Vern Yip (right) of the home makeover show "Trading Spaces," chats with customers during an in-store appearance at America's Carpet in Fairfield, Calif. Co-owner Renee Greer said she contacted local media outlets and bought radio ads to promote the event, which was arranged by Invista's Stainmaster brand.

Advertising and publicity are very effective ways of getting the name of your business in front of the public. The difference is the price. You pay for advertising. Publicity is (almost) free. And I have always said that every marketing strategy should include a plan for both! While anyone with money can buy any size ad they want, publicity (good publicity, I mean) just doesn't happen on its own. You need to have a plan.

A story about your showroom in the local media will do more to help your business than a paid advertisement on the same page. You don't have to be a huge store or even do something remarkable to get exposure in the press. Remember, editors are always looking for good (and free) material. Also many newspapers now feature home and garden sections-the perfect place to talk about your floorcovering business. The way to start is to find out the right person to contact.

So, do you know who the home furnishing and design editors are at your local newspapers? How about the news editor? Or the assignment editors at the TV stations? You should know them all. I've never met a editor who complained about having too much news to publish or broadcast. And radio, TV and newspapers are always looking for experts to discuss trends. Let them know you can serve as a source when they are doing a story related to home design. Offer to help when they need information about your industry.

If you don't yet have contact information, call your local media outlets and get the appropriate names. Send a letter introducing your self and outline a particular issue you feel comfortable discussing (You can even suggest questions for the interviewer to ask.) Get them excited about trends in colors, products and designs.

Anytime you have an event that may be of interest to the general public, a fact sheet should be sent to the media. This is a public service item, and radio and TV stations are obligated to service the public. It is a condition of license renewal. You don't have to write the article (they'd really prefer that you didn't). They want to know:

  • What the event is all about.
  • Who is sponsoring it and who is expected to attend.
  • Where it will be held (include directions).
  • When it will held (day and date) including the time the event ends.
  • Why this is worth attending/covering.

Home tours can be another way to get your name in lights (or in ink at least). Whether it is your home or that of a former client, highlight just the rooms your products relate to. The idea is to let potential customers know what is out there and inspire them to add something to their home. Photograph the rooms to give the media representatives a preview of what they might like to feature. (Contacting media from the entire metro area will insure broader coverage).

Then of course there is your showroom. Any retail space that deals with building materials can be well suited for demonstrations. The can be related to remodeling, home repair or even cooking. Just make sure you let the local media know when it is going to happen and invite them to cover it.

One sure way to garner publicity is to involve local dignitaries. Think of a project that will appeal to the mayor, city council members, the Chamber of Commerce group or local business leaders-who may even want to sponsor the event. (Carpet One, for example, goes to schools and reads to kids seated on carpet samples. Who can resist something like that?) Ask the outside participants to help with the invitations to bring some new blood into the showroom. You'd be amazed at how many different kinds of people will turn up in your showroom - potential customers you would not get otherwise. Or choose to help a local group raise money for a scholarship. By involving others, your time is lessened but you still have the notoriety. Become a friend to the community or what some term "a good corporate citizen."

If your business is new, or even if it's not and you remodeled your showroom, you will want to have an open house to allow the trades and the public to see your wares. Invite the public but also find out if there is a local organization of designers, builders or other professionals involved in flooring either directly or peripherally.

There is a good reason for this. It takes a different kind of approach to work with a specifier as opposed to a trade mechanic. Both are valuable to your business, so you want to be sure to treat them just right. You may also want to have drawings for door prizes, and separate groups will allow you to award a tool to someone who's going to use it. Time of day is another reason to separate the groups. A breakfast for contractors, an early evening wine and cheese party for specifiers, and punch and cookies for the public on a Saturday afternoon may be good ways to entertain these diverse groups.

And try and be creative about ways to attract people to your showroom. You can invite local groups to use your facility for trade meetings. Maybe sponsor a scholarship or contest for local students (future prospective customers all).

Is there another showroom of building materials in your neighborhood? Perhaps, and wisely so, that's why you chose to open your business where you did. Isn't it time that you visited that showroom and talked about sharing product and referrals? Make it easy for both of your customers. Help each other to create a one-stop-shopping environment in your area. Trade product information, refer customers when they want something you don't carry and perhaps even plan some advertising and publicity events together. When you start to see them as colleagues and not just competitors, who can join forces for improved profits.

Educational seminars can also draw interest from the media and prespective customers. With the increased interest in home design, you can offer sessions in product knowledge classes (the difference between marble/tile/limestone or laminate, engineered or solid wood floors.) Or do product demos (How to set your own tile backsplash) and delve into product care classes (sealing and maintaining tile, stone or wood). Seminars for student design groups, such as intro to flooring products, may work as well.

Also, get your vendors involved. Let them know you're a big supporter of theirs and you are trying to drum up some publicity. You can work together on case studies, newspaper articles and website pictures-all featuring your vendor's products This translates into free promotional materials you can distribute.

Using consumer shelter magazines is a bit ambitious for most retailers, but they are not out of reach. Hit them with story ideas tied to floor covering. Be pro-active. Take before-and-after shots of every project. You never know which project will end up being published. You will also have a strong sales tool to show clients. Photography may be the only expense you incur to have your story published in a magazine. And the magazine gives you the credibility and third party endorsement. Maximize your marketing efforts by getting reprints of stories featuring your work. These pieces really impress potential clients.

There are no secrets or passwords that enable you to get exposure in any media outlet-local, national, consumer or trade. Most are eager to hear from people with unique ideas or interesting news to share. There seems to be a never-ending need for unusual kitchen and bath renovation stories. And most are always open to projects that are aesthetically unique. Do your homework. Look at the types of home improvement stories they've run in the past. Present your self as a resource that can help them inform and entertain their audience. And if they say "no" today, there is always tomorrow.

So start you marketing plan today, and include a plan for publicity. It will be the best New Year's present that you can give your business!