” Steve shared. “You all know him as the folksy Marcus. But I got a different Marcus Sheridan. (After looking at what we were doing), he said to me, ‘We’re not going to talk about what you’re doing right, we’re going to talk about what you’re doing wrong, and whether or not you want to fix it. Can you handle that?’ It was actually a pivotal moment in my career because half of me wanted to strangle him, and the other half of me realized he was right. I couldn’t argue with the numbers.”
Steve embraced Marcus’ earnest criticism of Yale’s content marketing efforts and -- after a few more messages exchanged -- he decided to have Marcus come out to his company and teach IMPACT’s core marketing philosophy of They Ask, You Answer.
After Yale Appliance’s workshop in early 2011, the entire Yale Appliance team began tackling their content marketing strategy with a rejuvenated passion that consisted of a clear direction and attainable goals.
Part of Steve’s new content marketing plan was to reevaluate his company’s overall goals. He realized that in order to achieve those goals, he would have to put the customers first, produce content that was helpful, and aid clients in their purchasing decisions.
Specifically, he focused on The Big 5 content topics in order to become the “Yelp for kitchen appliances.”
Steve also made content production a companywide policy, going so far as to add mandatory content production into the employee handbook.
“Some people are bad writers, I get that. But the other good part of getting everyone to blog is, theoretically, if everyone is blogging and really trying, they’ll learn to get better,” Steve said. “If you spend a month researching a topic, you’re going to know what you’re talking about on that subject. And if you know what you’re talking about, you should be able to explain it to others.
Even though Steve made it company policy that everyone in the organization had to help in producing content -- creating new articles, participating in videos, brainstorming new ideas, and so on -- he actually wrote the majority of Yale Appliance’s content.
“People would often question why the CEO of a company was working so hard on producing content when there were over 140 employees that could have been handling it.” Steve explained.
“I actually started to feel bad about it. But then I was talking with Ann Handley [author of Everybody Writes and Content Rules] and she told me what I was doing was a good thing. She said, ‘You’re in business development.’ And I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s my real job. I’m in business development.’ Some of my articles have now been read between 10,000 and 20,000 times, and my top article has been read over 800,000 times. I couldn’t advertise for that. That’s why I do it -- because I’m in business development.
With their retargeted marketing efforts, Yale Appliance’s website traffic, leads, customers, and revenue began to grow at an incredible rate; doubling nearly every year from 2011 until the present, where their traffic averages up to 800,000 visits and 8,000 new leads generated every month.
Since they began implementing inbound marketing, they’ve had nearly 30 million visits to the website, made over 340,000 contacts, and closed over 13,000 customers.
Publishing articles based on truth, honesty, and transparency about appliances has served Yale Appliance very well. Today, Yale Appliances doesn’t spend any money at all on advertising and focuses all of its marketing efforts into its website, blog, videos, and learning center.
And the results have been nothing short of remarkable.
Simply by obsessing over customer questions, and being willing to answer them better than anyone else in their space, Yale Appliance has climbed to the top of their industry.
Once again, a Digital David beats Goliath.