Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Does your marketing plan include free ice water?

As previously mentioned, I took a vacation on the other side of the state last weekend. A stop we made both directions will be familiar to all South Dakotans and road warriors everywhere. Wall Drug has been an institution in this state since it was founded by the Hustead family in 1931. Pictured to the right is the third generation, Ted Hustead and yours truly (on the left).

To say that theirs has been a non-traditional marketing success story, would be like saying that the Pope is Catholic. Their first breakthrough came in 1936, when the struggling drug store came up with idea of luring travelers by providing free ice water and letting them know about it with road-side signs. It transformed them overnight to a South Dakota success story.

Today, although they have a web site, their marketing plan still primarily consists of free ice water and signs all over South Dakota and all over the world. My personal favorite is the sign at the South Pole (pictured to the left). The other thing Wall Drug has benefited from is about "a million dollars in free publicity." The publicity machine cranked out another success story over the weekend, when Wall Drug was featured in the USATODAY Road Trips. In Gene Sloan's article for the largest newspaper in the country, Hustead is quoted as saying: "Sometimes it's hard for us to understand what it is that our customers really love about this place." It's not hard for me to understand. I came for the pancakes (which are the best in the world) and the donuts (of which they serve more than 4,000 per day).

Actually, people love Wall Drug because it provides a completely authentic customer experience that makes people (like me) want to tell others (like you) about it. Throw in some free product, a heavy dose of guerrilla marketing and more road-side signs than BP and what you have is a genuine purple cow. Some 20,000 people come through their doors every day and Ted tells me that business is booming. I'm not surprised.

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