Larry the Ad Man's Blog

I hope you learn from my small business marketing and advertising tips.

"Advertising is to trade what Steam is to machinery" Thomas Cook.
It was an honor to be nominated for 2011 Canadian Weblog Awards.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Lessons from my Youth.. working at Zellers

With the recent sale of Zellers by HBC to Target, many memories of my first job came back to me.
Sometimes you don't realize where you learn certain lessons until something like this jogs your memory. I remember my manager teaching me to work smart not hard. I was moving free weights from one end to another end in the sporting goods department. One heavy box at a time. Then he said "come here Larry" took me to the front to get a shopping cart and said load it up and roll it over. I remembered that lesson. More importantly the company itself wrote the book on Canadian retail marketing in the 80's. Advertising slogans like "The lowest Price is the Law" and "Only you know how little you paid" drew people out to shop at their stores in droves. They knew the sociology of the time. People in the 80's were still very brand conscious and also wanted to save money. These 2 slogans spoke to those needs and connected with Canadians. Then came what was the most remarkable, brilliant and most copied marketing idea of my lifetime. Club Z was it's name. Customers signed up to Club Z and received points based on how many dollars they spent and could order items free of charge from a catalogue. Sound familiar? This was cutting edge stuff in the late 80's. Now I can't think of a single major retailer that doesn't have some type of Customer Rewards Program. Canadian Tire money was first, but Club Z took it to a whole new level. Not only were customers rewarded, they also had to register, so their purchases could be tracked and direct mail pieces could be sent. Canadian Tire money accumulates in the glove box.

Here is a very dated commercial from 1988 during the origin of Club Z, making the customer feel special. A classic ad strategy.
 And here is one of the first from 1986. Note the classic advertising theme of offering an exclusive upper crust feeling:
There are many marketing lessons to be learned from studying Zellers marketing plan and retail success. Ironically the success of Zellers at convincing the Canadian public that you didn't need to spend big dollars to feel like you were upper crust, high class, or of high quality took the wind out of the sails and sales of  "The Bay" AKA Hudsons Bay Company, Canada's oldest company and parent company of Zellers. Another high end retailer Eatons, was not able to adjust to this and went bankrupt in 1999. This was a direct result of Zellers marketing and advertising strategy and it's ability to change public perception and shopping habits. They shifted the paradigm and other companies were not able to adjust. As I type this today, Zellers itself has now fallen victim to another shifting paradigm and now huge US based retailers are now dominating the Canadian marketplace leading to the sale to Target. I look forward to seeing how Target will imprint itself on Canadian retail.

As a small business owner or manager, you must study and learn from the leading businesses in your industry. If you are in retail, follow what Wal Mart and Target will be doing and use it to your advantage. Large advertisers like these can change customer buying habits and introduce buzz words into society that you can use to enhance your advertising. Let the companies with the dollars establish these trends and "catch the wave". "Work smart not hard". Until next time I'm Larry "The Ad Man"

1 comment:

  1. Larry, great recap of Zellers. The US firms are desperate for growth and Canada is a great market for them. However, I don't think the little guy has too much to worry about. Lots of small busineses still thrive, even with Walmart and soon Target coming to town. My wife is happy about Target coming to Canada but sad at the departure of Zellers.


    Stuart Crawford
    Calgary Small Business Marketing Specialist