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When a retailer of kid’s playground structures is getting crushed by the competition, they’re not sure where to begin. Here’s how to quickly take the lead.


Raj: Hi there! Welcome for another case study today, we’ve got an interesting one. And you’ll find out, it was a little personal to me in terms of my experience with a certain kind of vendor. I’m here with Hannah Mears and I am Raj Jha. Let’s talk about brand and demand generation, and we’re doing another case study. Hannah, what can you tell us about this really interesting provider?

Hannah: This one’s fun, especially if you have some kids or if you’re a kid at heart. Let’s go ahead and dive in and figure out what this case study is about here. They said, Raj, “We build custom backyard, swing sets, and play structures. Customers can customize a play structure based on what they want. Adding slides, monkey bars, rope swings, and the like. We do a custom design for them, get it approved by the customer, and then deliver them the parts to assemble in their backyards. We also offer an assembly service that about a third of our customers take us upon.” This is a swing set company. Essentially, they’re building your dream playground in your backyard. Raj, what’s your personal experience with this?

Raj: Well, my personal experience is I ordered exactly one of these about 12 years ago and went through the process of “Wouldn’t it be great to have this in my backyard? What would my kids want?” And that is I’ve gone through the entire buying process and have experienced it from the other side. So I’m excited to see how they’re doing it and what some of their challenges are. Because as a consumer, I have personal experience in addition to the business context.

Hannah: Maybe you’ll get to see then what their situation is and the impact that it’s having on their company. And from your experience, maybe some things along the way that you would have said, “Hey, maybe this company would have had this, my experience would have been way smoother.” Their situation is “Right now, we’re mailing catalogs to a 50-mile radius and have a website which shows all our parts. Customers go to our website, fill in a form with the parts they want, and then we call them and talk to them through the design process. Often customers don’t answer the call and don’t call back. Nearly all of our business comes from the website forms.” Raj, this may be taking it a little off the path, but something that concerns me with this is why do you think customers aren’t calling them back?

Raj: If you think about the journey of the customer, I’m going to take myself as an example. I’m really excited about this black backyard playground. And I have some questions and I’m thinking, “Okay, I’ve seen their catalog online. I want to order the monkey bars on a slide, and I can see that. And then I have to call them to start the discussion, a very traditional consultation for what is this thing going to be?” And so, I submit a form online and they’re going to call me back. And in the meantime, what’s the next thing that will happen? Well, I’m going to keep on looking, are they the only vendor I’ve called them once? I’m going to keep ongoing. That’s kind of what part of the journey is. No wonder, they’re not really getting a callback, or Pete folks aren’t answering because they’ve moved on. They’re losing a lot of folks in that, at that point.

Hannah: Yeah. That makes sense. Maybe instead of a traditional phone call now that we’re all masters in zoom and Google meet. Maybe offering that face-to-face feature anytime you can get someone to look at you and know exactly who you are behind the business. Maybe that personal connection, they’ll be afraid to go with someone else because they’ve already seen your face and met you. But let’s dive into a little bit of how to fix the sales problem they’re having Raj. So it says, “Our sales have been flat this year, even though more people have been home due to the virus. Our competitors have huge demand because parents are looking for things to do at home with their kids. I’m not sure why we’re getting lost. Why are we getting less business?” They’re getting lost in the process here. In terms of customer experience, I think that’s the main thing we want to hit on first. What can you tell me from the perspective of a former customer that you would be recommending to them in this situation?

Raj: Yeah. I think the first thing that they have to realize is there are a lot of suppliers. It’s not just one provider of this and a lot of them will ship pretty far. I mean, I can’t even remember where ours came from, but somewhere in the Midwest and I’m on the West coast. So they’ll ship all over the place. You’re competing against a relatively large pool of competitors. And really the experience is a core differentiator. What’s the experience someone’s going to have to bond to the potential customer to you. It’s great that they’re calling customers. As you mentioned, Hannah, zoom, or anything that they can make a personal bond with is a great thing. But what I saw and even this was many years ago, what I use, was the ability to design it yourself a little bit online.

The final design can’t be there. But there was a little program and you could drag over this tower here and then put a slide against it and you could visualize it. That’s pretty important because instead of the, “Oh, I’m going to submit a form and wait for our call back.” Now I’m already engaged and I’ve built something and there’s a building tool and I don’t want to save all this hard work where I’ve just assembled this thing and I’ve shown it to my kid. And she’s really excited about it. All of a sudden there’s that kind of ownership bias almost that you feel like it’s already yours and you’re investing in the process. I think that’s one of the pieces that are missing compared to a traditional catalog or static website.

Hannah: Yeah. Show it to a kid, is definitely the best way because once kids see something, they will pester you until it is in their backyard. Kids do not give up. Maybe if you’re on that face-to-face call and someone’s drawing it up for you potentially have them bring their kid in, because I guarantee you that kid’s going to say, “Yep, this is the exact one I want.” But Raj and I are huge fans of this virtual reality experience. And I think we’re fans of it because that’s really what the future I think is going to be for just about anything that you can think of: business, sports, entertainment. There’s going to be this VR type of experience with it. Something that I’ve noticed recently with a lot of construction and design is looking at different houses. My boyfriend and I came across this site that actually showed you could design the house based on different cabinets. They offered countertops, couches, colors of walls, tiles, and backsplashes. You could put it all together right there. Then it would become your home later. If we had not already had our heart invested in something else, this would have been something we would have really considered. So this is awesome. I think the virtual reality experience, if you’re not taking advantage of it, now, is how you get the leg up on your competition. Do you agree?

Raj: A hundred percent agree. And at least we’re saying it’s the future. At least with these particular competitors, it’s the present. We already have to realize that for a lot of industries, it’s already there. If your industry is going there and some competitors are there, it’s time to catch up right quickly. And if your industry hasn’t gone there, being the trailblazer, there’s a real benefit to being the first one to plant the flag and start doing that. 

Hannah: Yeah. And I think what you were saying too, is when you’re actually building these structures and putting them together. Maybe make it even easier to make sure that like you were saying, it wasn’t the exact outcome. Find a way to make it the exact outcome so that the customer feels that this product is unique to them. Everybody likes to say they have something different. Ironically, they could design something exactly the same that their neighbor did, but because they felt like they had a hand in the construction process, they felt unique. They want everyone to come to see their new playground. And then once everyone sees it, they’ll be talking about you and you’ll generate new eyes for sure. But Raj, something else that stuck out to me, and I know you probably feel some way about this. Catalog sending out catalogs, how effective do you think that method is anymore?

Raj: Well, it can be. Actually, the surprising thing about direct mail of any sort is that our inboxes are relatively empty because, for those of us who are ancient like me, and can remember 25 years ago, our mailboxes will be stuffed full of catalogs and flyers and all kinds of direct mailers. And now, you will still see big brands doing catalogs. In my household, the athletic catalog will come, the land catalog will come. And these are thick. Every year, the restoration hardware comes and that thing is massive. It must cost a huge amount to print it. Do you think these companies would really continue doing that if it didn’t work? So it does work. It can work. You just have to be very thoughtful because you’re spending a lot of money for that catalog space. In this particular case, we know that they are getting some sales. It’s flat, but they’re coming from somewhere so that might be a contributing factor. I wouldn’t be too quick to pass judgment on those old media if it still could be working.

Hannah: Yeah. Not passing judgment at all. It’s just one of those things you don’t hear a ton about sometimes at these new businesses. And I know for my parents personally, they’re generations, everyone loves to flip that catalog and find something. It’s a safe way. So for people who may not love the technology side, your company is also offering them a safe way to find something that they love. With that being said, Raj, “Yes, the catalog method is great.” We talked about different ways. They could be displayed online. What are some other ways they could get more leads?

Raj: Getting leads for this particular kind of thing. Actually, it’s a little easier than for some other kinds of businesses because the buyer already knows they want it. Your kids are getting to a certain age and you want to give them something in the backyard and you see your neighbor might have a swing set, and you’ve heard about these things. You’re going to be typing into Google, “backyard play structure.” One of the simplest forms is Google advertising, keyword advertising. It’s very old school in the online sense, but just running ads to those keywords and showing that you offer this kind of structure. Now, the one caveat to that is I would not do those ads and run them to the old website because we know that the website is leaking visitors already. But if you do have that kind of interactive design and add that feature, then I think it would be great to run ads to that. Get people involved in the process. It’s just another way to generate more leads.

Hannah: So you’re saying they have to create possibly a new website to start bringing in these other unique features.

Raj: There’s an argument whether it needs to be new, or you just need to add that feature front and center. Because it can be a little interactive feature that can be added to the current website. I haven’t gone in-depth and looked at the website, but it’s something where you can have this little thing that pops up and design your own. Then it takes them to a separate area of the website. It doesn’t have to be a complete rehaul; the feature just needs to be there. It needs to be prominent.

Hannah: And this is something they can do themselves?

Raj: This would be a little harder to do themselves. That kind of development of that feature my guess is that if you’re really good at running a background play structure company, you’re probably our coder. That’s the kind of thing you’d probably have to have hired out. In terms of the Google ads portion of it, I personally find Google ads a little bit more difficult than Facebook and Instagram. Can you do it? Yes. But in terms of the kinds of folks, you can get to help you with that, there are a ton of contractors out there. The Google ads platform is very mature and it’s pretty inexpensive to get somebody to manage that for you. That’s definitely all something they could contract.

Hannah: All great things for this company so far. But Raj, they do have another question for you. The main question we need to cover is, “I’ve let my marketing person go because it seems like he wasn’t doing much other than hiring an SEO person and managing the catalog and website. There wasn’t much to show for that $50,000 employee. I’m just not sure what to do next.” So I guess the question they’re asking is, “Should they hire?” They mentioned they let the marketing person go, so do you think they should hire another one? What are the steps they need to take?

Raj: If you’re thinking about return on investment of that budget, you’ve got a budget of 50,000 that they’re comfortable spending on lead generation and turning prospects into customers. And I think the best use of that $50,000 would be don’t hire someone right now. Use that budget to create that little feature on the website, that interactive feature. Because it’s going to cost a bit to develop that and then use the remainder of that budget to do paid advertising. I think that’s a much better way of using those funds and then getting to a point where it’s just kind of running on its own. You know that this is working, sales are starting to take off, and then you can say, “Okay, I now know that it’s working. I can stop the experimentation phase and now I need to stabilize. Now I can hire a marketing person. It doesn’t have to be a terribly senior marketing person at this stage in the company’s growth.” Then they can manage it from then on. But I just redeployed that money towards those projects. I think that’s the best bang for their buck.

Hannah: And I think that’s a very good point to make Raj. You’ve mentioned so many different things here. We’ll get to summarizing everything for them in a second. But something that has been in the back of my mind that I can let go of is; I have a bunch of baby cousins. And the swing set that I had when I was younger was just a swing, a slide, and a little thing on top. And that was pretty much it. I’ve been buying blown. I guess you could say how many features can be added to these playsets. Now they’re essentially in a kid’s paradise. I would definitely tell you as well if you want to be the company to stand out, go directly to these kids and ask them, “What would be your dream playset to have? Because I guarantee you it’s very different from just the traditional swings and slides anymore.

I mean, these kids want rock walls. They want rope swings. They want steering wheels. They want pirate ships. There are so many unique ways that you can make your product stand out. It doesn’t have to be traditional and maybe don’t let it age out. Make it something that these kids can use as they go into their teen years. Don’t just focus on these kids being that age range to seven. I know it’s important to find your target audience, but maybe being able to tell parents, you talked about the bang for your buck. This could be something that your kids enjoy through long years of life as well.

Raj: Exactly. And I’ll just throw one more other things in there. So we had the play structure and then we did move. Now my kids are older and we bought the world’s largest trampoline for our backyard. I mean, this thing is literally massive. It takes up like half of our backyard. But let’s remember where we came from. We came from that play structure. Anyone who buys a place structure is probably going to want a trampoline or something else in five to seven years. So could you become a reseller of trampolines? Can you use your customer base in other ways? There are so many other things that as the kids get older, you could offer an existing customer base that could radically expand the revenue potential.

Hannah: Yeah. Could your slide go directly down to the trampoline? We are thinking outside the box where you can make your product as unique as possible. As Raj and I bounce our ideas for our dream, as we’re going back into our kid years, maybe you are saying what we would have loved Raj from the business standpoint. Please go ahead and summarize exactly what this company needs to keep in mind to move forward.

Raj: Okay. It’s actually pretty simple. Really. You have to pay attention to the customer journey. What’s the experience and how do you engage them as early on in the process as possible. And get them really bonded with you. That interactive experience is key. You’re doing a great job with calling folks up and having that conversation, that consultative sale. That’s fantastic. Just to engage them earlier on in the process. Once you fix that piece because you’re already getting website traffic. Once you fix that piece, you should see an improvement in sales, and then you can say, “Okay, now can I lead generate? Now, can I go and actually pay to get some clicks from Google for folks who I now know will be sent to a sales and indoctrination of a few processes, which is going to successfully convert into revenue.” So I think just one step at a time and it’ll definitely work out.

Hannah: Baby steps. No pun intended at all. Thank you so much for sticking with Raj and I. We’re helping our clients through the situations that they’re going through. If you have something similar, please make sure that you’re staying tuned in to what we have coming next and go back and watch the previous videos because maybe we’ve already answered some of your questions. Thanks for tuning in with us.
Raj: All right. Thank you. Take care.