Command Fire Apparatus, a firefighter-owned used fire truck dealer based in Lancaster, Pa., is relying on the web to move the majority of its inventory—both during normal times, and especially during the Covid crisis.
Thanks to their strong web presence supported by First Arriving since 2013, they were already doing at least half of their sales online, said owner Glenn Usdin. Now their ratio of online vs. in-person sales is even higher, he said, estimating that 60 to 70 percent of their customers are no longer coming in to view trucks but looking and buying online.
“This entire Covid experience has been a steep, sharp learning curve for all businesses in the United States,” Usdin said. “It’s required us to do less physical contact with our customers, to find other ways to interact with them, and to find new ways to demonstrate and show our products.”
For that, Usdin says he’s glad to be partnered with First Arriving, which manages their website, marketing strategy, social media and Google advertising, customer data, and email newsletters. So while it’s been a challenging business environment on the physical side for preparing their trucks for customers, keeping employees socially distant while working, and requiring face masks for visitors, it’s been a good time to focus on their online abilities.
“I think we’ve been able to fine-tune even a little bit better our strengths,” Usdin said, crediting First Arriving’s customer-centered marketing for putting their products in front of people so they don’t physically need to touch them.
Command Fire Apparatus has made a number of sales in the last six months through online demonstrations using applications such as Facetime or Zoom, Usdin said. This has allowed them to eliminate many of the real-world customer visits they would have needed, or perhaps not gotten, if it hadn’t been for the program they put in place with First Arriving.
Usdin credits much of the program’s success to the online marketing strategies suggested and implemented by First Arriving since he became one of the company’s first clients.
“We’ve been very pleased with their partnership with us,” he said. Early on in the partnership, Usdin said, his company did not use Facebook and social media as prime venues to reach their customers. However, this has changed in the last five to six years as they have strengthened their social media profile. Most notably, Usdin said, First Arriving devised a plan to help them capture followers for their Facebook page, bringing them today to more than a hundred thousand followers.
“That has paid off immensely by becoming the prime method that we use to notify our customers when we add new inventory to our fleet, or want to run specials on particular units that we have for sale,” he added.
In addition to social media, First Arriving helps Usdin target customers through search engine ads. “With their knowledge and expertise, we target different customers demographically and geographically, and we’ve done a really good job of putting the right rucks in front of the right customers,” he said.
Part of this is achieved through adjusting the Command Fire Apparatus website and the coding that goes into it, Usdin said, so that search engines can accurately spot the units they have for sale. “And that’s a very fluid science because search engines change their algorithms on a regular basis,” Usdin noted, “so what worked five, six years ago, even two years ago, does not necessarily work today.”
The key is to keep pace with the changes, he said. “First Arriving and I, in regular marketing conversations, evaluate the effectiveness of the various search engine tools that we use to make certain that we are up to date and using best practices,” Usdin said. “And whenever I have a question or read what other companies are doing and bring it up to First Arriving, they are always two to four steps ahead of me, and tell me if it’s worth it for my company or not.”
As search engine companies change their criteria without announcing it, it requires ongoing web analysis to monitor any drop off in web presence, and then analyze why it’s dropping off and what steps need to be taken, Usdin added.
“From a business owner point of view it’s very difficult to have algorithms change without any notification,” he said, “but First Arriving has always been on top of it.”
Command Fire Apparatus doesn’t just benefit from First Arriving’s digital media knowledge, but also from its fire service knowledge, Usdin added—something a general web or advertising company doesn’t have.
“The fire service is a very strange industry,” Usdin pointed out, noting it’s a combination of business to business and also business to consumer, with a volunteer fire service that can have individuals making buying decisions differently than the paid fire service.
“I’ve found that the people in the fire service tend to stay in it for a very long time, and for outsiders to come in to the fire service and try to market to fire people have a lot of difficulty,” Usdin said. “I’ve always been impressed that the core owners and senior management at First Arriving are either active or former firefighters, and that makes it extremely easy.” That’s because First Arriving already understands the lingo, the structure, and the needs of the fire service, he said.
“I can contrast that with working with outside ad agencies and marketing firms, because I still have to interact with them on a regular basis, and it’s so difficult to explain to them how the fire service works and what those buying patterns are, and none of that applies to First Arriving,” Usdin said. “They know the business, they know the industry, they specialize in the industry, and they get it done for you.”