Advertising is the most obvious way to bring the name of your floor covering business to the attention of the public. The key is repetition! And that can be very expensive, particularly because you need to make several impressions before people become aware of you.

Making shoot-from-the-hip decisions about advertising doesn't work. Neither does throwing together an ad on the spur of the moment. Taking out advertising isn't something that you do just because that sales rep from the newspaper or radio station stops by and offers you a deal!

The first thing you should do is plan your advertising budget for the year. Advertising should complement your business and marketing plans, and help you to meet your goals. You should devise a long-term advertising plan that consistently reminds potential customers about your business. I'll outline some tips you may wish to consider as you formulate your advertising plan.

Target your message

Determine whom you want as a customer and what you want to sell them. Decide what aspects of your business you wish to highlight. Gather media information from various sources. Compare the media info with the characteristics of your intended audience and decide how best to direct your message. Resist a shotgun approach.

Choose your media

Once you've established whom you want to sell, consider the most efficient way to reach them. Let's explore eight different options.

Direct mail. As the name implies, direct mail is the fastest way to reach a target audience. If you keep the mailing simple, it can be inexpensive, too. You can obtain lists of consumers categorized according to almost any interest. Usually, for less than $1,000, you can reach 1,000 people. Target the audience with personal messages rather than generic salutations like "Dear Friend." Follow up with phone calls or visits.

Yellow Pages. This option can provide you with easy-to-find specialized listings, but your ad may look a lot like all the others in the book.

Newspapers. Newspapers represent a great way to reach a target market, especially if the publication offers package deals or regional advertising. Plan a consistent schedule and extend it as long as possible.

Home sections. When people are thinking about undertaking a flooring project, reading through the Home section of the newspaper often is their first step in initiating the process. Home sections are highly targeted, and people who are really serious about doing a remodeling project are going to be looking there. These sections typically run a few times a year. They have long shelf lives.

Sunday magazines. Readers of newspapers' Sunday magazine supplements are likely to have higher incomes than Home section readers. The Sunday editions usually have bigger circulation, so be prepared for higher advertising costs, too.

Regional Design/Lifestyle magazines. These publications offer long shelf life and all the glamour of a glossy magazine.

Cable television. These days, there's a cable station for everyone. Cable advertising is very inexpensive on a regional buy. If you should decide to go this route, be sure to show your firm's name long enough for viewers to remember it.

Radio. Radio offers a wide variety of niche settings for your advertising message. It's the one medium that people can use while they're driving, playing or on the job. Think about what stations your clients may be listening to. The medium's primary drawback is that radio relies on listening and memory skills. Because listeners probably won't have a pen handy when they hear your ad, a snappy jingle will help them recall your name.

Time your ads

Traditionally, spring is the season for building and remodeling. So, plan your heaviest advertising for that time. Advertise less frequently during major holidays. Not only does it usually cost more to buy advertising during these times, it's also easy for your message to get lost amid all the holiday cheer. Although some critics advise against advertising in the summer when many consumers go on vacation, advertising during this time may help you to stand out from the competition.

To improve advertising effectiveness, you should concentrate on the Three Ms: the message, the media and the means.

In general, 80% of the effectiveness is in the message and 20% is in the media. So before you do anything, be sure you have the right message. Highlight the major benefits you provide for customers, and focus particularly on the ones that set you apart from your competition. Go through all your features and turn them into benefits. Then pick the top three or four, and make them the basis of your marketing message.

An important part of the message is your positioning strategy. If everyone else is offering standard cookie-cutters, than you will want to offer distinctive, semi-custom flexibility. To be effective, your message should:

  • Be buyer oriented. Talk about the consumer's needs and wants, rather than about your operation.
  • Be action oriented. Try to get prospects to do something - like telphone or visit your store.
  • Be credible. Avoid glittering generalities! Don't tell them you're the best - show them!

    Once you've developed the message, you need to consistently apply that message to all your marketing initiatives. This represents the media side of your advertising program. Use inexpensive materials, such as flyers and postcards, to generate leads. Reserve use of the more expensive and more comprehensive materials to generate interest and enthusiasm to buy. Remember, the more work the materials do before a face-to-face meeting, the easier it is to close the sale.

    Advertising needs to be consistent, and frequent. That's why a simple, small ad that appears often in a targeted publication is more effective than a large ad that appears once or twice in a mainstream publication. When deciding which periodicals to advertise in, ask yourself, "Are the readers of this publication people who can afford and appreciate my product?"

    Once you have all the elements in place, implement an aggressive marketing program. This represents the means by which you'll carry out your plan. Set up a budget. Allocate a minimum of 1.5% to 2% of your gross sales (not including sales commissions) for advertising. Those funds should be used for direct mail and advertising. If you find that your marketing is too effective, and you're generating too much business, then be more selective in targeting your client base. Raise your prices and profits, or expand production to meet demand.

    Remember, the biggest mistake you can make is having a weak message that doesn't speak to your target audience. Take the time to develop the message. It will make a difference!

    Radio can be extremely effective. If you're involved in an event like an open house, try buying a block of radio time. Radio elicits instantaneous results. Plan for the spots to start on Wednesday for an event scheduled for Saturday, and purchase a handful of radio spots each day. Increase the number of radio spots as the event approaches.

    The day before, go very heavy on your radio ads and continue to air the spots even on the day of the event. You'll find that some people riding in their cars will hear the ad and actually drive directly to your event to capitalize on what you are offering. Don't forget to use the names of your vendors and take full advantage of co-op funds.

    Spend some money on a good, clean logo and use it on everything - T-shirts, mugs, pens, invoices, letterheads, trucks - EVERYTHING. Stick with your logo and build an image.

    You already have contacts in your community, and you are the best representative of your business. You don't have to join every civic organization in town to tout your business but, if you are out there, people will find out what you do. Don't be shy - network!

    For many, the best kind of advertising is the referred customer. These customers are often pre-sold because a friend or relative has told them about you and your store. If you can convert your customer base into your sales force, that's the best marketing of all. Someone once told me that he took all the money he had planned to spend on advertising and put it into customer service. It turned out to be the right idea over the long run. This approach can make for a more effective payoff.

    Join me next month for another installment of Showroom Management. I'll tackle the topic of how to attract Main Street commercial business to your showroom.