NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Tractor Supply CMO Kimberley Gardiner joined the company a little over a year ago after two decades in the auto industry.
“I wasn't looking to move,” she says of the shift. “I loved auto, all was well.”
But the retailer has a much different energy any of the automakers where she has worked, including Volkswagen, Mitsubishi, Kia and Toyota, Gardiner told the audience at MediaPost’s TV and Video Insider Summit last week.
The job shift has been an uplifting experience, she says. She has discovered the joy of “Life Out Here,” which is the retailer’s tagline.
How she ended up at the largest rural lifestyle retailer in the U.S. is an interesting story.
She took a call from a recruiter, which she says is never a bad idea since you just never know what might be out there for you. After an enjoyable phone conversation with Tractor Supply leadership, the recruiter told her the CEO was going to fly to where Gardiner lived in Virginia to meet her in person at a nearby Tractor Supply location.
“And I thought, wait a second, rewind what? The CEO is going to fly out to Virginia to meet me and walk with me at Tractor Supply Store. And she's like, well, welcome to Tractor Supply,” Gardiner says. “That's how we do it.”
Watching CEO Hal Lawton interact with customers and employees told her all she needed to know about the company, she says.
“I thought, wow, I don't think I've ever felt this way,” she says. “First of all, it's not fair to compare a dealership with a retailer like Tractor Supply, but I just never felt that way with [any] retailer.”
Watching him interact with customers and employees was a transformative experience that prompted her to shift industries.
“I think that's really important for us as marketers to think about what really drives us to engage with the brands and the companies that we work with and work for,” she says. "And if you love what you do, it’s so much easier in terms of talking to your customers.”
Tractor Supply has almost 2,200 stores in every state except for Alaska. The company also owns a brand called Pet Sense, a small specialty pet store retailer.
The store sells a few tractors, but the name actually comes from how the company began, which is selling supplies for farmers and ranchers who need all the things to do what they do, including tractors.
Currently, the brand serves many hobby farmers and ranchers, but not the big ones. The brand’s current customer base is 60/40 male to female and 68% are 35 to 64 years old. They are middle income home owners/land owners with middle income. New customers are skewing younger, higher income and slightly more female, she says.
“One of the things that I love about our brand, when we talk about our customers and when you come into a Tractor Supply store, they're your neighbors,” she says. “They're warm, they're friendly, the characteristics that we talk about, they're resourceful, they're do-it-yourselfers. They're just good, hardworking, nice people.”
The brand promise of supporting “Life Out Here” means it is “here for people who are passionate about their animals, people who are passionate about their land, even if it's a little container garden that you have in your back little area in your apartment, that's cool too,” Gardiner says.
The stores feature pet food for all kinds of animals. All pets are welcome to Tractor Supply, which results in a lot of fun posts on social media, she says.
“So it is, I hate to say this, but it's almost the exact opposite of my last 20 years in terms of talking to customers about that retail experience,” Gardiner says. "You are welcome. I promise you it is the best of what this brand has to offer when you come inside. I couldn't say that so much about a dealership.”
“No offense against dealers. It is a tough business. I know where they're coming from. But for us, no matter what you are looking for on this list or something else, if you have a project that you need help honest to goodness, come in, ask a question, you'll be greeted and you'll be shown where to find those things and you'll come out maybe just a little bit wiser about whatever it is you need to get it done.”