I went to Wall Drug last week. Wall Drug is a great big drug store in a tiny little town in the middle of South Dakota. Other than being the western entrance to Badlands National Park, there isn’t anything particularly distinguishing about Wall from any of the other hundreds of small towns we’ve passed by and passed through on our travels. But Wall, South Dakota, is the home of Wall Drug.
I grew up in Southern California and I’ve traveled a good portion of this country. And for most of those traveling years, I have seen countless Wall Drug bumper stickers, many more than one would expect advertising a drug store. So, when I discovered our visit to the Badlands was going to take us right through the town of Wall, South Dakota, Wall Drug became a must-see.
I had no idea what to expect. I did no research before I went and I don’t think I have ever actually met anyone who claimed to have visited Wall Drug, so as far as I knew, it was just another drug store with some great bumper stickers.
I was wrong. Wall Drug is huge as drug stores go, billed at 76,000 square feet. An average Walgreens by comparison has just 11,000 square feet of sales floor. It’s actually more like a mini-mall. I’m not sure they even have a pharmacy. Here’s a little map of Wall Drug (yes, it needs a map). It’s a crazy, fun place and a great break on a road trip. We even ran into some church friends while we were there. Go figure.
But this is not a review of Wall Drug. I probably couldn’t write a good review. Despite spending quite a bit more time there than we planned, all we bought were a couple of patches for my son. We didn’t even take advantage of the free ice water for travelers, though that might have had something to do with it being rainy, foggy and COLD.
So, what great marketing secrets did I learn at Wall Drug?
Attention-getting advertising is critical
Wall Drug was not part of my South Dakota vacation planning. I didn’t even know where it was until I got on I-90 east. And then there were billboards. LOTS of billboards—probably one at least every mile of the 50-mile drive and often much closer together. They advertised everything from free ice water for travelers to free coffee and donut for honeymooners.
Name Recognition Helps
I’ve made a lot of road trips. I’ve seen a lot of billboards. I’ve seen some that really intrigued me, but they’ve rarely made me stop. When I saw the Wall Drug billboards, though, it was a must-stop. Why? Because I’d heard of Wall Drug. I’d seen the bumper stickers when I was a kid and I remembered hearing it was one of those places you have to see in South Dakota. And that brings me to my next point:
Customer Evangelists are your best Advertising
Yeah. Those bumper stickers paid off. Thousands of people over the years have slapped a Wall Drug bumper sticker on their cars and helped build up the mystique of Wall Drug and I would guess that’s how a good portion of Wall Drug’s visitors end up there. Whether it’s active referrals or passive name sharing, having customers who sing your praises can’t be beat.
Give away Something of Value—Freebies can Work
It doesn’t have to cost you a lot, but it needs to be something that has value for your customers. Wall Drug put themselves on the map by offering free ice water to hot, thirsty travelers back in 1936, something they still do today, though it’s not quite the big deal it once was.
Under promise and Over deliver
Wall Drug did just that. It was so much more than what I expected to find in Nowhere, South Dakota. And it just kept going all the way through the store. None of the billboards or bumper stickers prepared me for all the departments, all the things to see and all the ways to entice me to spend; there was a surprise around every corner. It was well worth the stop—with or without the free ice water.