Planning is the foundation of effective marketing. But before you can plan, you need to figure out just who you are. You probably already know this stuff, or have it floating around in your head, but sit down and write it out on paper. Your list should address the following:
• Who are you as a company?
• What do you do well?
• What services do you offer?
• What do you want to do in the future?
• Historically, what has been your best kind of work? The most profitable? Most enjoyable?
The answers to these questions will help you develop a marketing plan. They will focus you on what you are going to do and how often you will do it to attract the kind of customers and business you seek. Your budget for all of your marketing programs should be somewhere in the range of 1 to 5 percent of gross sales.
Publicity is one cost-effective way of bringing your name to the public's attention. A story about your showroom in the local newspaper will do more for your image than a paid advertisement on the same page. Feature editors are always looking for good (and free) copy, and many papers contain home and garden sections. Send press releases about your events, awards and news.
A business can become a local household name via a variety of means. For instance, you could produce a public service radio announcement, such as a short spot on decorating tips. You could submit frequent news releases to the local newspaper that cite your showroom's participation in charity work and special events. You could even offer your showroom as a venue for civic group meetings.
If you opt to support charities, choose a smaller, local charity rather than a large national one. This shows that you are interested in raising funds for the benefit of the local community. Choose a project, such as a before-and-after remodeling project, benefiting a charity that the local radio or television stations already are promoting. (The before-and-after approach gives you two opportunities for exposure - the before AND after!) Anything you do for a charity can come back to you a thousand-fold in the form of new business or media coverage - if you make the effort to get the word out.
A showroom that handles building materials of any kind is an ideal locale for cooking demonstrations, powder-puff plumbing demonstrations, tile-setting demonstrations, remodeling ideas presentations, and floor covering installations.
Home tours represent another way to get your name in lights. Home tours are very common, but you can design yours to highlight just the rooms to which your products relate. Contact former customers about having their home on tour. Photograph the rooms to give the media representatives a preview of what they might like to feature. (Contacting media throughout your entire metro area will ensure broader coverage.)
A home tour project can attract new consumer prospects, builders, architects, and designers. In fact, anyone who can use your services should be on the invitation list. This is a great way to get everyone involved to see what your firm can do.
Yet another way to garner great publicity is to involve local dignitaries. Think of a project that can include the mayor, city council members, the Chamber of Commerce, or a local big business as a sponsor of your event. Let them handle the invitations and bring some new blood into the showroom. You'll be amazed by how many different kinds of people will come to your showroom. These are potential customers you would not get otherwise.
Another idea would be to help a local group raise money for a scholarship. By involving others, your time commitment is lessened yet you still reap the positive notoriety. Become a friend to the community!
Do you know the home furnishing and design editors at your local newspapers? You should. I've never met one that complained about having too much information to publish. Offer to be an informational resource about your industry. Send the editor a report on trade shows that you've attended. More than likely they won't be attending, so the information is something they won't have access to.
Make yourself available to radio, TV and newspapers. These media are always looking for experts to discuss trends. Call the media outlet, get the appropriate name and send a letter that outlines a particular issue you could discuss and suggest questions for the interviewer to ask. Very critical to success in landing an interview is to help media personnel do their work. Predetermined questions help you to prepare stellar answers!
Anytime you sponsor an event that serves the public, you should send a fact sheet to the media. This constitutes a public service item, and radio and TV stations must produce a certain amount of public service coverage to maintain their broadcast licenses.
You don't have to write the article and, in fact, they'd really prefer that you didn't. What they want to know is: who you are doing it for and who is involved; what the event is; where it's being held; when it will take place; and what you expect to accomplish. Keep it simple and cover just the basics.
Once your facility is ready - and I do mean ready - you will want to host an open house to allow the trades and the public to see your wares. I would suggest that you divide the invitees into the following groups: the design trade, building trade, installation trade, and the public.
By segregating your invitees in this manner, you and your staff can better to focus on the business at hand. It takes a different kind of approach to handle a specifier compared to the tack you'd take with a trade mechanic. Both are valuable to your business, so you want to be sure to treat them just right.
You also may want to have door-prize drawings, and hosting groups separately will allow you to award a tool or other prize to the person who's most likely to use it. The time of day is a consideration in separating the groups. A breakfast for contractors, a wine-and-cheese cocktail party after work for specifiers, and punch and cookies for the public on a Saturday afternoon would be good ways to entertain these diverse groups.
Be creative as possible in attracting people to your showroom. Remember, the newer the idea, the greater the potential for success. You might invite groups to use your facility for trade organization meetings. Or you might host off-the-edge programs like a Saturday brunch for perspective buyers. You could even sponsor a scholarship or contest for students. After all, they are future prospective customers.
Liaisons with other showrooms
Is there another building materials showroom in your neighborhood? Perhaps that's why you wisely chose to locate your business where you did. Isn't it time that you visited that showroom and talked with the owner about sharing products and referrals? Make it easy for both of your customers.
Help each other to create the one-stop-shopping environment in your area. Trade product and refer customers. You might even plan some advertising and publicity events together. The old adage that two heads are better than one can pay back double the return. Join forces for improved profits.
Ideas abound for educational seminars that you could host at your showroom. You could present product knowledge classes - perhaps a seminar on the difference between marble, tile and limestone. You might host product demonstration classes that, for example, detail how attendees can set their own tile backsplashes. You can offer a product care class, such as one that covers sealing and maintenance of tile and stone. Seminars, such as an introduction to tile products, would be terrific for student design groups.
Establishing a Web site for your business is a good idea because it provides your customers with information about you 24 hours a day. This information can include the facts about your company, products, specifications, and any other data that you might want to include.
Specifiers frequently work odd hours putting together proposals. By having your product specifications available on your Web site, they won't have to wait until the next day to call you. Again, decide which of your features and benefits are your best and consistently promote them to your market.
In my next column, I will discuss the many aspects of advertising - the other avenue to placing your showroom on the map.