Join thousands of weekly readers and receive practical marketing advice for FREE.
MarketingSherpa's Case Studies, New Research Data, How-tos, Interviews and Articles

Enter your email below to join thousands of marketers and get FREE weekly newsletters with practical Case Studies, research and training, as well as MarketingSherpa updates and promotions.


Please refer to our Privacy Policy and About Us page for contact details.

No thanks, take me to MarketingSherpa

First Name:
Last Name:
Dec 17, 2002
Case Study

Email Alerts to Big Businesses vs Small Businesses - Metrics from Cintas

SUMMARY: $2.3 billion uniform sales and rental megalith Cintas Corporation has more than 500,000 business customers, but until May 2001 they did not have any email addresses for them.

Learn how the ecommerce team jumpstarted an email alerts program for customers that consistently brings in higher-than-average results. Lots of best practices in action.

This Case Study includes detailed metrics comparing a similar campaign sent to big businesses versus small businesses. Yes, creative samples also included.

"If there's a year where we don't grow 12-15%, that's considered a down year," says Cintas Corporation's Webmaster Dan Casey of the Company's overall sales goals. "We're accustomed to 15-17% growth on an annual basis."

Cintas (NASDAQ: CTAS), sells and rents uniforms to more than 500,000 customers from the Fortune 500 to the local restaurant just down your street.

During this recession, many of Cintas' customers are experiencing layoffs and budget cuts, especially in the food service and hotel industries. But Cintas' sales goals remained just as high as ever. In fact the Company's ecommerce goal for FY 03 is substantial.

In May 2001, Cintas' ecommerce team decided to launch email marketing programs to their house list to accomplish this. But they were concerned about three factors:

Concern #1. Getting names: Cintas had a big customer database but the company did not have many email addresses, nor permission to email them broadcast offers on a regular basis.

Concern #2. Getting email opened: Cintas was worried that email overload would mean their email would be lost in the crowd.

Concern #3. Building for the long-term: Cintas wanted a set of best practices in place that would help build both their brand and their customer relationships for the long term. Anything that might annoy customers, even if it raised short term sales, was out of the question.

Concern #4. Cross-media support: Rather than sending email campaigns in a vacuum, Cintas wanted to make sure all marketing and branding was integrated, online and off.


First of all, the team decided to keep email strategy and creative in-house while outsourcing the nitty-gritty tech required to broadcast messages.

This meant they could concentrate on their strengths and not have to worry about the nasty problems of getting email delivered.

Next the team developed an HTML template shell for email campaigns (link to sample below). This way everything sent would be branded using the same format and colors at top and bottom; but there was still enough freedom in the middle of the layout to make campaigns very different from each other.

This template used four smart tactics to ensure response:

1. Smaller logo: Cintas shrunk their Web-sized logo a bit smaller for email, so more of the campaign's creative would be enticingly visible in recipients' Outlook preview boxes. (All too many companies clog the preview with their logo.)

2. Navigation across the top: Although Cintas' sites' navigation bars are generally on the left, the team knew you do not have as much usable width in email, and people reading issues in Outlook preview (which many do without opening for full-view) would not be able to see the marketing message if space was taken up by a left vertical navigation bar.

Instead Cintas added Amazon-style tabs across the top of the template, which is probably more effective than simply a plain horizontal line with links. People are used to clicking on tabs these days.

3. Regular "Instructions" area at bottom: Customer service let the Web team know to never assume it is easy to respond to email offers. You can lose sales because customers forget their user names and passwords or other details of how to use your system. Therefore, every email campaign sent includes an instructions section that quickly answers the biggest questions.

4. Phone number: Just because the campaign is in email, does not mean customers want to order online. Along with many hotlinks to the site, Cintas also includes a toll free number with every campaign, often in multiple places such as the top, middle and bottom of the page.

Next, it was mission-critical to build a large house list of email names quickly, so the ecommerce team used four different tactics:

Tactic a. Asking large customers for their internal lists.

The ecommerce team roped in Cintas' national account managers to help get email lists for big accounts. The managers approached their contacts at big companies, described the program, and sometimes sent a sample of what an email would look like.

They were careful to let clients know that Cintas would only send an email with permission (generally the client-side gets to check off on every campaign sent before it goes out). Plus Cintas promised not to overload clients with email. At maximum campaigns would go out once a month, and often far less frequently than that.

Clients could send their list over as an Excel spreadsheet, which is a pretty easy format for most clients to create.

Plus, instead of just asking for email, Cintas also asked for other contact data such as postal mail address for the list so they could communicate via multiple media, and personalize campaigns.

Finally, before an initial campaign went out to each list, Cintas sent the client a test of a typical HTML announcement to make sure it worked with their email system. While most consumers can get HTML, some corporations and the Federal Government use programs such as Lotus Notes which require text-only messages.

Tactic b. Fall-back position: Asking clients to send emails

Just in case some clients did not want to share their internal list, the team had a fall-back position. They were equally willing to give the client-contact the creative for the campaign and let them forward it to their internal list.

In each instance, Cintas gave the client a deadline based on when the campaign offer was over so there was a specific time period within which they should send the email.

Tactic c. Gathering emails from site surfers

Casey added a form to the Cintas main Web site that visitors could use to sign up. In order to personalize the email subscribers get, he asked for their company name and personal name. Visitors could also check off one or all of four boxes about what they are most interested in, such as "Shoes & Boots" or "Workwear."

Tactic d. Gathering emails from online buyers

The ecommerce team also added an email request check box to the online order forms on all nine of Cintas' online stores (the Company has a different store to match its print catalogs for each major marketplace niche, such as "Food Service Direct" and "Trade Show Direct").

Next Cintas launched regular (generally quarterly) email campaigns to the gathered names. However, they never simply sent the entire list an identical broadcast. To increase response rates, they personalized each campaign as much as possible without spending so much time and effort that the increased return was not worth it.

-> Creative for National Accounts

As mentioned above, the client-side contact for National Accounts got to approve final creative prior to its being sent. Messages were personalized by:

- The subject line included the client's company name ("Holiday Savings on <> Corporate Apparel")

- Links throughout the message led to the client's own Cintas Web site, if there is one, which was customized with their name, approved product choices and tracked individual employee purchase allowances.

- The Instructions section included Company ID and password information to make logging on easier.

- The email creative included a graphic of the client's logo as it would appear sewn on a garment.

-> Creative for Local/smaller business accounts

These campaigns were also personalized within the subject line by company name and in the salutation if Cintas had a client's first name. The links led to the regular site however, and instead of showing a graphic of a particular client logo sewn, you would see a pile of four or five different clients' logos.

Casey has tested varying creative by region, "A holiday offer went out with jackets for customers in regions with typical winter weather, whereas customers in Florida saw products like shorts and polo shirts."

Aside from this personalization, the team used two more tactics to improve response:

1. Mailing at good times

Casey says they try to mail only Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays to improve results. He is also very conscious of what time the mailing is sent out. He wants to avoid sending at night and early morning.

"You don't want your email stuck in a pile of 20 or more unread emails in the morning when someone walks in. It's going to be overlooked."

2. Coordinating with postal mail campaigns

If Cintas has a major campaign going out via postal mail to a client's list or small business clients, the ecommerce team will get a copy of the art from the marketer and create an email campaign incorporating some of the same graphics to support results.

"If it's [postal mailing] going out this Wednesday, by next Monday or Tuesday we'll get the email out," explains Casey. "I don't think it's a huge issue of one is received a few days before or after the other."


Cintas' total sales this Summer were up 18% over the same quarter a year ago, and Casey is proud to say that ecommerce sales are on track to meet their big sales goal this fiscal year which ends May 31st 2003.

He also shared specific campaign metrics for two holiday savings campaigns (see link to samples of these campaigns below).

Campaign to big client:
18.6% undeliverable (bad addresses on client-provided list)
56.6% open rate for delivered emails
0% unsubscribes
35.0% unique click throughs (if a recipient clicks twice, only the first click is counted).

Campaign to local/small biz client list:
16.1% known undeliverables
39.4% open rate for delivered emails
0 .9% unsubscribes
7.9% unique click throughs
$1.64 in sales made per deliverable name mailed

Casey says a surprisingly high number of national clients are happy to turn over their lists for promotion. "It speaks a lot to the relationship, the rapport we have with them."

Just a handful of national clients prefer to forward the campaigns themselves in-house. (However, that handful are pretty great responders because an internally forwarded email has an impact no outside emailer can have.)

About 10% of national clients cannot use HTML email.

A larger number of local/small biz clients prefer to order via telephone rather than online when they get emailed campaigns. "A lot of our local customers are blue collar types."

When Casey personalized by content-type (offering different items to North versus South) he saw a "percent and a half increase in click through rate" which was worth the extra effort for him in terms of sales.

While Casey is psyched by all of these highly positive results, he definitely doesn't see email as a replacement for any other marketing efforts. "Email's a piece of the puzzle." He notes since the program started, Cintas has not decreased offline marketing investment.

Link to creative samples

Link to the service Cintas uses to send their email campaigns:
See Also:

Post a Comment

Note: Comments are lightly moderated. We post all comments without editing as long as they
(a) relate to the topic at hand,
(b) do not contain offensive content, and
(c) are not overt sales pitches for your company's own products/services.

To help us prevent spam, please type the numbers
(including dashes) you see in the image below.*

Invalid entry - please re-enter

*Please Note: Your comment will not appear immediately --
article comments are approved by a moderator.

Improve Your Marketing

Join our thousands of weekly Case Study readers.

Enter your email below to receive MarketingSherpa news, updates, and promotions:

Note: Already a subscriber? Want to add a subscription?
Click Here to Manage Subscriptions

Best of the Week:
Marketing case studies and research

Chart Of The Week

B2B Marketing

Consumer Marketing

Email marketing

Inbound Marketing

SherpaStore Alerts


We value your privacy and will not rent or sell your email address. Visit our About Us page for contact details.