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Jon Hamilton “On Hope and Hardware”

When Lowes and Home Depot stores started appearing in cities and small towns across America, some began to ask an obvious question: “How will the mom-and-pop local hardware store that has operated for generations be able to compete?”  After all, the quality and selection of items at the mega-stores was pretty impressive! Instead of one type of hammer, there were ten or even twenty. Prices were better, and the experience of walking down broad aisles loaded with products and ideas was a consumer’s delight.

I’m not worried! I KNOW this town”, some insisted.  “People want to buy from somebody they know, who has been serving the community for years. They want to do business with the guy who lives in the community, who goes to church with them and whose kid plays ball with their kid!  I’m not concerned!” 

This thinking dominated hardware conventions and trade shows for a while.  The mantra, “local will always win” played big with those longing for life to stay the same. It was comforting.

Until it wasn’t anymore.  One after the next, small town hardware stores began to close their doors. 

It turned out that local is only preferable, if consumers think it is better.   

It was a hard lesson. At the end of the day, buyers turned their backs on local hardware stores because they could not compete with the quality, price, and shopping experience of the big guys.

But not everyone closed their doors.  Some were humble and wise enough to recognize that they needed to change their thinking and their strategy.

How did they change?   They used shared resources to create a better consumer experience.

Local hardware stores began to work with Ace, Tru-Value, and a handful of other hardware retail cooperatives. The power of harnessing the cooperative put them on a different playing field.

Local hardware store employees gave up some of their traditional jobs for new priorities. Instead of sourcing and buying products, dealing with vendors, and choosing product lines, they allowed the cooperative to provide those services while they focused on what they alone could do. They built relationships in the community.  They got outside the four walls.  Many did something unique and memorable to make the store stand out. They created friends in town.

THAT strategy worked.

Alone, they couldn’t afford to compete. With each passing day they lost market share and revenue. But then, by using the best syndicated resources to improve the consumer’s experience, and through relationship-building in the market, they thrived.

Christian radio needs to pay attention.  Across the nation, local Christian stations who have served their community for years are today experiencing what it means to have a major national network with seemingly limitless resources and stellar talent move into town.

And frankly, many hopeful thinkers insist that local always wins. It’s a comforting thought. It’s echoed at the conferences and trade shows. It’s what everyone wants to hear.

But here is the truth: Local Christian radio is only preferable, if listeners think it is better.  

If you offer a unique experience that listeners enjoy more than the national network, you will grow and thrive. If your talent is more compelling and interesting than theirs, you will have more listeners.  If you serve and connect personally with your community in ways they can’t, you will have deeper relationships with listeners.

It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. Hire talent who will build the audience and provide listeners an experience that they will love.   Listeners need to LOVE what you say.  They should be talking about it when they arrive at work.  They should be laughing and crying about it that night over dinner.

If you don’t have a great talent in every daypart, import one.  Stop repeating the comforting mantra that “local” is better, and instead, associate the best possible talent available with YOUR brand.

Get the top syndicated personality before your competition does, and make sure everyone in town knows that YOU are the only station around where they can be heard.

In other words, grab the Tru-Value or Ace Hardware brand….and make it yours before someone else does.

Local radio does have a thriving future, but only if we realize the new normal and present rare, compelling personalities who deliver amazing listener experiences.

Jon Hamilton is the leader of a “hardware cooperative” called Christian FM. Before that he ran the local store. 

2 thoughts on “Jon Hamilton “On Hope and Hardware”

  • I think you’ve done an awesome job, John. And believe me, I’ve known Christian FM since it was just a gleam in one guy’s eye! ?


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