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Loss Prevention

Expect the Unexpected

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H ow often have you been caught in a rainstorm without an umbrella? Or been caught unawares by winter weather that results in an icy parking lot? Westlake Ace Hardware is capitalizing on that unpreparedness with Weather the Storm, a mobile text messaging application that helps customers stay abreast of weather patterns that could affect their daily lives – and serves as an inexpensive customer relationship marketing program as well.

Westlake Ace, the largest dealership in the Ace Hardware network with 88 stores in seven Midwest states, launched Weather the Storm in January. “We feel we can distinguish ourselves from the competition by the way we deliver service,” says Liz Benditt, director of customer relationship development for the Lenexa, Kan.-based dealership. “Weather the Storm helps homeowners be prepared. It helps our managers be prepared as well, since they can receive text messages ... if icy weather is on the way, the weather alert reminds them to salt the parking lot.”

Helpful tips and promotions
Westlake Ace worked with SoundBite Communications, a leading global provider of mobile marketing solutions, to develop the app. Benditt says SoundBite provided a customized solution by leveraging Engage, a cloud-based integrated multi-channel communications platform, and Insight, a preference management platform that enables intelligent, personalized communication directly with the National Weather Service. This allows Westlake to send accurate weather information based on each customer’s ZIP code.

The program contains more than 115 potential weather events that are prioritized by the degree of impact they could have on homeowners. Unless the weather event is something that could be serious like a blizzard, alerts are sent out every four days, “not as overwhelming as receiving an alert every day,” Benditt says.

There are also three rotating messages associated with each event. If the weather forecast has not changed since the most recent alert was sent, the new message might include a promotion or helpful tips like “Take an umbrella,” “Don’t forget your gloves” or “Put an ice scraper in your car.”

“From a customer standpoint,” says Benditt, “the messages are simple and elegant. Of course, the programming for the message matrix was very complex. SoundBite did a great job for us and they did it pretty quickly and … it was not expensive, just a small part of our marketing budget.”

Weather-related projects
To opt in, customers simply text or register online at Westlake’s website. Benditt promotes the program using flyers, in-store signage, e-mail and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Benditt says Westlake is “anxious to take this concept and apply it to other parts of our business. We might, for example, use it in the spring to suggest outdoor projects like gardening and grilling when expecting nice weekend weather, and indoor projects like painting and plumbing when expecting inclement weekend weather.”

There are also discussions underway that could result in the program being made available to other ACE Hardware dealers, Benditt says.