Chief Supply Fires Up Sales With E-Newsletters

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Having a collection of 45,000 customer e-mail addresses is valuable -- as long as you do something with it.

In e-commerce since 1998, Chief Supply has accumulated those addresses from site visitors who requested product catalogs over the years. But the Charlotte, NC, supplier of products and services geared to the public safety and surveying industries wasn't trying to further that online connection after the catalog was sent.

In 2004, however, Chief embarked on an e-mail marketing campaign to build stronger, more profitable relationships with the customers who supplied their contact information on www.chiefsupply.com.

Chief, owned by BECO Holding Co., Charlotte, began by sending monthly e-newsletters to customers, promoting its newest products and services as well as offering industry information. Chief sends two versions to target its two distinct customer bases, which have very different product needs.

Its public safety customers (fire and police departments as well as individuals who work for them) are interested in equipment and apparel that surveying customers (surveyors and engineers) are not. The newsletters contain multiple links to the Chief site, making it faster and easier to buy a featured item.

The newsletters have been well received and have led to higher sales and new customers. The open rate last year was 23 percent, said Karen Brinson Yates, application coordinator manager for BHC.

Order sizes are up, with individual purchases rising from $50-$60 to $87 last year. Chief posted higher total order sizes for its public safety department customers as well. Prior to using RightNow Marketing from RightNow Technologies, Bozeman, MT, the average order for these departments was around $700, Ms. Brinson Yates said. In 2005, it was $1,061.

Chief acquired 10,000 new customers overall in 2005.

The newsletters, which also help keep Chief top of mind with customers, have taken pressure off company sales reps. Chief previously notified reps which products they were promoting each month. The reps then would e-mail PDFs of those products to their customers. Now, customers don't have to open each PDF. They can just click on the e-mail and immediately see the product images.

"Before, if they received a PDF, they could just look at it," Ms. Brinson Yates said. "But it wasn't taking them to our Web site if they had any other questions."

Chief and BHC also can better manage the content and frequency of communications to customers, she said. Prior to the newsletters, the company didn't always know the content of messages that reps sent to their customers.

"Now we have some control over what's going to the customer," she said.

Ms. Brinson Yates said she can make the reply address of the e-mail that of the customer's rep. Customers with questions can respond directly to that rep. And it is easy to tell which reps' customer bases are more receptive to the e-mails, she said.

While the e-mail techniques have helped increase Chief's e-commerce business, RightNow Marketing also assisted in Chief's launch of a profitable new business line. Chief began a grant business last year, offering seminars that teach public safety agency managers how to improve their grant acquisition strategies.

"[To promote it], we did one direct mail piece and all the rest was based on e-mail promoting," Ms. Brinson Yates said.

The new business generated $300,000 in revenue for Chief last year. The company also benefits because the departments can use their grant money to buy items from Chief.

"With the seminars, we feel the people who attended the seminars brought in $300,000 in sales for us," she said. "The other side is we helped departments get $14 million in grant awards."

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