Who needs a company store?

Confessions of a former marketing client

An excited woman showing us what is on her tablet.

A few years back, I was a newly hired brand manager at a transportation company. On my list of initial projects was “launch a company store.” In talking to my director, I discovered that there had previously been a company store, but it had sort of “fizzled.” And by the way, that old inventory of branded shirts, mugs, pens, and other mysterious boxes in the basement was mine to deal with – and quickly as we were planning a move within six months.

I must admit, I felt a bit overwhelmed. After all, I had other projects that seemed more important and relevant to managing our brand, such as launching a new advertising campaign and refreshing the branding on our products. I reached out to former coworkers to get the contact information for our previous online company store provider as well as conducting an informal RFP process with a few other promotional products distributors. My goal: get this project checked off my list so I could focus on the other twenty plus projects demanding my attention.

While I enjoyed the logoed gifts each representative brought to their pitch, the presentations all seemed similar – right down to the pricing. When the representative from my previous online company store provider came in, things were different. She had done her homework and asked me thought-provoking questions in advance of coming in to present. Beyond the obvious “how many employees?” and “what is your budget?” she asked about our goals for the company store. What were we trying to achieve? How would we know the store was successful? Why did the previous company store fail and what could we learn from that? She made me step back and put my marketing hat on.

This wasn’t simply about getting a project checked off my to-do list or stopping the parade of managers and HR recruiters from asking me what stuff I could give them; this was about our brand.

I reflected on the requests I was receiving internally, the challenges HR was experiencing in recruitment, the high turnover and low morale managers were complaining about in customer service, and the desire our marketing department had to create excitement at upcoming events.

The why

The idea of having an online company store isn’t exactly revolutionary in our current environment; more than 227.5 million Americans currently shop online – that’s more than 11 percent of total sales¹. As consumers we’ve come to expect intuitive navigation, easy payment processing, and quick shipping as part of our online shopping experience. So, I knew that employees would be more than willing and interested in an online company store.

Instead, I needed to better understand the why around what they were purchasing. I did some informal focus groups with each of my key stakeholder groups:

  • HR was struggling to recruit candidates in key professional positions, and the competition was fierce. They wanted to be able to quickly select, order, and purchase branded items that would attract young professionals to visit and engage with them at universities and industry events. Their current process was to find an interesting item on Amazon and stockpile it back at the office. This created big problems because they weren’t managing the inventory – first come, first served – so recruiters were scrambling (and coming to Marketing) for any “stuff” they could bring to an event at the last minute.
  • Customer Service was dealing with a revolving door. After customer service reps completed their rigorous 9-week training, they would fatigue, get frustrated, or find another opportunity and leave the organization. The customer service manager wanted to create an incentive program to reward positive behavior and generate company loyalty and enthusiasm. (There are only so many pizza parties you can throw!) And these weren’t high-paying positions, so any merchandise needed to be budget-friendly.
  • Our marketing team was responsible for brand, internal communications, inbound sales generation, direct marketing, social media, PR, and events – hence my project to get an online company store set up. I knew that we wanted promotional products to help generate brand awareness and interest with consumers, and I knew we wanted employees participating in events to wear consistent, branded clothing. It seemed like we were recreating the wheel every time another need came up with someone searching online to find something that fit our timing and budget.

So, yes, a company store was a good solution for our company. And I chose to go with Foxtrot Marketing Group (previously 20/20 Brand Solutions) because they were consultative and reminded me of the strategic reasons for our company store program. (They also had the nicest website design and functionality, making it an easy choice.)

Clearly, I had an excellent customer experience because I jumped at the chance to join the organization when a marketing position opened a couple of years later. When I say that I empathize with our customers, it’s genuine.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with online company stores – have you considered the strategic impact for your brand? Email me at cindy.matalamaki@foxtrotmarketing.com.


¹ https://fortunly.com/statistics/online-shopping-statistics#gref