The marketing strategy at Cardinal Brothers Hay Sales near Hugo, MN, boils down to a simple, straightforward concept: Get your business name in front of potential customers as often as possible.

"People buying hay have all kinds of options on who to buy from," says Andrew "Butch" Cardinal (pictured at left). "If people see your name often enough, it starts sticking in their minds. Eventually the light bulb clicks on, and they'll get in touch with you. If they don't know you're out there, they're not going to call."

Butch and his brother, Jim, grow alfalfa-orchardgrass and timothy-orchardgrass hay on 550 acres, packaging most of it in small square bales. Horse owners within an 80-mile radius of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area make up their primary market.

Signing up as a sponsor of the Minnesota Saddlebred Horse Association is one way the Cardinals keep their name in front of would-be customers. In return for a $1,000 contribution, the association lists sponsors on all of its promotional literature and on banners at club events.

Cardinal notes that the association offers various levels of sponsorship. "We usually go with the highest, or platinum, level because it shows up at the top of any listing they do," he says. "Also, there usually aren't as many people signing up for that level, so our name stands out a little more in the grouping."

He says the $1,000 fee is easily justified. "To some people it might sound like a lot of money. But if you get just a couple of sales out of it that you might not have been able to get otherwise, it pays for itself pretty quickly. Also, when you get a new customer, it's likely that they'll be sticking with you for several years. When you spread the cost out over multiple years, it makes even more sense."

Exhibiting at a three-day-long Minnesota Horse Expo, held during the last week of April at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in St. Paul, gives the Cardinals another way to get their name in front of customers. They pay $400 for booth space and another $400 to place a full-page ad in the official expo program. Attendance at the event is around 50,000 people annually.

"People are walking by the booth for several hours a day over the course of three days and even if they don't stop to talk, they see our name on the booth," he says. "We also see a lot of our existing customers there. It gives us a chance to catch up on what's going on with them and to ask what they might be needing for hay in the upcoming season. The other nice thing about this particular show is that it takes place before we get going out in the field. So we can approach it in a nice and relaxed way."

Online advertising is the third leg of the Cardinals' marketing strategy. They make use of listing sites like the Hay Barn and Internet Hay Exchange. In the future, they plan to start incorporating smartphones and social media sites like Twitter into their marketing efforts. "We'd be able to update our inventory weekly or post some pictures of our crop out in the field," says Cardinal. "We think there's a lot of potential there for keeping our name in front of people."

To contact the Cardinals, phone 612-325-2749 or email cardinalbros@msn.com.