Tractor Supply Freshens Up 'Life Out Here'

Spring is always the busiest time for Tractor Supply Company, as people stock up on vegetable seeds, mulch and baby chicks. Increasingly, they’re also ponying up for big-ticket items, like high-end grills or five-figure utility vehicles. Kimberley Gardiner, chief marketing officer, tells Retail Insider what’s behind the shifts -- and how her team keeps making the “Life Out Here” promise more appealing.

Retail Insider: How is the season trending so far?

Kimberley Gardiner: We're seeing strong traffic in stores, both from core and new customers, which is exciting. In addition to lawn and garden items, there’s a nice assortment of what’s doing well: fruit trees, bird houses. And, of course, the chicks. Even people who don’t have a flock like to come in and look at them.

Retail Insider: What else is on people’s shopping lists?

Gardiner: Grilling, lawn and garden, birding, seasonal décor. Flea and tick control, new doghouses and kennels. We've got a new line of garden apparel with Martha Stewart. We launched Yeti a few months ago. We've got Eddie Bauer coming in. We're keeping a fresh pipeline of innovative new things in stores that will appeal to our core customers and new ones.

Retail Insider: What’s new with your Lainey Wilson partnership?

Gardiner: We’re in our second year and just launched the new campaign, and these spots lean on the speech she gave this year when she won her first Grammy. It’s about hard work and planting seeds.

The two brands -- Lainey’s and ours -- are a neat fit. She’s inspiring and creative and talks about how she loves being home, away from the chaos of the road. One of my favorite ad lines ever is from this campaign: “When the road turns to gravel, the city becomes country and noise becomes music, that's when you know we are out here.” I love that.

The point is, anyone can be part of that rural-inspired lifestyle, getting outside and appreciating nature a bit more. They’re moments that remind us to take a beat and enjoy life.

Retail Insider: What else is new in your marketing?

Gardiner: Lots of content. The new campaign and our team member content are running on digital channels, social media, YouTube, and some CTV channels, as well as our own channels. Content focuses on making the most of seasonal moments in ways that show off the team’s expertise in fun, helpful ways, like how to plant a small garden for Mother’s Day or get ready for Memorial Day.

We continue to use team members and real customers in our work. We work with a company called Confidant for some of our creative, but do most of the work internally.

We’re also freshening up our Neighbor’s Club program, which has 34 million members. We’ve revamped it so people can earn rewards faster. We’re adding a Heroes program for active-duty military and first responders.

Retail Insider: Your business is so vulnerable to weather. Storms or a cold spring can all impact sales -- something you probably never worried about when you were CMO at Volkswagen. How do you make marketing flexible enough to deal with that?

Gardiner: We've always been proactive about weather moments, whether it’s storms, cold weather, tornadoes, hurricanes or extreme heat. We're becoming more sophisticated with weather targeting, getting much more granular. We have messaging on our website, emails, and mobile app that offer tips on how to prepare and manage. What does your flock need? Your garden? We're also trying to message some of our targeted media with personalized and customized content.

Retail Insider: In the latest earnings report, the company noted a shift toward bigger-ticket items. And while they still only account for about 12% of total sales, it’s a marked shift. What’s driving that?

Gardiner: It’s a few things. One is that we saw a pullback on some of those items last year. There was more uncertainty in the economy, and if people could delay a lawnmower purchase another year, many did. The other is that post-COVID, people shifted spending more toward services than goods, and we now see it swing back. They’re feeling more optimistic. We’re seeing a big increase in utility vehicle sales, or UTVs, especially among exurban customers. UTVs are nice for small-acreage properties. We have golf carts, too. People say, "I want to invest in the things that get me outside."

Retail Insider: Now that we’re several years past peak COVID, which radically impacted Tractor Supply’s sales, can you say which pandemic-driven changes still affect your business?

Gardiner: Core customers, people who have shopped with us for years, are staying loyal. They're shopping more frequently, spending more, and are engaged. We're also seeing continued growth in that millennial consumer, even a bit of Gen Z. They skew slightly more female, a little more diverse, and that's exciting to see. Total migration has slowed, but net migration for folks moving to more of those exurban and rural areas is continuing. Some of it is the cost of housing. People are moving further from cities to find homes they can afford.

Retail Insider: And so those are your new customers?

Gardiner: Yes. We don't service large-scale farms or ranches. We are about those recreational hobby farmers, ranchers, and people that might have some acreage. Or they may just be growing plants on their patio.

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