September 26, 2013
Case Study

Cause Marketing: How STIHL united 100,000 independent retailers for "buy local" initiative

SUMMARY: Big businesses and box stores have captured an entire generation, leaving independent local businesses in its corporate dust. Local retailers are faced with the struggles of competing with those national chains, but also with having its mere existence realized by consumers.

This B2C Marketing case study focuses on how STIHL, a hand-held outdoor equipment brand, powered Independent We Stand: a countrywide movement banding small businesses together for the advocacy of buying local.

STIHL recruited 7,000 of its own independent retailers, but reached way beyond its base to include almost 100,000 local retailers in Independent We Stand.
by Allison Banko, Reporter


While STIHL is a large global brand, it has long been grounded in grassroots America. Part of the company's core mission since its start in 1926 has been marketing its hand-held outdoor power equipment exclusively through independent retailers.

"We only have one channel to reach the consumer," explained Nick Jiannas, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, STIHL.

Because of this, STIHL recognized the need for customers across the country to learn about the benefits of buying local to support those independent businesses in their communities.

"There is a generation of folks out there that still think of the mass channel — mass merchant, box stores — as their one-stop shop for whatever they need," Jiannas said.

The challenge was to compete against those big businesses by highlighting independent, local retailers while still delivering the message of its benefits in a way potential customers could easily digest.


"We wanted this to be something greater than us," Jiannas said. "We wanted to engage all other local businesses in the U.S."

Though one of the goals was to establish STIHL as a "champion of independent businesses in America," Jiannas said the company didn't want this effort to come across as self-serving.

Thus, the movement "Independent We Stand" was established as its own entity. STIHL would sponsor the movement, helping get it off the ground with its resources and expertise, all in the spirit of promoting local businesses and educating the public.

Step #1. Research the environment

When starting this type initiative, it's important to ensure there's a visible cause or purpose for the organization at hand. Jiannas explained it was about morphing the four P's of marketing into five:
  1. Product

  2. Price

  3. Place

  4. Promotion

  5. Purpose

The purpose of the initiative was clear: Promoting independent businesses and educating consumers about them. However, did the current environment show a need for it? Jiannas said a struggling economy and dismal job market indeed did.

"Small businesses account for about 65% of all jobs in America and re-invest into the economy at a much higher rate [60% more] than mass merchant chains," Jiannas explained. "Those were all very positive messages that we wanted to send out."

Step #2. Ensure cause aligns with company DNA

Though Independent We Stand was going to be established as its own entity, it was still set to be powered by STIHL. Thus, it was important IWS aligned with the STIHL mission.

STIHL has a strong, rooted history in the cause, due to marketing exclusively through independent retailers since the 1920s.

"We have already drank the local Kool-Aid, if you will," Jiannas said.
STIHL wanted to share its experience with the rest of the country to benefit consumers and independent retailers through IWS.

"There is a much better way of shopping that helps you locally and your community," he said. "It makes your dollar go further in the local community, as well."

Step #3. Devise most effective ways to relay the message

There were two major goals propelling this movement: To promote and to educate.

IWS focused on achieving its efforts through three major mediums:
The website,, serves as a resource for finding and supporting local businesses. It houses a variety of features including a business locator and an economic calculator.

In the business locator, consumers can enter their ZIP code to search for local independent businesses nearby.

In the economic calculator, visitors can select their state and city from a drop-down menu to discover how money spent at local businesses could bolster the community. The site also contains a blog and tabs providing opportunities to become involved, learn more about the cause, and buy IWS promotional gear, such as T-shirts, hats, bumper stickers and more.

IWS utilizes a multitude of social media platforms for what Jiannas calls "the PR component." The organization is active on:
  • Twitter

  • Facebook

  • LinkedIn

  • Pinterest

  • FeedBurner (RSS)

  • Google+

  • Flickr

  • YouTube

The movement also extends to consumers' fingertips through the Independent We Stand free mobile app.

"If people are on the fly and want to go buy flowers for a date and want to buy local, they can go to IWS and find their local flower shop," Jiannas explained.

Resources for local businesses

While IWS promotes local businesses through a slew of platforms, it also provides tools for business owners to market themselves so they can effectively capitalize on the buy-local movement.

Members of the IWS movement have access to resources for promoting local shopping, including:
  • Marketing materials (posters, print ads, fact sheets, flyers, videos, rack cards, etc.)

  • PowerPoint presentations — for example, how to present the initiative to a city council

  • Webinars — for example, teaching how to effectively utilize the digital resources

  • How to's — for example, how to create an editorial post for a local newspaper

  • An assistance hotline

These are all items STIHL assists IWS with due to its extensive knowledge and expertise from marketing exclusively through independent retailers.

Step #4. Encourage dealers to join the initiative

Due to the sheer nature of the movement, generating momentum for IWS was a fairly easy task.

"Some of independent businesses are fearful that the box stores will take over the world," Jiannas said. "So anything they could do to promote the local initiative — buying local, buying independent — they are all over because that is their livelihood."

While more than 85% (7,000) of STIHL dealers are active IWS members, they aren't the majority. Currently, IWS has nearly 100,000 independent businesses that have joined the initiative.

In addition to the benefits that come with IWS membership, such as access to resources and promotion, independent dealers are experiencing other individual lifts when they join, too.

"They gain visibility in their own town because they get to become the local champion within their community, which I think helps raise their status and gives them some additional visibility," Jiannas said.


With nearly 100,000 on board, STIHL has helped morph IWS into a champion of local businesses across the nation.

"STIHL has done a lot of work in the early stages, getting this thing off the ground," Jiannas said. "But, we think IWS is starting to tip to a point where it has some momentum on its own, and that is fantastic."

IWS has also gained the attention of large companies that joined the initiative as co-sponsors. Devoe Paint and Chrysler Group's BusinessLink serve as forms of outreach to small businesses.

From 2011 to 2012, IWS has experienced the following results:
  • 45% increase in its email list

  • 54% increase in Twitter followers

  • 72% increase in Facebook likes

  • 47% increase in assets downloaded from the website

  • 34% increase in business searches

  • 58% increase in website visitors generated by organic search (Google, Yahoo! and Bing)

  • 28% increase in member businesses worldwide

"Getting back down to grassroots America — that never goes out of style," Jiannas said. "I think that really hit a nerve with a lot of individuals and the growth of IWS is a reflection of that. What I have learned is, it may not be easy, but if it is right, it will take off eventually."

Creative Samples

  1. Logo

  2. Homepage

  3. Business locator

  4. Economic calculator

  5. Mobile app

  6. Fact sheet



Independent We Stand

Related Resources

Cause Marketing: "Likes for Tikes" campaign generates a 39% increase in Facebook Likes for small firm

Customer-centric Marketing: 7 triggers to engage customers and build loyalty

Random Apps of Kindness: Using mobile for nonprofit and cause-based marketing

Marketing Management: Incorporating giving into your marketing department or agency

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