Members of the Hopping Softwood Products team punched the air when their online outdoor products promotion and sales strategy picked up the Excellence in Marketing prize at the 2012 TTJ Awards. And again when the company’s site, which lies at the heart of its innovative marketing methods, took Website of the Year too.

The reaction underlined the enthusiasm at Hoppings for its promotional approach, which is based on a strong element of online integration with customers.

"It has taken time, energy and commitment to get right, but now it works, both for us and customers, and we have a marketing model with great potential for further development," said marketing and development director Adam Pulfer, adding that, in the six months since the Awards, Hoppings has taken another promotional jump forward, with a new facility for enabling customers to tap its web expertise to sell all their own products online.

But the route to the Excellence in Marketing accolade actually started five years ago, when the company was addressing overall online activity.

"We were working on general website activities with a consultant and started considering so-called ‘white label’ sites," said Mr Pulfer. "We looked at other businesses using them and the more we thought about it, the more we saw opportunities. Your ‘white label’ or satellite site is embedded into your customers’ websites. So, instead of just a straight link to Hoppings, which takes visitors away from the customer’s url, our entire decking range can be viewed at our satellite, but within their site. The customer effectively gets a slice of our server capacity, 100 more pages on their site, and we handle set up and management. And after starting with decking, we did the same for our Q-line range of softwood mouldings, with www. ‘white labels’. "

The advantage of this approach to Hoppings itself, is that, unlike when customers simply list its products online, it remains in control of branding, messaging and updates.

"It means our products have a uniform, quality image, which enhances buyers’ perceptions and strengthens brand awareness," said Mr Pulfer. "That’s good for us and customers."

After placing 23 satellites on 14 clients’ sites, Hoppings went to phase two of its strategy. For a varying set up charge, a monthly ‘listing fee’ of £25 and an undertaking to stock the core Hoppings decking range, customers were offered the option of becoming Q-Deck Online Partners, complete with a shopping cart on their site. This enables their customers effectively to choose product from the Hoppings website, but buy them from their local supplier.

"The message is ‘buy online, locally’, which is very powerful," said Mr Pulfer. "With projects like decks, however much information you put on a website, customers still like to pick up the phone and ask questions, just as they would at the trade counter. They want the ease of online trading, plus local contact."

In fact, he added, because the site delivers so much initial information, it actually "empowers and encourages people to ask more specifics".

"That does, of course, involve some education for our customers’ staff, as their customers’ view is ‘it’s on your website, you must know all about it’," said Mr Pulfer. "We provide 21 decking-related PDF downloads, so it can be quite a learning process!"

Another aspect of Q-Deck Online Partnership, is that the Hoppings site sends out follow up service enquiries to partners’ customers

"This generates invaluable feedback," said Mr Pulfer. "It’s good to know if you’ve got a satisfied customer, but also any problems."

Online partnership promotion

To promote online partnership, Hoppings also launched a marketing campaign, within a marketing campaign called ‘Jump to’ ( This details the potential benefits to customers and explains how the approach works (including that Hoppings handles all the technicalities and legalities of setting up the shopping cart, and that, if a merchant does not have a website already, it can build one, or a simple one-page product specific site, for them). It also features the bugeyed Hoppings cartoon tree frog.

"The frog appeared in 2011 and now has a great level of recognition," said Mr Pulfer. "It also means we can use Freddo chocolate bars as marketing giveaways!"

Hoppings now has 27 Q-Deck Online Partners and is aiming for 50 within two years.

The whole strategy is also feeding through to the bottom line. In 2012 Hoppings online sales, and phone orders triggered through the Q-Deck site were over £200,000. This’ year’s target is £400,000. Meanwhile, Q-Deck Online Partners averaged an increase across the Hoppings range they sold from January to July last year of 24%.

Adding impetus to Hoppings’ whole approach, the company also acquired the url and built it into a new generic decking site, which is forecasting 50,000 visitors this year. This has ‘how to’ and design sections, gives full details of the Q-Deck range and includes a postcode search facility for local Q-Deck Online Partners.

Now, in the latest move to develop its online marketing and sales integration with clients, Hoppings has launched its appropriately named BOLD (Building Products Online Directory) service ( For customers which become Q-Deck Online Partners only, this entails Hoppings setting up an online trading website for them, selling not just its decking and mouldings, but the company’s own range, or selected items from it.

"We’ve created over 800 generic directory product categories, which customers can select from," said Mr Pulfer. "They can then add their own products, pictures and prices in each category, paying varying monthly fees for 100 product listings, 500 or an unlimited number. As Q-Deck Online Partners, they get decking listings free, and we also include their Q-Line stocked mouldings."

So far six companies have gone the BOLD route, with nine more anticipated this year.

Looking forward, Mr Pulfer believes more timber businesses will attempt some form of online marketing and sales customer partnership model. But having pioneered it, he’s confident Hoppings will stay ahead of the pack. In fact it clearly already has further development plans, having now trademarked the Q-Garden brand and registered an associated domain name.

It sounds like it won’t be long before the concept has evolved sufficiently to merit a crack at another TTJ Award.