John Surane is executive vice president of merchandising, marketing, and sales for Ace Hardware. Since joining the retailer in March 2009, he has made significant contributions toward enriching Ace’s product assortments.
For example, Surane has initiated category growth through the launch of Clark+Kensington, Ace’s first-ever paint-primer in one—ranked No. 1 by Consumer Reports in 2012, and has been a key driver in Ace’s 20-year strategic alliance with Valspar. In addition, Surane has positioned the company as the exclusive retailer for Craftsman products in the convenience hardware industry, driving the largest product selection in the industry at more than 1,000 Craftsman-branded products.

Surane recently participated in our “4 Questions for Marketing Innovators” series.

1. What is one marketing topic that is most important to you as an innovator?

Customer loyalty is very important to me, as well as the use of powerful analytics to build better, more relevant relationships with our customers to keep them coming back.

2. Why is this so important?

We’ve seen through our loyalty program that half of our transactions come from returning customers. As a brand that stands for helpful, award-winning customer service, it’s rewarding to see that we are offering them an amazing experience. I consider that a win!

3. How will the customer experience be improved by this?

The benefits of building a strong, analytics-based rewards program are tremendous. It allows us to reallocate our enterprise-wide marketing and promotional dollars toward smarter, customer relevant programs that follow customers through their purchase journey–giving them what they want and need.

A few simple examples of providing relevant and helpful offers to customers [is letting them know] when it’s time to change their furnace filters, fertilize their lawns, or check the batteries in their smoke detectors. Next-level help can be delivered by studying consumer purchases to deliver purchase triggers before they even realize they need a product or to take their projects to the next level. For example, a customer that recently purchased three gallons of paint—the average quantity needed to complete an average-size painting project—can take the project to the next level by replacing the light bulbs from old, soft-white, incandescent bulbs to new LED daylight bulbs that will make that paint job really stand out. [That is] relevant and helpful advice delivered and powered by knowing our customers better.

The customer experience begins when the customer first interacts with a brand, whether that be online or in a brick-and-mortar store. When the customer walks through the door, it should be a company’s goal to amaze every one. Whether they come in to buy a large amount of items or just one, each customer should be treated the same and be provided with an unparalleled customer service experience. This philosophy led us at Ace to launch the Ace Center for Excellence, with the goal of sharing our strategies and key principles that drive our own brand’s outstanding customer service with businesses and organizations across the company.

4. How will this improve the effectiveness of marketing?

Efforts to improve the customer experience are much bigger than merely marketing. It’s positioning your brand and store associates to serve customers more effectively by knowing their wants and needs before they do.

I humbly submit that our renowned customer experience has resulted in nine years of consecutively being ranked “Highest in Customer Satisfaction with Home Improvement Retail Stores,” according to the J.D. Power annual study.

Clearly, building a reputation for great customer service begins and ends in the hands of our associates’ consistently amazing customers with their helpful service. It’s our job in marketing to drive footsteps in the aisles and put them in the best possible position to deliver on our brand promise. Engaging customers when and where they desire, with messages that matter, is a good start to accomplishing both of these objectives.

Bonus: Favorite activity outside of work?

I love to play golf—nothing too serious, though. The round must include good friends, music, refreshing drinks, and heavy doses of humility.

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