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Brand Marketing Channel Strategy Misfortune : Porters of Racine

portersPorters of Racine was founded in 1857 providing furniture of distinction well before Abraham Lincoln was President of the United States. My understanding of the history is that fine furniture was brought into port of Racine, Wisconsin and that people traveled from across the Midwest to Porters of Racine to purchase fine furniture. Fast forward to 2010 and we learn that Porters of Racine is closing after 153 years. There were detailed stories in the Racine Journal Times which mentioned the owners were hoping for better sales that did not materialize. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel mentioned the following items in their story:

“Small local furniture retailers who sold mid-range to higher priced furniture already were challenged before the recession because of competition from lower-priced Chinese imports.”

“Porters of Racine, one of the oldest surviving high-end furniture retailers in Wisconsin, soon will close after struggling for several years with declining sales.” Reaction: Notice that phrase “several years”, it’ll become vitally important in a minute.

“Through November, retail furniture sales in the U.S. dropped by 12.1%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The decline followed an 8% slide in 2008.” Reaction: Yes, after the housing bubble which created unnatural demand for furniture in 2005, 2006 and 2007, this would be natural.

The story states that Porters of Racine “will close after several years with declining sales”. Yet the story mentioned sales figures that only showed declines for 2008 and the first 11 months of 2009. defines several as “being more than two but fewer than many in number or kind”. This seems to indicate a period of two to possibly up to seven years. A previous 2007 story mentioned Porters of Racine being in a challenging business situation, before the housing bust took place indicating a clear issue about the business had formed earlier than 2007.  What could possibly explain several years of declining sales that included a four year boom in housing that correlated with increased buying of correlated household goods? That is a really good question.  It would seem to indicate that there was an agonizingly long, slow drop in quantity of qualified store floor traffic.  Let’s examine Porters online marketing channel usage, obviously without the help of the actual marketing plan in my hands.

The following branded terms for Porters of Racine had the following monthly query volume:
porters of racine outlet    36
porters of racine    1000
porters of racine furniture    91

According to my post, Local Search Marketing Keyword Allocation: Porters of Racine, there were about 48,948 qualified queries for the term Wisconsin furniture, 38,971 for Milwaukee furniture and 3,110 for Kenosha furniture for a total of 91,020 queries. Give that the standard 1/3 Google keyword haircut and we’ll call it 60,000. However, if you include the other communities in southeast Wisconsin and northeast Illinois, you’d probably have between 40,000 and 60,000 long tail queries for places like Lake Forest, Wilmette, Winnetka, Kenilworth, Highland Park, Glenview, Northbrook, Deerfield, Buffalo Grove, Lincolnshire, Mettewa, Libertyville, Schaumburg, Kildeer, Lake Bluff, Barrington and Riverwoods. In Wisconsin, there is places like Madison, Green Bay, Appleton and other cities within a drivable distance of Porters. To be conservative, we’ll even leave the high query volume term Chicago furniture completely out of the equation. So let’s call it 100,000 monthly queries in the regional furniture query market.

A look at website of Porters of Racine, shows a classic flat small web site with “Porters of Racine” on every title tag. And while the site had several more pictures on it before the going out of business sale banner was added, this was the case before the change. A further look back at the Internet wayback machine, indicates a series of websites built over the years that did not venture far from the current web sites theme. The word Milwaukee does appear on the site during a year 2000 version. Well you are getting my point, Porters of Racine appears to have never created an effective content strategy that would attract the types of searchers that would be looking for high end fine furniture and lived in the region. In fact it only ranks for the non-branded attribute term – Racine furniture. In my opinion, the shift in how companies engage customers has been shifting from many traditional forms of media to effective content and relevant paid search marketing strategies that can create engagement with potential customers. I’m making an assumption about content only as I see no evidence of an active paid search marketing campaign.

One might assert that many of those 100,000 queries aren’t qualified customers of a high end furniture store like Porters of Racine. Alright I’ll grant you this. But before we write them off, let’s talk about their potential benefits for a minute. Thousands of people wanting the best and aspiring to buy furniture from Porters of Racine! The amount of word of mouth, the number of people who visit the store and tell stories about it. All great things!  Not to mention we likely all know someone in our lives whose significant other caused them to buy something more expensive than they should be buying right? I do! OK, so let’s drop 90% of those queries as completely unqualified customers. This leaves us with around 10,000 queries a month.

10,000 queries a month for how long? Let’s say 7 years from 2003 (once Google had mainstream traction) through 2009. 10,000 queries times 7 years times 12 months per year yields us = 840,000 queries over the past 7 years! During a time period where customers were deluged with tons and tons of new content in news ways and forms. Not to mention that all of these queries were people putting in the word furniture with a regionally local qualifier – so they were relevant prospects! If done right, much more effective than traditional brand marketing spend that wastefully sends outbound messaging to many unqualified and uninterested customers.

So would 840,000 queries from relevant prospects have made a difference in Porters of Racine viability as a profitable and thriving business concern I think so.

Not fully convinced? Consider this. Doris Hajewski’s next “Shop Talk” entry was about Steinhafels opening a new mattress store. Who ranks #1 for the terms – Wisconsin furniture and Milwaukee furniture? You guessed it, Steinhafels!

Back in Chicago, I performed business content strategy and seo services on Weber Furniture Service, a fine furniture and refinishing and restoration provider, at the end of 2008, in the 1st quarter of 2009 versus the 1st quarter of 2008, a very different economic period, unique site visitors were up 45%!!! The company was able to cut traditional media spending as an added benefit which improved profit margin!

To be perfectly clear, my goal here is not to rip on Porters of Racine. Quite the opposite. By profiling a business which is going out of business, it is my hope that tens of thousands of other businesses can learn about the importance of effective SEO, SEM and content marketing practices from this event, which in my personal opinion is one of missed opportunity.

Let’s summarize what we’ve observed here in this post.

1) Effective search rankings can contribute to business success (Steinhafel’s) or business failure. Do you want to learn about Gen X CMO management techniques so you can prevent other businesses from this fate.

2) With the emerging changes in operational risk liability laws is your Board of Directors receiving qualified advice from someone who understands seo and web analytics as well as traditional executive level business techniques? Are they keeping current with these items are transforming the world of business strategy and customer distribution? If your Board of Directors  is not yet receiving this advice, it should be. Shareholders should be demanding it!

3) Are you aware of the trend of how search marketing is allowing product attributes to be electronically stored and retrieved from non-branded search queries allow you focus on the customers needs instead of your product push? As volume of content increases there is an ever increasing lack of mental band with to absorb additional information. You may wish review the appendix to this post.

4) Are you aware of the microeconomics of your marketing channels and successfully migrating organizational resources to align yourself with the customer and lead this change management initiative?

5) We are living in a time that is similar to the industrial revolution.  Marketing is changing from a purely outbound medium to a medium via search that is creating inbound marketing. This is a 180 degree process change that has large process ramifications. We are in a recession, but there are structural changes happening to the economy as a result of search and most businesses are not properly adjusting.

6) In the new normal economy, one needs to utilize the power of the Internet to lower marketing and sales costs to create competitive advantages over their competition. It’s actually not that hard to do once you understand it, but one has to understand that revenue and profitability improvements are possible. This is why the change management is so difficult, many don’t understand what is possible and are not aware of the far reaching organizational issues. One further needs to understand that SEO content strategy is not instant, but rather a long term process.

7) Newspapers, online news sites, TV and cable news need to cover more than just the facts. The reality is yes businesses are closing and jobs are being lost, but that is a symptom, not a root cause of these complex business issues. But these are things that happen well after the damage that is caused by not migrating your marketing channels to an ideal search marketing strategy.

If you’d like to learn how to become aware of these issues so that you can migrate the structural changes in our economy, please consider attending Think Tank Live in Waukesha on February 23, 2010, code WI50 gets you a $50 discount. Chris Campbell of Lakeshore Branding and WordPress Expert Lisa Sabin-Wilson wrote blog posts about the upcoming event where you will learn things such as “How Breaking Business News Stories Migrate to Mainstream Mass Media“. We hope to see you there!