How to hold an Oldest Water Heater contest

July 9, 2010
In the early 1990s, I created an Oldest Furnace contest as a home show promotion, generating more than 400 leads the first time it was run. The contest has since been applied to water heaters and other appliances, and has even been run as a standalone contest, not part of a home show. You can run an Oldest Water Heater contest for your business too.

In the early 1990s, I created an Oldest Furnace contest as a home show promotion, generating more than 400 leads the first time it was run. The contest has since been applied to water heaters and other appliances, and has even been run as a standalone contest, not part of a home show. You can run an Oldest Water Heater contest for your business too.

The core concept is to give away a water heater to the homeowner with the oldest water heater in town, provided the homeowner pays for the installation. Many contractors include the installation, but this is a mistake. The winner should pay something, since this helps qualify real prospects as opposed to suspects (i.e., people you "suspect" might want your goods or services).

When the homeowner is asked to pay something, every registration for the contest becomes a qualified lead. First, the homeowner thinks he just might have the oldest water heater in town, which means the darn thing should probably be placed in a museum, not a home. It's ripe for replacement.

Second, the homeowner is willing to pay something for the replacement. In other words, he knows he needs a new water heater and is willing to spend a little money to get one. Even if he doesn’t have the oldest water heater, you know he's already willing to spend something. In other words, he's already half bought. He's willing to spend some money. You only need to convince him to spend enough money which savvy salesperson that you are, should be no problem.

Should you offer the installation at cost or fully loaded with overhead? I would suggest loading it. Cover your overhead, and make your standard profit.

Collect information from homeowners entering the contest and inform them that you'll need to make an inspection. After the home show, call to schedule the inspection. During the inspection, collect the nameplate information from the homeowner's existing water heater and also collect all information necessary to prepare a quote if the water heater isn't the oldest.

Some plumbers make a replacement presentation on the spot and offer to refund the price of the water heater if the homeowner wins. Others take a two-step approach, calling the homeowner to inform him that he didn't have the oldest water heater, but that he did win the second prize (everyone wins the second prize), which is a gift certificate from the plumber's company.

The gift certificate should be large enough ($100 to $250) to be motivational for the homeowner to consider replacing the water heater. Think of the gift certificate as a discount you're providing to anyone who enters the contest. If you want, add fine print to the back of the gift certificate to limit its application to a water heater replacement.

While your company representative has the homeowner on the phone to tell him he's won the second prize, he can casually add, "You know, even though you didn't have the oldest water heater, your water heater is still pretty darn old. You're wasting a lot of money on utilities and at risk of a leaking tank. Tell you what, I'm going to put together a proposal for replacing it and drop it off with your gift certificate. You may not want to replace it right now, but chances are that you'll have to replace it in a few years whether you want to or not. At least you'll know what you're in for."

Whatever you do, do not mail the gift certificate to the homeowner. Take the time to stop by, even if the homeowner isn't interested in a proposal. Give him the certificate with three or four business cards paper clipped to it. Hand the homeowner a refrigerator magnet. You're sowing the seeds of a future water heater replacement and future work.

If possible, see if your supply house will donate the water heater in return for the promotional value (and the promise to push the manufacturer’s brand with all of the second place winners). It makes the contest virtually free for you. The manufacturer donates the water heater and the homeowner pays for the installation.

Promotional efforts

Usually an oldest water heater contest is part of a home show, but not always. It can be part of any event, including the creation of an event. A plumbing contractor ran an Oldest Water Heater contest waged entirely through the media. He sent out a barrage of press releases and worked with a local radio station to help promote the contest. It generated a fair amount of sales and built top of the mind awareness for his company.

While the premise works outside of home shows, it works best in conjunction with a home show. The reason is people are much more likely to stop at a home show and fill out a contest entry than they are to visit a website after hearing a radio spot or reading a newspaper article. The home show entry is an impulse action. Responding to a media campaign requires more thought from the prospect.

The effectiveness at a home show depends on your promotional efforts at the show. If you’re stuck in a back corner of the exhibit hall, you’re going to have to work much harder to promote the contest. Of course, promoting the contest simultaneously promotes your booth and drives traffic to your remote corner of the show.

Here are seven simple ways you can drive traffic to your booth by promoting an Oldest Water Heater contest:

  • Start the promotion early: Partner with a radio station. Issue press releases. Weeks ahead of the Oldest Water Heater contest, start doing everything that someone would do if they were trying to create an event or run the contest without a home show.
  • Mail to your customers: Many plumbers have conducted successful contests doing little more than mailing to their customers. Invite your customers to mail in or complete entries online, and to visit your booth at the show.
  • Sandwich boards. Hire someone to use the old-fashioned sandwich boards near the entrance of the show. Proclaim "Free Water Heater" as the headline. The copy should be short, something along the lines of "We're giving away a free water heater to the homeowner who registers the oldest water heater with us. Register at Booth 123."
  • Entrance flyers: Hire a high school or college student to stand outside the entrance to the home show and pass out flyers or post cards to everyone entering. Check with the home show officials to make sure this is OK. If not, ask if you can have people pass them out in the parking lot entrance. Whoever is passing out the flyers should announce loudly to everyone “Win a free water heater” with each flyer. The primary objective of the flyer is to drive people to your booth. Then, it’s up to you to get them to register.
  • Show Magnets: Create magnets to promote the contest and leave them throughout the show on anything metallic that you can find, such as metal doors, metal door jambs, metal posts, etc.
  • Concession napkins: Have napkins printed that announce the contest and your booth number. Place them by every concession area.
  • Exhibitors: Remember, other exhibitors at the home show are candidates for the promotion if they live in your service territory. Create a flyer specifically for exhibitors. Arrive the early morning of the show, and pass the flyers out at the booths.

This is not a rocket science promotion. There's no secret formula. If you have the time to create the contest and get the word out, you can do this on your own. The fact is you don't need special expertise or experience to create this promotion. Dozens of companies try it on their own every year.

Matt Michel is the CEO of the Service Roundtable,, a service trades' business alliance. You can contact Matt by phone at 877.262.3341, on his mobile at 214.995.8889, by email at [email protected], through his blog at, and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (@ComancheMktg).

About the Author

Matt Michel | Chief Executive Officer

Matt Michel is CEO of the Service Roundtable ( The Service Roundtable is an organization founded to help contractors improve their sales, marketing, operations, and profitability. The Service Nation Alliance is a part of this overall organization.

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