‘Steeming’ the Competition1 Jan, 2014 By: Thomas Haire Response
Justin M. Bates says a DRTV and digital campaign has pushed the carpet-cleaning behemoth to new heights.
“Being the brand leader in our market makes direct response marketing essential,” says Justin M. Bates, president of Stanley Steemer in Dublin, Ohio. “Especially in an industry like carpet cleaning, where it’s easy to get into the business — we have more than 52,000 competitors across the country.”
Justin is the latest Bates to helm the Stanley Steemer business — a family operation started by Jack A. Bates in 1947. During the next 60-plus years, Stanley Steemer has grown into America’s largest carpet cleaning company with more than 300 stores in 49 states.
By 2008, with a national ad spend reaching into the tens of millions of dollars, a well-known vanity phone number (800-STEEMER) and jingle (“Stanley Steemer gets your home cleaner!”), the company was the established leader in the marketplace, both by size and quality.
But the Great Recession hit Stanley Steemer hard. With consumers lacking the funds for outside home cleaning services, the stretch between 2008 and early 2012 was one of the toughest in the company’s history.
That changed with a revitalized multi-channel marketing plan that combines DRTV and digital targets to maximize Stanley Steemer’s exposure to its key demographics. Beginning in the second half of 2012, and continuing throughout 2013, this new campaign, according to Bates, has driven record sales.
A Family Tradition
When Jack A. Bates started the company in 1947 as Jack Bates Carpet Cleaning, he could not have foreseen the company that today contends that it “wrote the book on clean.” When his son Wesley graduated from college about 20 years later, though, they began to work on the device that would change everything — their own version of a carpet-cleaning machine.
The dual-wand cleaning machine debuted in 1976 as the “Stanley Steemer,” a name coined by Jack and Wesley Bates during the engineering process. The name was inspired by both the Stanley Steemer automobile and the machine’s water cleaning technology. It wasn’t too long before the company was renamed after this breakthrough device.
When Justin Bates — Wesley’s son and Jack’s grandson — took the helm of the business in January 2007, Stanley Steemer was coming off of a record year. And Justin was already a veteran of the business.
And though Stanley Steemer has been Bates’ only employer in his adult life, he credits his early involvement with athletics in helping to shape him. “Athletics taught me commitment, leadership and how to compete,” Bates says.
Competition is nothing new for Stanley Steemer. The company offers cleaning services in many spaces beyond carpet: tile and grout; upholstery; air duct; water damage restoration; and carpet sales and installation. But what Stanley Steemer faced in the Great Recession of 2008 was one of the biggest competitive challenge in its long history.
Answering the Challenge
Though Stanley Steemer has been a stalwart in national DRTV advertising since 2000, nothing could have prepared the company for the upheaval it would face in the aftermath of the market crash of 2008. Consumers cut back heavily on discretionary spending, sending Stanley Steemer — which just two years before posted record sales numbers — spiraling.
The company’s sales numbers were off in 2008 and 2009, before recovering slightly in 2010. But sales again dipped in 2011 and early 2012 — and Bates needed to find an answer.
“Direct response marketing is effective and results-driven, as well as cost efficient,” Bates says. “The targeting capability of certain DR channels also allows us to advertise different services — hardwood floor, tile and air duct cleaning, or water-damage restoration — or promotional offers that we believe will resonate most to a particular region or customer segment. As part of our overall strategy, DR provides efficient reach and effective call-to-action."
Though Stanley Steemer was outspending its competition in early 2012, those campaigns weren’t driving the results the company wanted. In the middle of last year, the company connected with New York-based Horizon Media to reassess its media strategy.
What was the goal? Simple, really: to drive bookings and grow sales via the company’s toll-free number and website. With success measured monthly by year-over-year sales lift, it wouldn’t be hard to tell if the campaign was working. But what needed to change about the campaigns themselves?
“A call to action is extremely important,” Bates says. “Gathering feedback and making any necessary adjustments is also a key part to making our campaigns successful — and to staying relevant to our customers.”
Those adjustments began by understanding that the company’s key customer segment — which it calls “home proud” — is women between the ages of 35 and 64. Research conducted by Stanley Steemer and Horizon Media showed that this group still watches TV but was most receptive to hearing about home cleaning services in specific environments — during news and primetime crime programming.
This meant that Stanley Steemer’s TV campaigns needed to become more targeted not only by network and daypart — but also seasonally. During the years following the Great Recession, Stanley Steemer had struggled balancing spending relative to sales performance. Horizon suggested that the company streamline its spending on fewer networks, while increasing its presence and upgrading its programming selection to its targeted segment.
Stanley Steemer also decided to undertake a stronger digital presence to reach this same market. Again, with Horizon Media’s help, the company learned quickly that it could make hay on its competition, as many of its national and local competitors were underutilizing — or simply non-existent on — digital channels.
Using a combination of display, mobile and social tactics in concert with DRTV, Stanley Steemer has driven a 40-percent rise in website traffic since mid-2012, with around 30,000 booked appointments being credited to this campaign.
“The current DRTV campaign — launched in fourth-quarter 2012 in conjunction with other market tactics — helped drive a record sales year for Stanley Steemer in 2013,” Bates says, crediting the agency partner for its work. “Horizon Media is constantly optimizing, and they do a great job keeping our team up to speed on new insights, learnings and changes in the marketplace. The agency is also quick to respond to these things on our behalf, ensuring all of our campaigns are successful.” ■