The hardware industry landscape has shifted dramatically in the past five years by the dominant presence of big box retailers like Home Depot, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart.  The advertising resources and volume discounts offered by these retailers challenge the independent hardware retailer to constantly remain competitive and profitable.  Starting in September 1999 through March 2000, TruServ initiated a voluntary consolidation of its three retail hardware brands (ServiStar, Coast to Coast and True Value) under the single True Value identity.  The program’s success hinged on convincing the 3,000 TruServ Members who were branded ServiStar and Coast to Coast to give up their retail brands and willingly change to True Value, even though they could easily move to competing ACE or Do-It-Best cooperatives.

The goal of The Power of One was to ignite and solidify a single, national retail identity through brand consolidation.  To reach the goal, the following objectives were put in place:

  • Gain Members’ understanding and endorsement of the value of The Power of One and the move to the single identity
  • Retain as many Members as possible during the move to the True Value retail identity
  • Demonstrate to the media and consumers that the independent hardware retailer is alive and well, with quality products and services, unified under a national brand consumers know and trust
  • Motivate Members to conduct local public relations to raise the profile of True Value within their communities, leveraging the unique benefits of local ownership supported by national buying power and products
The target audiences for the brand transition were new and established Coast to Coast, ServiStar and True Value Members and their employees; targeted trade and consumer media outlets; and TruServ Corporate employees. 
The program was based on research from internal audits conducted by a special One Brand committee and a consumer survey conducted by Marc Advertising.  To supplement the internal audits, the committee set up focus groups and questionnaires targeting specific Members. 
Internal audits and research showed that the consolidation of the retail brands would allow TruServ to competitively support and promote a single, well-recognized, national brand.  Consolidated advertising dollars from the three brands would increase the cooperative’s spending by a factor of four in 2000, bringing it more in line with the ad spending of its competitors. 
A comprehensive Member survey was conducted prior to the announcement with the support of Dr. Robert F. Lusch and the Distribution Research Program at the University of Oklahoma.
Member surveys reflected a general endorsement of the program, but also revealed significant concerns about the costs and benefits of moving to the True Value identity.
It was found that efficiencies gained by manufacturing and distributing a single line of national products – such as paint, tools and lawn care products – would allow TruServ to keep its products competitively priced in the near-term and allow its Members greater opportunities for growth and profitability over time.
During its merger with ServiStar and Coast to Coast three-and-a-half years earlier, TruServ management promised new Members that all three identities would continue to be supported.  To these Members, The Power of One announcement marked a complete change in plans.  Therefore, communications had to explain change to Members as effectively as possible.  Messages needed to be clear, understanding and persuasive.  The strategies were to:
  • Tell the story of the independent hardware retailer to business and trade editors and how the move to the True Value brand made them a unified and competitive force in the marketplace.
  • Educate True Value employees in the move to create one brand, thereby creating a network of brand ambassadors.
  • Leverage the controversy surrounding the small independent retailer competing with the big box retailer and surviving.
  • Incorporate and reinforce The Power of One theme into all member and business communication.
  • Develop a variety of member communication materials that clearly communicate the value of a strong, nationally recognized brand and its positive impact on long-term growth and profitability.
  • Generate local media awareness of the True Value brand for its Members through local media outreach and local public relations programs.
To meet the objectives and reach the goal of the program, communication tactics were focused in three distinct areas:  employee relations, material development and media relations.  The following listing of tactics is broken down by area.
Material Development
Wrote and produced several speeches given by the president of TruServ and other senior managers explaining The Power of One initiative at TruServ’s national convention.
Developed a comprehensive online and printed branding booklet titled The Power of One. Tools for the Brand for Members.  The booklet outlined the philosophy and reasons for the move, demonstrated the value of a strong national brand, outlined transitional steps and motivated Members to make the change.
Developed a local public relations guidebook that was sent to Members shortly after the announcement that educated them on the value of local public relations and offered suggestions of programs they could conduct.
Created and operated a four-day, special The Power of One booth at TruServ’s national convention that allowed Members to ask senior management and executive committee Members questions concerning the transition.
Employee Relations
Provided every True Value regional and local sales representative, customer service manager and representative, and distribution center employee with explanation and background information on the transition in face-to-face meetings.
Provided every True Value employee with The Power of One guidebook via email to see what Members received.
Implemented an ongoing public relations “SWAT Team” that called owners who signed up as a True Value member to provide local public relations program support and event ideas.
Created special One Brand committee to conduct initial audits and research and serve as an accessible leadership resource for True Value employees.
Media Relations
Media trained the president/CEO and executive vice president for business and trade media outreach.
Developed a crisis communications contingency plan for any negative media coverage resulting from the announcement, particularly relating to disgruntled Members.
Developed press materials for national business media that promoted the independent hardware retailer as alive and well: unified under the True Value name, they were a force to be reckoned with.
Created a VNR for national electronic business media that included b-roll footage and sound bites with the president/CEO and Members.
Served as a media desk during the announcement, coordinated interviews and proactively sought coverage of the announcement.
The announcement marked a complete change in plans for many ServiStar and Coast to Coast Members.  For them the decision to switch names was a very emotional one.  Many of these Members were forced to abandon brands that had been associated with their families for decades. 
Also, the transition to the True Value name was gradual.  Though it started in the fall of 1999, the transition extended well into the spring and summer of 2000.  Communication with Members about the move competed with the busy holiday and spring hardware seasons and a serious Y2K scare.  Incidentally, transition was not the only thing Members were focused on.
The Power of One Transition to the Single True Value Identity was a success because it met our four main objectives.  By meeting the objectives, the program undoubtedly ignited and solidified the True Value brand.
Gain Members’ understanding and endorsement of the value of The Power of One.  Members conducted grand opening events and local public relations programs based on the True Value Local PR Guidebook and the assistance of the PR SWAT Team.  PR SWAT Team calls were welcomed by Members as effective avenues of communication for both learning about the capability of local public relations and communicating about the company’s overall transition. 
Retain as many Members as possible during the move to the True Value retail identity.  Member retention rates exceeded 90 percent—far above expectations.  True Value member ranks grew to more than 8,000—a number that put them in the same rankings as retail giants like Taco Bell and Burger King.
Demonstrate to the media and consumers that the independent hardware retailer is alive and well, with quality products and services, and is unified under a national brand they know and trust. Positive media on the brand move included stories in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Crain’s Chicago Business, Chicago Sun-Times, Dallas Morning News, Pittsburgh Gazette and an additional 24 critical markets around the country.  Bloomberg conducted a recorded interview with the president/CEO that ran throughout the day of the announcement.  There were more than 64 million print impressions. 
Motivate Members to conduct local public relations to raise the profile of True Value within their communities, leveraging the unique benefits of local ownership supported by national buying power and products. Following basic public relations knowledge and tactics highlighted in the True Value Local PR Guidebook, Members achieved immediate success by attaining front-page coverage in hundreds of local newspapers and achieving high attendance at opening events.  Those initial efforts continued as Members utilized the book to conduct their own programs.
The TruServ Board of Directors proclaimed Ogilvy Public Relations’ program was the most successful in the company’s history, saying, “You have raised the bar on member communication.”