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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Flooring It Differently With Social Media: Carpets By Otto

This week's guest for Flooring The Consumer's Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old is Alan Woody. You'll note that I titled today's post "Flooring It Differently with Social Media." That's because Alan, as General Manager of Carpets by Otto, uses social media in his flooring business.

I 'met' Alan through The Carpetology Blog, when he helped me identify my Wow! Dallas carpet. I was astounded at what I discovered when I checked his site out. Hurray, I thought, finally a forward-thinking carpet retailer!

I love how the entire Carpets by Otto team appears online in the About Us section; they are also listed by name on the left sidebar with links to each's photo, responsibility and contact information. Entries aren't just about sales and promotions happening in-store; they also relate to the community, include YouTube videos and answer customer questions. Check out the photo album of completed projects. No surprise in my mind that Carpets by Otto has been "recognized as a leader in the industry by Shaw Industries Inc. (a division of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.) and selected as Northwest Ohio’s only Shaw Design Center partner."

Alan Woody graciously agreed to answer my many questions.

C.B.: Alan, would you share background on your store and you, and your role?

Alan: Carpets by Otto is a Toledo based company founded in 1969 by Otto and Dee Weik that has grown over the last forty years to become one of the largest independent flooring companies in Northwest Ohio. I have been with the company for over twenty years now, and as the General Manager my role is to make sure all our people have the tools and training they need to accomplish their assigned roles within the company. In addition, I handle of all advertising and technology related tasks such as our website.

C.B.: What inspired you to use a blogging platform for your website? Are you pleased with the decision? Why?

Alan: The choice of the Typepad blogging platform for our new site was inspired by my use of a similar service for my own personal website. I knew it would be low cost, which was key since we'd gotten quotes from professional web designers for between $5,000 and $10,000 to build us a custom site. This service is less than $20 a month! I also knew it would be very easy for me to operate and update, since I was already very familiar with it.

C.B.: Are you involved in other aspects of social media?

Alan: As a company we are not using any other social media at this time, however if I see a benefit to something that comes along I will certainly consider it. Got any suggestions? I'm not sure how Facebook or Twitter fits into doing business, but I would not be surprised if we are on there before long. Seems like this is the way forward online.

C.B.: What kinds of reactions have you received internally and with customers?

Alan: Reaction has been very positive. From looking at the visitor stats I can see how visitors get to our site, what pages they visit etc. and they really do seem to be using all of the site. Internally it's a no brainer since we saved so much money and can update it quickly as often as we like with no additional cost. The blog platform also lends itself to accumulating a large amount of content over time, and this keeps pushing up our placement in organic search engine results. Some of our competitors pay money for search engine advertising, and we get as good, if not better placement simply by virtue of the way our site is built and maintained.

C.B.: What do you like most about using social media?

Alan: The thing I like most about the blog is it's effectiveness. Our search engine rankings are improving all the time. For instance, as of today a Google search for "Shaw Anso Premier carpet" places us at #1 worldwide, above both Shaw and Anso! While this doesn't do much to drive business at the local level, it does tell me that a blog is far better than a static website at attracting search engines and by extension the users of search engines... which is EVERYBODY.

C.B.: What do you like least about using social media?

Alan: I can't think of anything I don't like about using a blog for our company's website. If you have a basic grasp of HTML, some graphic design software, and enough product knowledge to be able to write content about your products you are a good candidate for this type of site.

C.B.: What other marketing tools do you use?

Alan: The rest of our marketing program is traditional television and radio. We also own a large billboard at our warehouse which is right next to a major expressway. This billboard has in the past featured just our website address, in a kind of "got milk?" minimalist design that was very effective at raising awareness.

C.B.: What kind of steps do you take to integrate your social media platform with more traditional marketing programs?

Alan: We recognize that the majority of today's consumers are web users, so we are sure to include the website address in all our other advertising materials and collateral. If a customer is making a decision about where to buy their floor we believe our website is our second best spokesperson after their sales representative, and if they haven't been to a store yet it's our only spokesperson!

C.B.: Given your successes, what suggestions do you have for other companies to implement so they can more effectively connect with customers?

Alan: Connecting with customers is simply making yourself available to them by whatever means they prefer to communicate by. If they want a phone number, we've made them available. If they want a fax number, they're all on our site. If they want a website, we're easy to find. If they want their individual sales reps e-mail address, we've made all of that available on the site too. We are very accessible to our customers, which I believe makes my entire team more responsive and more effective.

C.B.: Any other thoughts to share about the effectiveness of social media in forging stronger relations with customers.

Alan: I believe social media will grow in importance as more people become accustomed to it, and I believe we will be strongly positioned when that day comes, but right now most customers are using our blog as they would a traditional website. Very few customer have used the comment feature for instance, but I'm sure that will change.

Comments? Questions? Reactions? Isn't Carpets by Otto's website a fantastic social media example?

Thank you, Alan, for sharing your experience bridging new & old with us. Talk about Flooring It Differently with social media! I look forward to hearing what you next find success with.

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