#396: Lakeshore Learning Materials - Rewarding Loyalty for Teachers and Parents

Today’s episode celebrates a brand that recognizes and rewards a relatively forgotten segment of the community – those who educate children!

Lakeshore Learning Materials is one of the most innovative manufacturers of educational materials in the United States, specializing in top-quality products for the home and classroom.

Originally founded as a toy store in 1954, Lakeshore Learning Materials now operates sixty stores and a thriving online business, catering to both teachers and parents.

The business had been operating a program called the “Teacher’s Club” for over 20 years, but about 2 years ago, it realized it needed a complete overhaul!

Alex Tavera was brought on board to advise on a complete redesign and a new strategy for the business, and in late 2021, he led the launch of their new loyalty program.

With a new name and a completely new strategy, combined with some great technology and a supportive leadership team, Lakeshore Rewards is now an incredibly exciting program that is going from strength to strength!

Listen to enjoy this inspirational conversation with Alex Tavera, Director of CRM, Email and Loyalty with Lakeshore Learning Materials.

Show Notes:

1) Lakeshore Learning Materials

2) Alex Tavera

3) Lakeshore Rewards

4) #84: Virgin Red Loyalty Programme Launches in the UK

5) #195: Virgin Red – The Red Thread Connecting the Virgin Brand Globally

Audio Transcript

Paula: Welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty, an industry podcast for loyalty marketing professionals. I’m your host, Paula Thomas, and if you work in loyalty marketing, join me every week to learn the latest ideas from loyalty specialists around the world.

Did you know that Mastercard is one of the world’s largest loyalty service providers? Working with leading global brands across financial services, travel, retail, dining, fuel, and consumer goods, Mastercard designs loyalty strategies that build and sustain authentic personal relationships. Their loyalty platforms, PowerPoints, cash back and offers programs to deliver Mastercard’s priceless benefits and incentives in real time to your consumers.

Visit go.mastercard services.com/ltl to learn how Mastercard can help you build stronger relationships through smarter engagement. 

Hello, and welcome to today’s episode of Let’s Talk Loyalty, which celebrates a brand that recognizes and rewards a relatively forgotten segment of our community, those who educate children.

Lakeshore Learning Materials is one of the most innovative manufacturers of educational materials in the United States, specializing in top quality products for the home and classroom. Originally founded as a toy store in 1954, Lakeshore Learning Materials now operates 60 stores and a thriving online business catering to both parents and teachers.

The business had been operating a program called The Teachers Club for over 20 years, but about two years ago, it realized they needed a complete overhaul. Alex Tavera was brought on board to advise on a complete redesign and a new strategy for the program. And in late 2021, he led the launch of the new proposition with a new name, a completely new strategy, combined with some great technology and a supportive leadership team, Lakeshore Rewards is now an incredibly exciting program that is going from strength to strength. 

I hope you enjoy this inspirational conversation with Alex Tavera, Director of CRM, Email, and Loyalty with Lakeshore Learning Materials.

So Alex Tavera, welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty. 

Alex: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me on. 

Paula: It’s wonderful actually to have you on because I know you started following me on Spotify in about like April, 2020. So I feel like you’re a loyal listener and I’m very grateful for you to do that. 

Alex: Absolutely. And congratulations on all the shows. I’ve definitely been listening. 

Paula: Oh, you’re super kind. Definitely have a few extra gray hairs as a result, but it’s very inspiring nonetheless, which is the whole purpose. So, listen, let’s get straight into it, Alex. First and foremost, as you know, we love to start the show just with this really interesting question for people in the industry, to hear what do you admire either personally or professionally as a loyalty program.

What would you say is your favorite loyalty program? 

Alex: You know, I had to do a bit of travel, when I was in LA internationally, and one of my favorite programs right now is Virgin Red. And I really like it because I like the multi-partner or coalition model that they use.

And I like how they tie all of their Virgin products together using Virgin Red, but also the partners that they’ve been adding into the program to help with everyday spend and really just accelerating your earning to achieve, you know, their rewards faster. 

And I also really like what they do for redemption. I think they’re really generous with redemption. You know, with Virgin Voyages coming out, I’ve seen some amazing deals that you can get for cruises, but also if you’re a, if you’re a gold member in the program, you can redeem across any fair class, which I think is really rare in airline programs, especially as they’ve been getting a little bit more stringent.

And so I, yeah, I would say that’s definitely one of my favorites. I think they’re doing it really well. 

Paula: You’re totally right and I’m a huge fan of, obviously Virgin Red. They’ve been on the show twice, talking about the program. 

Alex: Oh, great. 

Paula: Yeah. Amazing. First of all, in the UK context, and I suppose for people listening, we’ll make sure to put it into the show notes, but also with this US expansion that they’ve done in the last year or so, it’s not an easy job.

I can tell you as somebody who’s not American to really consider launching any business, any brand, even one that is as powerful as Virgin. And I think they’ve done a couple of things exceptionally well. So as you said, I think the brand first and foremost, and I know we’re gonna talk about your loyalty brand here today as well, in terms of what you’re currently working on. So, super exciting. 

And the other piece that comes to mind actually is Virgin Voyages. My husband, I have him totally prepped for a plan. I dunno how I’m gonna get there, but it sounds like I need to get to gold before I do, huh? 

Alex: Potentially. Yeah. But I would say, yeah, Virgin Voyages looks really exciting. I want to jump on a cruise as well. Maybe in the Mediterranean. 

Paula: There you go. Absolutely. And from memory, they are adult only cruises. Am I right in that? I dunno if you picked that up.

Alex:  Yeah, that’s what I’ve seen. So we’re, yeah, we were gonna need to let the kids stay with the grandparents and then my wife and I can jump on board, so we’re excited.

Paula: Totally. I think this is a very exciting possibility. The other, really cool thing, Alex, that’s coming through is obviously your deep knowledge of loyalty, like what you’re, what you’re picking up, you know, from an external perspective, as a member of a loyalty program like that. It’s exactly how I love to think about loyalty programs.

It’s like, let’s get into the terminology, let’s get into the terms and conditions, the FAQs. And let’s see what the thinking really is behind the scenes so that we can learn from them, which is of course, exactly what we’re here to do today. So let’s give us, maybe a bit of a background and context on you, Alex, first and foremost, because you do have a phenomenal career, and we will give a shout out actually as well to Erin Raese from Annex Cloud, who did suggest that you come on the show as a guest. So thank you Erin. 

So give us a bit of your own background, Alex, and how you got to where you are today. 

Alex: Yeah, absolutely. So I started my career off at Target. So I was in the merchandising path there and it was a phenomenal foundation and experience to learn, you know, so much about retail from, you know, one of the best retailers in the country.

And what I, what I then did though is I kind of changed career paths and I really wanted to go back into marketing and I had the opportunity to work for AIMIA, I think now called Cognitive. But I was in charge of consulting for the Americas, so I supported probably over 25 different clients, with strategy designs, redesigns of programs, and then also helping with behavioral segmentation. So it was, phenomenal to learn that. 

And then I decided, you know, I kind of wanna get on the other side of the fence. So not being client facing, but actually be running my own program. And so I had the opportunity to go back to Target. And I worked for one of their subsidiaries called Dermstore, which specializes in professional luxury skincare. So, that was a really interesting market for me. I wasn’t, I didn’t really know much about beauty products, but I think I well-versed in it now. But I rebuilt their program, helped them with their CRM and retention marketing strategies.

And then from there, had the opportunity to move to Lakeshore. And Lakeshore Learning is a company that specializes in educational supplies and products for parents, teachers, and institutions across the US. And what I loved about that was the transition occurred during COVID and, you know, it was kind of amazing to work remotely in this digital environment. And engage and learn so much about our audiences. 

And you know, for me, I think it’s been so fun to reward and incent educators of all types. And so I got the opportunity to rebuild their entire program and have been able to see some great results. And I’ve been working to tweak the program and evolve it even further.

Paula: Wow. I mean, honestly, of all of the sectors, because clearly some sectors did benefit from the devastation, of course, of the COVID pandemic. And it sounds like Lakeshore Learning absolutely was an essential, I suppose, support mechanism, particularly for I guess, parents who were learning to become educators and probably never planned to.

Alex: Absolutely. We had a massive influx, within the parent audience. We were, you know, while we are extremely well known in terms of brand awareness with the teacher audience, or anybody that is an educator, the parent, you know for certain groups and certain segments, they know us, but we were introduced to a huge community of people trying to figure out how do I best educate and take care of my child during this difficult time? And how do I become a teacher myself? 

So, you know, there was a lot of interesting things that we saw in terms of the dynamics and the change in behavior, across our website. And also the website becoming so much more powerful and important as the retail stores had to close.

Paula: Yeah. And a huge compliment to whoever does the design of your website as well, Alex, because you know, obviously in preparation for today, I was just looking through it and it has that beautiful simplicity that I find is so rare in good website design. You know, like usability is something that drives loyalty.

Actually, let’s be honest, you know, it’s one of the underappreciated aspects is beautiful design. So, anyone who is listening and is a fan of looking at beautiful websites, particularly I think it’s relevance to the audience that you have. So I think that’s something that really has proven to be a big part of your success. Would that be fair to say, or am I just jumping into conclusions here? 

Alex: No, no, thank you. Yeah, I would say that, you know what, what we’ve been doing as a marketing team is really not only focusing on those segments I talked about, but really it’s about the students that we serve. And so a lot of it has to do with the age ranges, the grade levels, and then considering the consumer, the audience that is buying for that student.

So whether it’s a zero to three year old, a six to 12 year old, we need to consider that first and foremost, and what products, you know, will align to them. And then, you know, deciding, well, who’s the buyer? Is it an individual teacher, an institution, a daycare owner or a parent who might be looking for a gift?

So, or to extend the learning at home, which is extremely important to that segment as well. 

Paula: For sure. Yeah. And I’m a stepmom, but I don’t have young kids, for example. So when I am looking to buy gifts for children, I’m always a bit like, oh my God, you know, are they reading Algebra or do we need like, I dunno, blocks. I mean.

Alex: Exactly. Exactly. It’s, and I do think that the website is helpful in that way where you can shop by age and then be able to see the right types of products that’ll work well for their cognitive development. 

Paula: Amazing. So loyalty wasn’t a new idea, Alex, for Lakeshore Learning, it sounds like there was a program, I think you said the last time we spoke for like 20 years. Is that the case? 

Alex: Exactly right. So, they had originally called it Teacher’s Club. And it was designed, I would say similar to, you kind of a mainstream grocer where you get a, you know, a little card on your key chain and you can scan it and you get discounts inside the store. They were really focused though on what we call teacher resources, so thank borders, stamps, stickers, pocket charts. 

And so what the company identified as well as you know myself was that hey, we’re kind of missing a lot of the store that we can reward the consumer for shopping with us and interacting with. And funny enough, as I stock, as I talked to store managers, they shared with me that everyone’s asking for points.

Why don’t we have a points program? Why doesn’t it include other parts of the store outside of teacher resources? And so it was, it was fun to go into those moments because you know that whatever you build, is probably going to resonate pretty well considering the consumers clamoring for it.

But how do we make it as sophisticated as possible and engage all these different audiences with a program versus just one specific segment. So that was really the catalyst to why they wanted to change the program so much. 

Paula: Well, and it always is so reassuring of course, to hear that they’re clamoring for something, so hallelujah. Great starting point. But it also sounds like, again, I suppose from our previous conversation that the management team were really bought into, I guess, the possibility of doing loyalty. Well, would you say that’s fair? 

Alex: Absolutely. And it was really interesting in having initial conversations with them as they were approaching it, because when you think about it, the loyalty program touches so many business units internally, but it is so customer facing.

And so their biggest concern was, we want to get this right. You know, we really, the Lakeshore really takes care of their guests. You know, they’re kind of, you know, sometimes comparable to even Nordstrom in terms of, you know, return policy and the way that they engage and will phone a guest or get make sure that they get their product whenever they need it. And so it was important to get this right. 

Also, you know, there’s some price tags that come along with loyalty, considering the technology that you need, the creative, etcetera. And so they just wanted to get it as right as possible. And luckily, I had the opportunity to help them do that.

Paula: And the other piece that really caught my attention was that you did decide to change the name. So yes, it was Teacher’s Club and now it’s Lakeshore Rewards. So talk us through the insights and why you felt that you needed to change the name as well, Alex. 

Alex: Yeah, we did quite a bit of research. We did about three months of research to get the design right as well as where we wanted the name to land, and really our consumers helped us pick it, which was exciting.

And what was yeah, and what was important though for us was that, we obviously our favorite. You know, people, our teachers, right? And, while they are a major, you know, part of our business, we also didn’t want to forget about our parents. And so as we thought about that, we wanted to round out the name a little bit better.

And make sure that it was overarching. And so that’s where Lakeshore Rewards came from, and it was the top pick for our consumers. So it made it really easy to implement it. 

Paula: Okay. Note to self, never make certainly brand decisions. I have to say I’m a disaster when it comes to brands, with the exception of Let’s Talk Loyalty. I feel like I nailed it with this brand. 

Alex: That’s pretty good. That was pretty good.

Paula: Yeah. So tell us about the proposition then. What did you build? And when we’re recording here, we are in May 2023, and I think you launched the new program, Lakeshore Rewards, literally kind of six months ago. Is that fair to say?

Alex: A little bit more. So, November 2021 was the launch of the program. So, so right in the start of holiday. Yeah, it was exciting. And then, yeah, we’ve had, you know, what is that, 18, 18 months or so of the, of program performance and we’re very happy with where it’s landed.

But yeah, we’ve been in market for about 18 months, so it’s, then it’s continuing to grow. 

Paula: Okay. So what is the proposition? It’s obviously a points based program, so how did you design it? 

Alex: So part of what we did was quite a bit of customer research. So we did surveys, we did focus groups, we also did focus groups with our store managers.

And that really helped us understand where there were opportunities to better engage the consumer with the program. And one of the things that I really wanted to make sure of was that we were having an emotional connection with the consumer. So not just a transactional based program, but also having ways to earn for completing registries for referring friends, for downloading our app.

And so that was, you know, a major component of the program was you know, the teacher deserves to have, the teacher and the parent deserves to have points, not only for purchasing products for us, but obviously just interacting with us and being a brand advocate. So that was a lot of why we created major components of the program and then with our leadership team, we were able to be quite generous.

So we give three points per dollar spent. Four points if you’re VIP gold. So we do have a tiered structure. And then we also have a number of promotions that we run throughout the year. And what’s been great about the promotional aspect is that it’s getting more points into their accounts and allowing them to redeem faster.

And that’s a major factor that I’ve been looking at is redemption, because it is driving incremental trip frequency. But it’s also giving back to this community and allowing them to get discounts on future purchases and so that’s been exciting. And, from the numbers that we’ve been seeing, our leadership team has also said, let’s throw fuel on the fire. What are other ways that we can do this? Because we clearly can see that the consumers appreciating it and is, and is feeling rewarded. So, that’s a lot of what went into the actual structuring of the program. 

Paula: So exciting. First of all, to hear the generosity of the program because as members, we all know the frustrations of, oh my God, am I ever gonna get even a cup of coffee outta this thing?

So, that is amazing. I think, 3%, 4% there, they’re very powerful rates, and I’m guessing the opportunity to drive upsell. Is absolutely there to be had for your business because we all have, you know, whether it is friends or family, you know, educators in formal and informal ways. So, it’s almost an unbelievable scale of opportunity and probably an audience that very few people really serve. You know, particularly when I think about teachers, for example. 

Alex: Absolutely. You know, there has been terminology used that they sometimes call teachers a forgotten audience. And you know, how are we really truly rewarding these teachers, especially for taking on very stressful jobs, having to educate children of all different cognitive levels within a classroom with stressful environments. And so that was, that’s a core focus of ours is. 

We’re really rewarding that teacher. And the way that we’re positioning it is to reward all types of educators, whether you’re a daycare owner, an institutional purchaser for a public or private school, or you’re a parent, you know, looking to extend learning or to give a great gift, you know, for the child’s friend’s birthday party. You know, that’s the core of what we’re trying to do within the program. 

Paula: Amazing. And the particular piece you mentioned there as well about the non-transactional rewards, Alex, was that a difficult sell internally initially because it sounds like it’s worked a charm and you know, if they’re gonna throw gas on the fire, it’s obviously something that you just wanna multiply, but in the beginning, it can be counterintuitive.

Alex: It can be. The interesting thing though, is always to use data. So for me it was easy to say, look, we’re spending this much money on paid advertising to acquire a consumer. Why wouldn’t we give them points to refer their friends when we know that that is a great lead? And you know, it’s again, it shows that that connection to the consumer that isn’t transactional.

So something like, that’s an example of using the data to help sell in, but, you know, people that start registries and close registries are more valuable to the business. So of course, we should reward them for doing registries. Downloading our app, we know that our app, you know, traffic and consumer is also a bit more valuable to the business, and so it made sense to incent them to download.

So selling it in both from an emotional interaction based, you know, connection with the consumer, but also the fact that it does benefit the enterprise. It did make it a lot easier to sell to our leadership team, but again, our leadership team was very focused on generosity and making sure that these educators felt rewarded.

So, it was kind of an easy sell, if you will. But, I’ve definitely been up against some tougher ones, especially when I was doing some program designs and consulting where we did have to show that enterprise value, in order to get the interaction based earn in the door.

Paula: Totally. Totally. Yeah. And proving the incrementality of that I’m sure is something that you’re probably more qualified than me, Alex, dare I say, to prove all of that data stuff. So I love it. But data was never quite my strong point. Thank God I had great partners in the business. 

And will you explain to me the registries? I know it’s not a loyalty question, but again, as a, you know, a non-parent, I understand wedding registries, but why do people set up a registry with them with Lakeshore Learning? 

Alex: Yes. So teachers will often set up registries as they’re thinking about what they would want in their classroom, both to organize themselves, but also they can send that out to parents, that are coming in for that next school year and, you know, get a little bit of help, getting those supplies for the classroom.

And then also parents and grandparents, will also create registries for their kids during, you know, the major holiday season or for a birthday. And what we did in the points aspect of the pro of the registry is that, if you create a registry and if people purchase off of it, you get points as people purchase off of the registry.

So you get bonus points for it, which is just a really nice, you know, way to kind of add in more and then send them to actually create a registry and send that out to either parents of your classroom or friends and family. If you’re buying for the gifting season.

Paula: It’s kind of like refer a friend on steroids.

Alex: A little bit. Yeah.

Paula: I like that. I mean, you know, we talk about the network effect, of course, you know, to use our, you know, typical marketing jargon. But I really like the fact that actually, you know, you’re centralizing and optimizing for, again, all of the various different kind of needs that there are, and it’s just automatically then multiplying the impact of the brand and the loyalty program and giving them extra ways to earn.

Alex: Absolutely.

Paula: Incredible, incredible. 18 months in you just talked about, you know, you’ve had 18 months, you know, following 20 years. So I think you’re in a wonderful position to kind of go, okay, before and after, Alex got involved, and I’m guessing, first and foremost, professional reputation. You must be so proud in terms of what you’ve achieved. So what would you say have been the highlights in terms of the program redesign?

Alex: You know, I would say that it was seeing a team come together for this rewarding program for teachers and, you know, loyalty. And what I love about loyalty is it touches almost every aspect of an organization. So, you know, the legal team, creative, IT of course, third parties, our marketing team, like there was about 70 people that this program actually touched. Again, not 70 running the whole, you know, year to get this thing built and deployed, but, really, you know, impacted by the program.

So I think it was amazing to see the team effort and collaboration. And then also what I loved is how we use customer research and store feedback in order to build the best design for our consumer. There was definitely some hypotheses that I had that I thought the consumer would like and you know, it was like that just wasn’t a priority for them.

So it was easy for me to be able to say, okay, this is going to resonate much more, and so let’s make sure this is part of a program versus other aspects. But yeah, it was I think it was a very, very proud moment in my career launching and deploying a program and now being able to see the successes of it, and you know, the benefits of the business, but also to the consumer.

Paula: For sure, and I know you did what all good loyalty professionals do and you soft launched it first and foremost before you fully went to market. So I’d love to hear how did the soft launch go Initially.

Alex: Yes, the soft launch was good. You know I don’t know if anyone’s had a great pilot, but I think that’s important, I think having a great pilot is, it’s still makes you a little nervous that there’s something going wrong.

And so, we had a good launch. There were definitely a few hiccups. We caught, you know, some integration opportunities. We caught some messaging issues that we had with the marketing and some confusion that we were you know, super easy for us to come back in, fix that, and then redeploy both in digital channels and print in store.

And so I was so glad that we did the pilot, and the feedback again that the store managers provided was, you know, instrumental in ensuring that when we had to launch, right before holiday, going into Black Friday, you know, or a couple weeks prior to Black Friday, you know, everything was seamless when we were able to launch it.

So I highly recommend piloting. I kind of learned that at Target. I’ve learned that in the consulting game with loyalty as well, and I was glad that I had that, you know, that knowledge going into it. 

Paula: It’s very good advice. And I think it is only when you are literally in that beautiful place that you are right now where, look, you know, the book stops with me. You know, to have that level of responsibility and then to have that opportunity to take it slowly and for everybody to give you that space. 

I think it’s something in this part of the world, for example, you know, it’s a very ambitious country. And everything that loyalty professionals wanna do, certainly in Dubai, they wanna do it yesterday, they wanna do it for half the price and they want it better than everybody else.

And I’m like, that’s just not gonna happen. So, the discipline of taking the time to do that soft launch, I think is something that, again, the more mature I am as a marketing professional, the more I agree with you. So a great l learning and insight. What else would you say worked really well for you, Alex, in the last few months?

Alex: You know, one thing that our, that my email team came up with that was really exciting is that we’re, you know, always trying to be more innovative on our segmentation and personalization. And one call out that my team had was, you know, why aren’t we playing around with more dynamic content to remind the consumer of the value of the program or the value of their current account. 

And so one thing that we tried this fourth quarter that was very successful was the use of dynamic email banners. So just a thin banner that goes into the top of the email and it’s based on your account activities.

So for example, Paula, if you had 500 points in your account, you can redeem for $5 off. Whereas if I did not, you know, obviously I’m not, not able to redeem just yet. So in the dynamic banner you would see a call out saying, hey, you have enough points to redeem. Like, we’d love to give you $5 off your next order.

Whereas I might see, you know, something about being very close to redeeming. And so, when we deployed this, it was amazing to see, especially on the redemption banners. This massive uptick in redemption. And actually the majority of the redemptions were occurring in store cause a lot of people were going in. They want to touch and feel the product before they buy for those gifts. 

But we generated a substantial amount of revenue in store just by calling it out and reminding the consumer of what they had in their account and getting that, you know, front and center for them right in their email. So we’ve been using those, we’ve been leveraging them for a number of different aspects.

You know, getting close to a tier, achieving a tier, celebrating your birthday. But it’s been an amazing, you know feature and we’re seeing a lot more engagement in clicks even within our emails because we have a more personalized aspect to it. 

Paula: That sounds fascinating. And, and you’re the first person who’s mentioned it, so maybe it is something that other loyalty professionals are doing, but, you know, I often experience, you know, as a consumer, you know, the statement comes in, for example, from a loyalty program and it’s already like out of date by a week usually, you know, or I’m not eligible for the offer they’ve got. That one actually drives me crazy because I’m thinking you guys should know better. 

Alex: Exactly, exactly. 

Paula: I won’t name anybody, but I’m always being sent these offers from like airlines and stuff, and they’re like, you can do this. And I’m like, no, I can’t. 

Alex: No, I can’t. Yeah. I don’t think you’re looking at their correct balance.

Paula: Totally, totally. But it sounds like then this dynamic banner insertion is literally up to the minute, or how does it actually work? Does it go and literally check the account and then serve content? That’s totally up to date?

Alex: So we’re, we can get a little technical here cause  we know we have experts that are listening.

But in our email service provider, it allows us to pull dynamic content off of data extensions that are inside of it. So in our contacts, data extension, that’s coming in from our platform. So we’re on session M with our partners at Mastercard. Their data extension is seamless, so it is real time, and the marketer is able to pull in the dynamic cartridge and feed it off of specific aspects within that data extension.

So it can read off the point balance. It knows, you know, we put in some rules inside of the email too. Let it know, hey, if someone has over 500 displayed this message, if they don’t, don’t display. And then, you know, again, just putting in those business rules and that’s it. And then the systems take care of themselves and fire the correct banner to the correct audience.

Paula: Amazing. And I remember having the loyalty science lab actually on the show as well, I think it was last year. But talking about the other insight you mentioned, where you’re close to a redemption milestone, you know? Yes. I think there’s some real genius in that as a marketer, we often forget to remind people, you know, it isn’t black or white, you know, and their behavior definitely speeds up once you tell them how close they are, like, dramatically changes. So, sounds like that’s something you’re also seeing in practice. 

Alex: Yes. And the way that I term that is educate and influence. So whenever, and I actually learned this in the beauty game back at Dermstore, but a lot of beauty customers are looking for, you know, problem solution.

And so it’s really important to educate the consumer on why they’re making an investment in a high-end skincare product. And so while you are educating, you also should be influencing. An influence can be a promotion, a gift with purchase. But it, but within loyalty, it can be, hey, you have enough points to redeem.

So not only have I educated you, but now we’re offering you dollars off, to come in and purchase. Or it could be that, hey, you’re very close to the next tier. If you buy this, you’re going to hit that tier. And that unlocks even more benefits. And so really using email content, digital content in that way to educate the consumer and then influence them to close out the purchase now that they’ve learned more.

Paula: Wonderful. Wow. Well, it sounds like they’re all being, you know, dare I say, surprised and delighted. Always another, again, favorite. 

Alex: I hope so. 

Paula: Yeah. And you’re doing it at scale. Remind us where you’re at in terms of audience numbers or member numbers at this stage. 

Alex: Yeah, so we just, we just broke 2 million, which in a, you know, 18 month period is really exciting for us.

I think what’s so unique about our database too is that, you know, we’re gonna hit our 70th anniversary next year. And when you think about Lakeshore Learning, we do have, you know, one of, if not the largest databases of educators, in the United States. Not only individual teachers, but institutional purchasers.

And then we also have this very large database of parents that are looking for gifting opportunities for these types of children. And so, it is a really unique audience, and it’s very diverse in terms of that audience. As the spend behavior, and purchasing behaviors are wildly different across these groups. But yeah, that’s a big piece of it. 

Paula: Amazing. And I’m trying to think what I would be doing or thinking about actually in your shoes. You know, with again, you know, wonderful success reflecting on it, I guess on days like today, it’s a wonderful opportunity, I think sometimes, to take a seat back and, literally  you know, say, you know, what can we do next?

So, I guess the couple of things that are, you know, occurring to me are things like community as a big topic. That’s always something that, you know, you guys, can literally optimize because you’ve got that incredible shared need. And then I can think there’s also the idea about, you know, co-brand credit cards or, you know, other types of partnerships.

And that’s just me with no inside knowledge, just kind of going, wow, you’ve got an incredible audience, and what are you thinking should come next? 

Alex: Yes. So we have from a community standpoint, we’ve brought back events in store so on. So once a month on a Saturday, we will do a larger event where, you know, parents, teachers, can come in and just get to enjoy, you know, doing a craft and building something with the child.

And that we’ve now been coupling with loyalty incentives, so, you know, doing double or triple points during that timeframe or some other promotions. And we’ve seen a lot of success with that. So I think events, community building, localization, types of strategies around those stores is very important to us. So that’s something that may be in the hopper, as we continue to grow. 

And then partnership is another aspect. Like I said, we have a really unique database. We have. You know, again, that what I had mentioned is kind of the forgotten audience of teachers. And we don’t want them to feel forgotten. We want them to feel rewarded. And so, you know, Lakeshore has a very specific product line, but we compliment a number of other industries and sectors. And so that’s another aspect that we’re looking at is what does partnership look like in the future? And how can you know we offer up this amazing audience of teachers. To partners to engage and incent and excite that consumer, you know, with other types of offers. So that’s another piece that we’re looking at. 

The leadership team is saying, throw that fuel on the fire. Let’s make sure that they have lots of points in their accounts. Let’s make sure that they feel rewarded and can redeem. And so, that’s another part of what we’re looking at, is to add more generosity, not only in our promotions, but also thinking about what are some other ways that we can be generous and give back to these communities and how would we layer that into the program? 

Paula: Yeah. And I think you’re tapping into the insight that so many of us also felt, you know, coming through the pandemic, where we really realized, I think, and really appreciated in a whole new way that educator community, you know, I think as you said, they were forgotten.

They were taken for granted. And there’s just so much expertise and beautiful humanity in the work that they do, and yet they don’t seem to be relevant to marketers in so many other ways.

But by bringing them together, and I know it’s predominantly in the US market Alex, but you know, I will speak on behalf of at least myself and say, you know, I have, you know, two sisters who are teachers. They happen to be in Ireland, so clearly can’t take care of, or take advantage of your program currently. But I’m, do I, you know, I hope you have global ambitions as a business, you know, 70 years is an incredible achievement, but there’s other markets around the world that perhaps you guys could go to in the future. Again, unsolicited advice from Paula. 

Alex: I, you know I always appreciate your advice, Paula. I’ve and yes, I think that’s absolutely what, you know, the goal is to expand and again, to make sure that, you know, there’s teachers everywhere, right? And so making sure that not only are we getting it right in the US, but yeah. What could that look like? You know, in the future, for the rest of the globe. 

Paula: Amazing. Amazing. We have to have dreams. So listen, Alex, that is amazing and it’s all the questions I actually have from my side in terms of Lakeshore Rewards. Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you think our audience should be thinking about or would love to hear about?

Alex: You know, I think one other call out that we’ve been working through is the idea of, you know, the universal profile for consumers. And making sure that we have a, you know, one source of truth as so many systems are interacting around the consumers information, from the POS system to the website, to the app. 

And so making sure that it’s all being, you know, accurately stored and organized is so important. And that’s a big, big focus that we’ve been having in the business because once you have that and you can layer on more segmentation tools to be able to understand that behavioral segmentation, the richer and more valuable your propositions can get. And obviously the results can get. 

It was amazing when we were able to look at the business from that lens of just purchasing behavior, like what is commonly found in these baskets and how does that tell us more about these audiences? And we had a lot of fun with it actually for the pet retailer and then also, for an arts and crafts retailer.

And what was interesting is once we gleaned these insights, the merchants were fascinated, the marketers were fascinated and had already come up with ideas of how to better, you know, segment their creative and their targeted marketing.

But we also came up with names. So, you know, in the pet retailer, we had names like Rich Kitty, right? So we knew that the pet was a cat. And they got all the best food, all the best, you know, leashes, collars, etcetera. Maybe you know about that. I know you have a cat. So you might be in that group. 

But we had them, and then for the arts and craft supply store, we had, you know, a lot of it was based on the actual hobby. But we had fun names. We had the naughty knitters, you know, and so it was great because it created this unique, you know, verb, you know, verbiage or terminology internally that everyone could get around and start building strategies around. 

And that’s what I think so interesting about loyalty is that data. You can use it to glean such amazing insights, but you can also do it to create strategies that aren’t just for marketing, but are truly associated with so much of the business. So that’s the only other thing I would share. 

Paula:  I love it. Naughty knitters. My goodness. Who knew? 

Alex: It was, it was fun. It was always fun. Today, is the today of the segments. 

Paula: For sure. Yeah. The thing is, would you have been brave enough to take it public? You know? Did you ever, did you ever share? 

Alex: We, no. No. We never said, we should put that in the marketing of, hey, naughty knitters. I know here’s some great supplies for you, but you know what? It could have been really fun. I have a feeling that those knitters have a great sense of humor, so who knows? 

Paula: Who knows? Absolutely. It depends on the brand. But I do remember hearing just a final anecdote from my side, and you know, it could be an urban myth, but I remember hearing that American Express once had a problem with their mail merge. And instead of saying, dear Alex, they said, Dear Rich bastard.

Alex: That’s awesome. That’s a great anecdote. 

Paula: You can totally see how some kind of, you know, programmer or whatever, you know, direct mail person was like, oh, it’s the rich B, it’s the platinum, whoever, you know, and just totally forgetting to update the mail field. 

Alex: I love it. I love it. 

Paula:  There you go. Wonderful. Great. Well listen, Alex, I’m getting the sense that a lot of our audience would love to reach out and connect with you. And in the spirit of community, hopefully you’re okay if we include your LinkedIn profile in our show notes and people can reach out and connect with any kind of thoughts or feedback that they have.

Alex: Absolutely. I would love to hear from the community. So thank you. 

Paula: Amazing, amazing, great stuff. Well, listen, it’s been a joy, I have to say, thoroughly enjoyed all of the insights and learning, and yeah, I really do hope you’ll come back on the show, you know, in the months and years to come so that we can continue to learn from everything you’re doing.

So, Alex Tavera, Director of CRM, Email, and Loyalty at Lakeshore Learning Materials. Thank you so much from Let’s Talk Loyalty.

Alex:  Thank you so much. It was a privilege.

Paula: This show is sponsored by The Loyalty People, a global strategic consultancy with the laser focus on loyalty, CRM and customer engagement. The Loyalty People work with clients in lots of different ways, whether it’s the strategic design of your loyalty program or a full service, including loyalty project execution. And they can also advise you on choosing the right technology and service partners. 

On their website, The Loyalty People also runs a free global community for loyalty practitioners, and they also publish their own loyalty expert insights. So for more information and to subscribe, check out theloyaltypeople.global.

Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Let’s Talk Loyalty. If you’d like us to send you the latest shows each week, simply sign up for the Let’s Talk Loyalty Newsletter on letstalkloyalty.com. And we’ll send our best episodes straight to your inbox. And don’t forget that you can follow Let’s Talk Loyalty on any of your favorite podcast platforms, and of course, we’d love for you to share your feedback and reviews. Thanks again for supporting this show.