Ads, Internet, Home Shows Help to Get the Word Out

By William Atkinson Special to CONTRACTOR ADVERTISING AND marketing are critical to the success of any contractor that wants to build business for its products and services. However, simply placing random ads on radio and in newspapers will rarely generate the desired results. Two successful contractors emphasize that advertising and marketing must be planned and coordinated to generate real results.

By William Atkinson Special to CONTRACTOR

ADVERTISING AND marketing are critical to the success of any contractor that wants to build business for its products and services. However, simply placing random ads on radio and in newspapers will rarely generate the desired results. Two successful contractors emphasize that advertising and marketing must be planned and coordinated to generate real results.

One of these contracting firms, The Plumbing Co. in Fresno, Calif., kicked off its advertising campaign a year ago. The other, Dupree Plumbing Co. in Marietta, Ga., is in the final planning stages of its new marketing efforts.

Aaron Watson of The Plumbing Co. has worked with Grundfos to get the word out on the manufacturer’s Comfort Series Instant Hot Water System. Together they developed a comprehensive and coordinated ad campaign.

“I began advertising in early 2003 with some small ads in a local newspaper’s remodeling section,” said Watson, who is the instant hot water coordinator for The Plumbing Co.

Next, he began running 8.5-by-11-in. inserts in a newspaper, which offered the advantage of being able to target homes by zip codes.

“We targeted a couple of zip codes where we knew people had more money to spend on their homes,” he explained.

This turned out to be very effective, he said. One reason is that Watson included the price of the product in the newspaper inserts, so only people who felt they could afford the product bothered calling. As such, he was able to end up doing installs for about 75% of the people who called.

A month or two later, Watson set up at his first home show. This turned out to be even more effective than newspaper inserts. The show cost $800 and generated about 100 sales.

“Having a booth at a home show has turned out to be the very best way of reaching interested prospects,” he said. “It gives you the opportunity to talk with people directly and explain what the product does and how it works.”

The first step to being successful at a home show is to advertise that you will be there, Watson said. He did this with newspaper and short radio ads.

Next, you need something to attract people to your booth. Watson erected a sign that read, “Instant Hot Water,” and found that people began stopping by to see what that was.

At another show, he had a giant cartoon that explained the concept of the instant hot water product. It was one that Grundfos created and then personalized for him by including The Plumbing Co. in the cartoon. Initially, he set up the large cartoon near the back of the booth.

“However, my wife suggested moving it up front,” he said. “When I did that, a lot more people began to stop. People will stop to look at a cartoon.”

In fact, this strategy turned out to be so effective that he plans to create an even larger cartoon to set up at the next home show he does.

After the first home show, Watson launched a more comprehensive radio advertising campaign with one of the larger stations in the area, doing a live radio show with a local radio personality. However, this person didn’t have a very big audience, so Watson didn’t get a satisfactory response.

He then went to the No. 1 station. The result was a large number of calls from prospects, but not as many sales as resulted from the newspaper inserts. Watson thinks he knows why.

“I didn’t have the price on the radio ads,” he said. “As a result, I got a lot of calls, but not as many installs. Only about 25% of the people who called in response to the radio ads signed up for installs.”

Watson is not done with radio, though. In fact, he is starting to use the wording from the giant cartoon in his radio ads, and the cartoon itself in the newspaper inserts. Television isn’t something he has explored yet. Newpaper inserts, home shows and radio spots are currently keeping him busy enough.

A Georgia contractor has an even grander scheme of coordinated advertising and marketing. While the campaign hasn’t been fully rolled out yet, the creator is confident it will reap huge benefits.

“The concept of marketing and advertising is relatively new to this company,” said Joe McFadden, marketing and communications specialist for Dupree Plumbing Co. in Marietta, Ga.

McFadden, however, came to the company with a background in video and film production and specialized in providing multimedia presentations for small businesses, such as marketing programs, training materials, Web content, trade show elements and presentation programs.

Since 1958, Dupree Plumbing has relied on the most basic form of marketing — face-to-face communication and high-quality service. In fact, the company motto is, “Whatever it takes.”

Now, the company wants to expand into new areas, taking that same philosophy with it. Dupree Plumbing has primarily been a new home/custom home construction plumber with a small customer base composed primarily of building contractors.

Despite plans to reach out to a larger customer base and to advertise extensively to these new customers, the first step of the program is to continue to market effectively to the company’s existing customers, McFadden said.

“We want to make sure we are meeting their needs,” he said. “Then, we can go out and market to new customers.”

His rationale: It costs much less to sell more to your existing customers than it does to find new customers and try to sell to them.

In addition to its new-home business, Dupree has a service group and remodeling group that it wants to expand. This will offer a complete circle of service — install the plumbing when the home is built, support it during warranty, service it, and remodel and upgrade it later.

“As such, our marketing focus is to be ‘married’ to the home, rather than the individual homeowners who live there over the years,” McFadden said. “We want to be present in the home for the life of the home.”

The first step in reaching out to expand these markets, he said, is to build name recognition.

“When we asked the man on the street to name a plumber in the Atlanta metro area, a few said ‘Roto Rooter,’ but not many people could name anyone else,” he noted.

While he has an interest in traditional marketing routes such as newspaper and radio, McFadden believes that the most important key to successful marketing today is having a Web site, especially since newspaper and radio ads often will point people to the Web for more detail.

“Once you get someone to the Web site, you really have a lot of opportunity to engage in selling, re-selling and customer education,” he explained.

McFadden is planning some original content for the site. For example, it will have information for homeowners on why their pipes make noise, why their water heater has a certain rattle and what they can do themselves to keep their plumbing systems in good shape in order to prevent unnecessary service calls.

In addition, since the company is marketing to builder customers, new equipment customers, service customers and warranty customers, McFadden is also creating sub-sites that will give people tailored content unique to their needs and interests.

Once the site is up and running, McFadden plans to create a direct-mail piece that features the company’s newsletter, which talks about the company, provides readers with some tips and spotlights some of the builders with which it does business. The direct-mail piece will also be an opportunity to do some co-op advertising with some of the manufacturers with which Dupree works, such as Grundfos, Kohler, Delta and Rheem.

“By using direct mail, we will be able to target a zip code, a community and even a certain subdivision,” he added.

Next, McFadden plans some advertising in local newspapers, primarily because these publications can target certain communities and possess a grassroots appeal. Advertising with these publications also tends to be very low cost, he noted.

While radio and newspapers can be effective ways to reach the general public, they are not the best way to reach builders, McFadden said.

“We need something much more personal to get to these people directly,” he explained.

As such, he is looking into trade shows and plans to do at least two in 2004. This will be especially effective in marketing to builders, he said, because Dupree Plumbing will be able to talk with them one-on-one during the shows and address specific issues.

Another marketing opportunity is the company’s existing fixture showroom. In 2004, Dupree plans to schedule an event every two weeks or so, where it invites remodeling contractors, designers, builders, homeowners and “friends of the company.” The idea will be to get these people talking with one another.

“For example, when remodelers and designers talk to our plumbers, they can gain some value-added experience,” McFadden explained. “The events will also be designed to generate sales for the showroom.”