Adluh. Adluh flour. The iconic neon sign is a comforting sight to those who regularly drive down Assembly Street. Its daily welcome is a sure as the sunrise.
But even though Adluh Flour is a time-tested company, adapting to changing times isn’t a problem. Flour is milled on old stones, in an old-fashioned way, but communication with customers and loyal fans of the company’s products is on the leading edge of social media.
Beth Ellis, controller for Allen Brothers Milling/Adluh Flour, says the family-owned company has always kept up with the changing world. Some of its early advertising centered around the Adluh Knocking Man.
“We had a truck that went around town in local neighborhoods,” Ellis says. “Our customers were all home consumers. We would have people drive around and knock on the door.”
If the homeowner could show the Knocking Man a bag of Adluh flour – Ellis says it was akin to a “like” on Facebook, in today’s terms – she was rewarded with a cash prize.
Ellis’ grandfather bought the business in 1920 and she is the fourth generation of her family to be a part of the enterprise. The business has shifted from home consumers to distributors for commercial kitchens, though home bakers can still buy the products in Adluh’s company store and online. Several gift shops — including the South Carolina State Museum — also sell
Internet sales began about 10 years ago,
Ellis says. “A lot of the Internet sales are people who used to live here and have moved away but still want to use the product,” she says. “We still have local followers whose mothers and grandmothers used the flour.”
To keep in contact with those loyal fans, Adluh is now using social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to forge and maintain relationships. The contact is part old friend, part nostalgia and part good business.
“Facebook and Twitter are a way to keep in touch and thank the people,” Ellis says.
Jennifer Bailey Bergen, Client Relations Manager and Social Media Consultant for GraySail LLC, plays a key role in the company’s online presence. While Ellis was “kicking around the idea” of starting a Facebook page for Adluh, Bergen noticed that, despite its unique name, Adluh had only been mentioned once on Twitter. (Adluh is the backwards spelling of the daughter of the mill’s original owner, Hulda.)
“We started by securing user names for Twitter and Facebook,” Bergen says.
From there, the interaction has grown to include the sharing of recipes, baking tips, restaurants that use the products and more.
Bergen says the company is forever tied to Columbia. “I call it the Granddaddy of the Vista,” she says. “They maintain a purity of product. There’s a reason they are so well respected. At the same time, they didn’t want to have their city and their customers move on without them.”
For many Midlands residents, the love and loyalty runs deep. Many grew up participating in school tours of the mill back in the days when visitors were rewarded with a hot biscuit and a cold Coke at the end of the tour. Generations had wedding photos and senior portraits taken on the mill grounds. For new customers and those with abiding memories, the online interaction has been a visit to the past – in a decidedly modern format. Many of the online postings from the company involve old ads and photos.
“A lot of these things have been lost, but we are starting to create a central collection of this history,” Bergen says.
Ellis says the communication and the relationships it strengthens and builds are a two-way street.
“It’s nice to hear their comments on different posts,” she says of the company’s fans. “We are very early in this, but it’s been a lot of fun to stay connected and hear from people.”
The social media presence is a testament to the company’s ability to adapt.
“We’ve had to change,” Ellis says. “Our motto has always been, ‘Same Today, Same Always.’”
And while that motto is designed to reflect the consistency of Adluh’s products, Ellis says it doesn’t apply to their place in a changing world.
“We can’t stay exactly the same,” she says. “Over a hundred years and four generations later, there have to be changes. I think this is a positive one. It’s been fun going this different route.”
Ellis says morning commuters are quick to let them know if a bit of neon grows dark, so fans now have a new way to contact the company if a part of the sign isn’t lighting up. But the relationship cultivated in home kitchens now goes beyond an early morning phone call. It continues online as memories are shared.
“They are so rooted in this community and this economy, but they are still willing to grow and change,” Bergen says.