Help your customers prepare for storms – and help yourself to extra sales.

This is not a new idea. I didn’t think it up, and I don’t think the folks at Grainger Industrial Supply - the inspiration for this article - thought it up. I remember Home Depot ratcheting up a similar campaign when a hurricane threatened Florida. They, too, no doubt borrowed the idea from someone else, because it’s pretty simple and obvious.

It doesn’t matter who originated the concept. Mere ideas cannot be copyrighted, and this is a good one that any PHCP distributor can pick up to generate extra sales.

Grainger publishes a 12-page “Winter Storm Preparedness Guide” for customers. Their PR people say it’s “designed to educate customers to try to mitigate some of the new potential dangers caused by winter storms.”

A noble sentiment and useful service, but its real intent is to help Grainger sell more flashlights, first aid kits, gas cans, spreaders, portable heaters, generators, batteries, ice melters, insulated gloves, snow shovels or any of scores of other items Grainger rather slyly refers to as “Winter Preparedness Products.” The company’s winter preparedness Web site link directs visitors to everything from mops to water filters to toilet seats and other items that possess about as much relevance to winter storms as bikini swimsuits.

Some of you reading this may already be doing something along the lines of Grainger’s winter preparedness campaign. It’s a well-worn merchandising concept to package various items for a specific application or condition. The whole is intended to generate more revenue than the sum of its parts, some of which customers might take a pass on when sold individually.

The surprising thing is that every PHCP distributor doesn’t do this. One reason is it may require stocking some things you don’t normally sell - i.e., those flashlights, first aid kits, gas cans, etc. However, most of these items have sales appeal year-round. Even if they don’t, as long as they are marked up profitably and purchased in sensible quantities, they shouldn’t present a major burden on your inventory budget.

You can find out more about Grainger’s winter preparedness marketing campaign

Don’t stop there. Now’s the time to start developing “kit” campaigns for spring and summer. Spring brings heavy rains and flooding to many regions of the country, and the beginning of hurricane season in the southern coastal areas. Many of the items earmarked for winter preparedness are just as relevant to hurricane emergencies. Up North, spring is a time to promote sump pumps and all the paraphernalia that goes along with their installation. Spring cleaning is another theme that can be played upon, as is prime time for bath and kitchen remodeling. Going into summer, there are heat wave expectations to capitalize upon.

Consider partnering with PHC contractors whose merchandising skills may not be on a par with yours. Spring home shows are a particularly good place to combine forces to get products flying off your shelves. Spring may seem a long way off in places where snow and icicles are decorating the holiday season. But it’s too late to start planning once they melt for good.

I don’t wish to insult the intelligence of so many savvy merchandisers among our readers who do these things and more. It’s just that I know not every distributor reading this takes advantage of these natural opportunities, and a little reminder can be of service to them.

Back to winter

Despite spending the last 30 years of my life chronicling this industry, I’ve never quite gotten used to its alternative universe in which bad weather is good, and vice versa. Religious services this time of year are crowded with heating people praying for a frigid winter. Replacing them in the pews come springtime will be the a/c crowd appealing for divine intervention to scorch the masses.

Bad weather is a godsend to your plumbing and heating customers whose phone lines reverberate with calls about no heat or frozen pipes. The flip side is that service technicians have to endure considerable hardship going out in blizzards or subzero temperatures. Sometimes they put in long hours over holidays when family time is at a premium. They are among our nation’s unsung heroes.
Think for a moment about anything you might be able to do to make their lives a little easier. No need to ignore the WIIFM factor. By all means tie in products that can boost your gross margin dollars. Think of kitting opportunities that involve gas leak and CO detectors, snow tires and chains, hand warmers, thermos bottles, etc.

Now I close this forum for the year by wishing all of you a joyous holiday season. And miserable weather on top of it!