Way back in 1996, Marty Bird was one of the first
marketers to test using an email newsletter to drive shoppers to
Bird is the Director of Communications for the franchise chain of
292 Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU) stores. (His last name is
a freakish chance, he does not own the company.)
Every month he sends out a newsletter featuring stories of
general interest (i.e. "How to Stop Squirrels from Getting in
Your Feeder") to people who had signed up for it at WBU's
corporate Web site. The newsletter also prominently features a
link to "find a store near you" that Bird hopes will help out
local franchise store foot traffic.
By 2002, he had gathered a healthy list of 15,000 opt-ins. On
average, 2-3% of the readers who opened an issue clicked through
to use his site's local store locator.
Buoyed by this success, Bird began to wonder if individually
produced newsletters from each owner-operated franchise would be
even more effective.
Would the local franchise owners be willing to invest the
time and money in producing their own email newsletters?
It takes a while to convince storeowners to adopt new technology
initiatives, says Bird. “Most people have never heard of email
with a cost, they’re used to sending messages to their friends
and family for free.” To persuade them, he would have to answer
three critical questions:
1. Is there solid proof that it works?
2. Why should I spend money?
3. Is it hard to do? CAMPAIGN
First Bird lined up an email newsletter hosting vendor
with three critical qualities. The vendor had to create an
umbrella account for all WBU stores; to charge stores separately
as they used services; and, to not charge per-mailing minimums
that would be too pricey for smaller accounts.
(“Small” is a relative term in the industry. Some vendors are not
interested in servicing mailers with less than 5,000 names, while
a WBU store might think 50 names is a big enough list to start
Next, Bird devised a strategy for newsletter mailings that flies
in the face of most email tradition; he decided to use email
newsletters as an add-on supplement to print newsletters, not a
Bird explains, "We get a lot of positive feedback from customers
on the printed newsletter that franchises send out [special local
versions of] four times a year, so email marketing had to
supplement but not replace our main form of communication.
Hobbyists like to receive something that makes them feel like
they’re in a club.” Besides, franchisees would be alarmed at the
idea of not doing a print newsletter.
Instead, Bird advised storeowners to weave email newsletters and
email alerts around their print newsletter schedule. For
example, they could email spur-of-the-moment issues when they had
a sale on, hot new products, or a special event such as a guest
Next Bird set up an area on the corporate intranet that is devoted
to helping franchisees create and send out effective newsletters.
Franchisees can pick up articles from corporate or each other's
newsletters, or write their own. Their newsletters (link to
samples below) also usually include storeowner photos, street
address and contact info, and a link to that store's Web site.
(Each franchise gets its own customizable Web site as part of its
marketing package from Corporate.)
The intranet also includes data on how well newsletters work.
Bird explains, “On the intranet I’ve posted the opt-in rate and
they can see how many people are exposed to that marketing
technique on a corporate level. And it’s a handy place to have
the marketing tools, education and advice we offer on how they
can implement it themselves.”
Plus, Bird shares lots of tips on how to gather opt-in email
names from brick-and-mortar shoppers, such as:
1. Put a highly visible sign-up form on your front counter.
“From the moment stores open I advise them to have customers
sign up on the mailing list at the front desk.”
Most stores use a simple clipboard or stack of 3x5 cards to
gather emails. To help them draw attention to it, Bird
provides them with a plexi-stand that reads “Would you like to
receive BirdTracks Online, our email newsletter? Please add
your email address to out customer service list.”
2. Have your sales associates prompt customers to sign up.
3. Highlight Privacy. “It’s crucial to ease customer concerns
and ensure them that their information will not be shared,”
says Bird. “Storeowners have to remove apprehension so people
4. Display a sample newsletter. “Customers are more likely to
sign up if they see what they’ll receive in return for their
email address is clearly about their hobby and not just junk
Many stores keep a sample copy of the newsletter in a clear
plastic sheath handy at the front desk. Stores that are
collecting email addresses prior to launching their own
newsletter often print out a sample newsletter from the
Since the local email newsletter program started a year
ago, 36 of WBU's 292 franchisees have launched newsletters
(three of their success stories below) and many more are busily
collecting opt-in emails with hopes of launching soon.
Bird notes, “People want to see it work before they employ it.
It's not going to be a snowball, but it will get bigger and
bigger as more stores use it.”
He was happily surprised by how many franschise owners turned out
for his email newsletter roundtable at WBU's annual convention
earlier this year. “It was like a light bulb clicked on and
everyone started to see email as a viable marketing strategy.”
Among other inspirational facts, stores reported back that an
email database of as little as 50 names was worth sending an
issue out to. Here are three local storeowner success stories:
Local Success Story #1:
Mike Williams, WBU storeowner in Pleasant Hill, CA was one of the
first franchisees to implement a newsletter. “I am not what you
call email savvy, but it was so easy to set up and run.”
Williams, who liked being able to personalize the newsletter,
always includes something about a local bird as well as a low-key
sell. “I could emphasize the fun part, put in really nice
pictures and make it as uncommercial as possible” as well as
highlight an Audubon Society speech, bird watching classes or any
other general info regard the hobby or the business.
He notes, “Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t comment on
Although Williams was pretty sure email increased store visits,
two days of record-breaking sales gave him outright proof.
Recently he sent out a special issue to promote a collectibles
event. “We didn’t have enough lead-time [for a printed
newsletter]; we had to rely solely on email to get the message
out.” Those two days were Williams' best sales days. “On
Wednesday we saw sales triple and on Sunday sales were 4-5 times
Local Success Story #2:
Ben Roush, who owns the WBU in Fort Wayne, measures his success
with the coupons he emails in his newsletter. “We’ll send an
email on Friday and see coupons coming in the next day.”
The coupons, such as 20% off all birdbaths and hummingbird
feeders, have an expiration date for the end of month. For every
2,800 emails he sends, close to 900 are opened within the first 48
He especially appreciates the help WBU's intranet provides. “When
we create the newsletter, we don’t have to re-invent the wheel
twice, we can cut-and-paste other stores' newsletters.”
Local Success Story #3:
Bryce Dreeszen, of the Lake Geneva WBU in Wisconsin, uses his
newsletter to promote a loyal customer base.
He notes that it has been particularly effective for timely events.
When the Baltimore Orioles return each year, Dreeszen emails
customers to put out their bird feeders, and he always sees a
surge of sales.
Link to sample Wild Birds Unlimited newsletters, local and
ASP email broadcasting firm WBU uses to create and send store
WBU's national Web site