Innovate or Die: How Arnold Lumber Uses YouTube as a Marketing Tool

Industry News,

Originally Published by: LBM Journal — May 9, 2024
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The famous Austrian-American author, mentor, and consultant Peter Drucker is often attributed with saying, “Innovate or die.” For an LBM dealer such as Arnold Lumber Company that’s been around since 1911, it would be easy to simply do what’s in its comfort zone. Instead, the family-owned operation out of Rhode Island has embraced the innovate-or-die philosophy in a unique and innovative way: a YouTube video show entitled “Breaking Ground.” Part marketing piece for the LBM dealer, part promotion for its builder customers, and part product showcase, the video series is positioned to show Arnold Lumber as a leader in its market while simultaneous marketing the builders who participate in production.

Thom Cafaro, director of sales and marketing, was recently brought on to reinvigorate the company’s marketing efforts, and he explained how “Breaking Ground” came to be. Just this past December, he explains, the marketing department was tasked with the mission of not just gaining market share but amping up marketing in new ways. “Not just the typical flyers and newspaper ads, but what can we do that really shows us in the light of what we really are and how we can provide a unique service,” Cafaro says.

Arnold Lumber had already been experimenting with video for social media, using the services of a local video production company to create short reels, so video wasn’t an alien concept to them. “We started to strategize about what if we didn’t hold back and instead put in all the production, with dual camera shots, good post production and graphics, drone shots—the whole deal to make it a show? What would that take?”

Thanks to Arnold Lumber’s relationship with the third- party video company, they had already learned that they wouldn’t need to purchase scads of expensive cameras and production gear or hire a video producer—these were assets that could be provided by the video company.

This didn’t mean however, that some heavy lifting wouldn’t be required. “It didn’t take us long to realize it’s going to take effort and initiative,” Cafaro explains, “but if we do it right, we would get a lot of participation and willingness to collaborate, because if we are the anchor that puts the package together, others would be very willing to participate—an ‘if you build it, they will come’ strategy.”

Beyond not needing to invest in any additional equipment, another part of Arnold Lumber’s strategy involved working with product suppliers to fund the show production itself. “There’s a little bit more credibility when [the show] comes from the people who are actually buying and using it in a real life setting,” Cafaro says. “So when you see that product, whether it’s decking or railing or house wrap, it’s actually something that was already bought and being installed and you’re getting to witness the build process. It’s very organic and real, so our supply partners are happy to help participate. They get some recognition, generally some type of feature about their product tied in with the builder, and at the end of the show their logo pops up for a little appreciative thank you note. But instead of it just being a flat out commercial, it’s a real organic product being used in a real life situation.”

Arnold Lumber had already been experimenting with video for social media, using the services of a local video production company to create short reels, so video wasn’t an alien concept to them.

The third facet of the show’s plan is the builder. Arnold Lumber leveraged their existing relationships with the pro customers to bring authenticity to the production of “Breaking Ground” while also giving those builders an opportunity to highlight their work to the viewer. “Not only are they [the builders] excited about the opportunity to tell their story, but you get to see and meet the personalities there,” Cafaro says of the show’s builder participants. “So the homeowner who is viewing this gets a chance to really get to know the builder and understand their attitude.”

The benefits to the pros who appear in the show go far beyond the public awareness the show generates, Cafaro explains. Arnold Lumber can serve as a marketing machine for the builder, helping them build their business in a way no other dealer can. “So now we are a LBM company that’s not only selling sticks and shingles, but offering marketing resources. So when we are trying to position ourselves as a leader in our in our market, it’s one more reason why a pro might want to choose our lumber over somebody else down the street. Because not only will they get top-of-the-line building materials and very reputable sales reps, we can actually help promote their business through this show. We’ll even help them with their social media.”

For other LBM dealers who would like to emulate this model, Cafaro points out that they will need to be dedicated to the process. “I don’t want to say that it was easy, because it isn’t. You need to be committed to it, and by committed, I mean that you’re going to dedicate resources as your own internal investment even if it is just resources—although some of it is financially—to doing it well and not taking a shortcut, and not being afraid to fail. Not every episode is going to be a gem, and that’s okay. But being willing to take a risk and having a company—from ownership to senior management—that has your back and is willing to support you and help you get there is important. And I would just say, do what you do, and do it with the people you care about. By that I mean your supply partners and your builders. If you really have solid relationships with them, it should just be natural.”

All of which comes full circle to being willing to innovate. It’s how Cafaro says LBM dealers can stay relevant in this changing market and differentiate themselves from the competition. “You need to push the boundaries of what a lumberyard really is, Cafaro points out. “A lumberyard can’t just be selling lumber anymore. You’ve got to be able to be everything you can possibly be for that builder, so that they can just focus on doing what they do best which is building great homes. Let us be the product knowledge people. Let us teach you about the upcoming changes in the code. Let us handle your social media. Let us do everything we can do, because we’re your partner to get you the stuff you need to be a successful business. We’re not building the home, but we are the ones that will get you the things you need to be the best possible builder you can, and now part of that is marketing.”