Wahl Drug 2020

Remember Wahl drug and their 3,000 signs? You can be the Wahl Drug of 2020. All you need is the internet.

It's nearing the end of August, and as often happens when the days start to feel a bit shorter and the mornings a bit crisper, I start thinking about all the wonderful memories I have of hunting with my dogs on the great plains of North and South Dakota. As every bird hunter knows, there's nothing quite like walking behind a well-trained pointing dog on a crisp fall morning--feeling the frost-covered cattails fold against your brush-guard pants, your heart beating faster as you approach your dog frozen on point, and then that surge of adrenaline as the bird bursts out from its hiding place and you manage to get a shot off… or not. It's something I very much miss living out here in the mountain west, but the mountains and the rivers and many other things about the San Luis Valley more than make up for the lack of pheasants. But I digress.

My morning revere of the great plains led me to remember the moment when I purchased my first smartphone, and the way I ate, slept, and generally experienced small-town America during my annual hunting trips was changed forever. Before the smartphone, and its ability to instantly connect me with Google Maps, Yelp, Trip Advisor and all those other services designed to help you pick the best spots to eat or spend the night, I would eat at whatever restaurant or fast food joint was close to whatever chain motel I was staying at - usually right off the highway or interstate. It was awful. I wanted to support small, local businesses; I wanted to eat in the mom and pop diners and sleep at the small motels or BnBs (if they allowed dogs), but finding them, especially late at night after a long day of driving, was just too hard. But the internet, and the smartphone, changed all of that.

After I purchased that first iPhone, I remember driving through a remote corner of Nebraska, searching Yelp for nearby restaurants, and finding this insanely awesome little deli that served the kind of creative sandwiches, salads and baked goods you'd expect to find in a place like Boulder, but not in some tiny town in the middle-of-nowhere-Nebraska. What a welcome treat for hunters who had been living off gas station coffee and Dennys egg dishes! After that, we made a point to avoid, if at all possible, any and all chain restaurants or hotels. Sure, we sometimes had to drive a bit further, or take a more circuitous route, but it was always worth it.

This morning, as I was reminiscing about these trips around middle-America, I thought about the signs for Wahl Drug (if you haven't seen them, you must not drive much across flyover country, but here's a little primer). All those signs were like little breadcrumbs scattered all across the country. At first you could ignore them, but after seeing ten, twenty, fifty or even more of those suckers, you start feeling like you simply MUST visit this storied locale, even if it meant driving WAY out of your way. And isn't that exactly what we're trying to achieve with today's online marketing?

Why should anyone visit your tiny little store, tucked in a far corner of a remote Colorado valley? How will anyone know you exist if you don't tell them, don't create a reason for them to be intrigued and want to seek you out? And it doesn't even have to be foot traffic; I have purchased a number of items from online retailers who have been the Wahl Drug of my Facebook feed, leaving little breadcrumbs of video content or images for me to barely notice, and then notice more intensely, and then suddenly think, "oh man, I HAVE to have that!"

All of this is to say, when it comes to being successful in this strange era we all find ourselves in these days, there are two absolutely critical factors: one, make sure people can find you, and two, make people WANT to find you.

Neither of these things are exactly new or groundbreaking tactics--Wahl Drug started their viral sign campaign in 1936--but thinking about them in terms of the online landscape can take a bit of a shift in perspective, and maybe a little education about the whats and hows of internet directories and marketing tactics.

I've rambled on enough for now, but my goal with this blog will be to help give a bit of a primer on all these things, so you can figure out your own path to winning the internet and becoming the Wahl Drug of 2020 and beyond. So stay tuned! Until next time...