Make Your Mark

The new year is well under way, so now is the time to ask: What’s new in your marketing plan this year? Adaptability is the key to your firm’s survival in the kitchen and bath industry, and your marketing strategies should reflect that fact.

With the recent market slowdown, it may be time to start rethinking your tried-and-true marketing methods. When business is thriving, firms tend to accept their good fortune and don’t have to take the time to think about marketing. When business is slow, firms have the time to think about marketing, but money may be too tight to implement a change.

With a mix of established concepts and new programs, many kitchen and bath professionals have created a niche for themselves in their communities with creative, simple, cost-effective programs that transcend fluctuating economic conditions.

Winning Ideas

In Niagara Falls, NY, Christopher Connelly, owner of Kinetic Kitchen and Bath, LLC wanted to put his showroom ‘on the map’ and attract new customers.

“We sponsored the ‘Ugliest Bathroom in Western New York’ contest in conjunction with a local remodeler and with co-op support from our vendors,” says Connelly. “We asked entrants to come by the showroom with photographs of their bathrooms. After a month, a winner was chosen. Our remodeler agreed to do the job in a weekend, so we treated the winner to a free hotel stay. Upon their return, the local TV networks covered the homecoming on the news – which ran multiple times on multiple stations for two days. It was incredible coverage!”

With over 250 entries and only one winner, Kinetic Kitchen and Bath was able to augment its database of potential clients.

According to Connelly: “We now know over 250 people who are dying for a new bathroom. We immediately sent them ‘runner-up special offers’ and closed on three new projects within the quarter.”

Print Promises

Raffael Brugnoni, CKD, owner of St. Clair Shores, MI-based Woodmaster Kitchens, looked at what the slumping Michigan economy was doing to his competition and used it as his competitive advantage. Two of Brugnoni’s competitors had filed for bankruptcy, leaving clients in the lurch and, in some cases, with lost deposits and unfinished projects.

“We began an ad campaign in the local newspaper that positioned Woodmaster as a solid business. Our headline ‘Reduce your remodeling risk,’ accompanied by a photo of my dad to show longevity in the community, seemed to hit home with our community,” says Brugnoni. The campaign ran four weeks and reached about 18,000 people.

Woodmaster offered a call to action in its ads. It asked consumers to stop by the showroom for a free booklet explaining what to look for in a remodeling company. About 25 booklets were picked up. More importantly, according to Brugnoni, “Our business during that time frame was up 20% over the previous year. I am not sure if I can attribute it all to this campaign, but I received the most direct comments by customers regarding this ad and this situation.”

“We want to reach people with disposable income, so where better than while they are out disposing of their income,” says Kevin Telaak of Artisan Kitchens and Baths in Buffalo, NY. “We have purchased full-page ads in every playbill in almost every theater in the Buffalo area, including those events for alternative lifestyles.”

Telaak believes that playbills are read and kept. “Watch people in a theater before the curtain goes up. They are often thumbing through their playbill. And at the end of the show, you don’t see too many in the trash or on the floor – people take them home.”

Supporting the arts, including alternate lifestyle performances, makes an immediate connection according to Telaak. “Helping to make a performance possible by financially supporting the playbill connects Artisan Kitchens and Baths with the audience, especially with the smaller, more community-oriented theaters. Many times customers mention our ads in the playbills as the reason they came by.”

Amir Ilin, president of Northern New Jersey-based Küche+Cucina, swears by the ultimate in public relations – getting published in regional and national magazines.

“I have been getting published for years now, and getting better at it each time – learning which jobs should be professionally photographed and how to style them. Editors seem to love our designs, and we find ourselves on the pages and covers of national magazines quite often.”

Whether your designs are published locally or nationally, chosen by the editors or a paid submission, to the consumer you are receiving an impeccable third-party endorsement. These displays can be more effective than paid advertisements, but the process is not free. There are photography costs and sometimes payment for submission, so be sure to include these costs in any marketing plan. Still, the payoff can be huge.

Ilin says, “The first time I realized this was an effective way to market Küche+Cucina was a couple of years ago. After being seen in a national magazine, a gentleman called from North Carolina – we are located in New Jersey. He had never seen our showroom, but from this one published kitchen, he hired us for a $200,000 project.

“More recently, a published job was directly responsible for three sales – two were over an hour away, and the third, 30 minutes. The magazine has been on the stands for two months and we have already sold over $190,000 from it,” Ilin adds.

Sightseeing

Peggy Mackowski, CGR, CAPS of Quality Design and Construction in Raleigh, NC, takes the approach that clients should be able see, touch and examine her firm’s craftsmanship first hand. To that end, Mackowski schedules an annual “Tour of Remodeled Homes.”

“We believe that if people can see for themselves what we are capable of doing in a way that photography doesn’t do justice, it’s worth the time, cost and effort,” she says. “Dozens, if not hundreds, of potential clients take the tour annually. We have an on-site drawing for free design/consultation time. The entries are then added to our database of potential clients. It has become our best source of quality leads.”

Offering numerous “before” images and having the homeowners available, in many cases, to answer questions and provide testimonials adds to the effectiveness of the tour.

“Our Web site features before-and-after photos for all of our projects, but seeing really is believing. And, being able to ask the homeowners for their personal assessment of the project scope and how we did is the best salesmanship there is,” adds Mackowski.

The Home Improvement Group of Woodland, CA developed a similar idea, but included a key aspect that the firm agrees solidified its brand in local consumers’ consciousness.

Owner Chris Dreith, CKD, CBD, began the Heart of the Home Kitchen Tour nine years ago to benefit the local Red Cross chapter. “I am an active board member,” says Dreith. “I wanted to do something to try to benefit the chapter. So we began a tour of the six kitchens I had designed.

“Over the years it has just grown tremendously,” he continues. “Each year new designers and contractors join the tour, giving the community a wonderful cross-section of designs and styles.”

Tour participants are required to purchase tickets to the event and are provided with a booklet describing each home on the tour. The booklet has in-depth information about each project, lists the sponsoring designers and suppliers and takes in advertising revenue.

“Because of the extent of the information, people hold on to these booklets for years. It is not uncommon for a client to bring in one of these booklets two years later with all kinds of notes in the margins,” says Dreith.

Each home on the tour is staffed with a knowledgeable docent, often an employee or subcontractor who worked on the project, to explain and answer questions.

“Often we have cabinet and plumbing reps on hand; several times my appliance reps have been found baking cookies and other goodies for the participants in their convection ovens. The Red Cross really benefits from additional sponsorships, while The Home Improvement Group and our peers have the opportunity to show off for the entire community…and do some good,” explains Dreith.

“In addition to having begun the tour, I am a sponsor, typically donating at the $1,000 level. It is the only advertising I need to do. My clients ask if I think their kitchen will be selected to be on the Heart of the Home Kitchen Tour. We have really created a community buzz and The Home Improvement Group benefits from that buzz,” he concludes.

Alternative Advertising

Showroom seminars are gaining popularity throughout the country. Max Isley, CMKBD, owner of Hampton Kitchens in Raleigh, NC, has been holding quarterly consumer seminars for several years.

“The seminar is a great way to drive short-term showroom traffic and produce short-term sales. We are not using a sales pitch, but rather an educational approach. However, people are in our showroom, seeing our products, listening to our expertise; we can’t dictate the conclusions they draw. But we have found that attendees often become disciples, if not customers,” he says.

Once scheduled, he suggests inviting the local press to attend. If they do, you are setting yourself up to become the local expert in their minds, should they need one in the future. You can also garner some press and public relations benefits.

The closing ratio, says Isley, is not high. “We can directly attribute sales within 60 days of the seminars to about 1 in 50 attendees. But we are getting over 175 attendees per session now, and the good will and word-of-mouth over the last few years is something traditional media can’t buy us.”

Where do you watch television? Paul McDonald, president of Royal Cabinet Co. in Hillsborough, NJ, hopes it is in your local supermarket. Royal Cabinet is a strong proponent of checkout-line video advertising. Relatively new and still unavailable in many markets, TV monitors playing commercials while you wait in checkout lines is a new way to reach your local marketplace.

As a growing cabinet manufacturer with dealers throughout the East and Midwest, Royal Cabinet finds itself working to support its own local showroom, while not getting in the way of its New Jersey dealers.

According to McDonald: “It’s not easy to find advertising venues in New Jersey that can focus our message on the homeowners around our factory and showroom, without competing with our area dealers.”

However, the video monitors in the supermarket checkout line appear to work for Royal Cabinet. “With the opportunity to choose very local store locations, down to the neighborhood, we almost feel like we are picking out individuals to speak with,” says McDonald. “Since we began this program, I have heard over and over from acquaintances on the soccer field, the little league diamond and other local places – ‘Hey, I saw an ad for Royal at the supermarket today.’ If people who know me are seeing these, so are those who don’t.”

You may have considered many of these marketing concepts, while others may be new and intriguing to you. But, the one thing they all have in common is that they are real, they have been tested and they work for your peers who are implementing them. Remember, marketing ideas will not work for your firm if you do not implement them.

Telaak says: “We played at marketing our showroom for a number of years until we decided to do it right. Once we put a plan together and began to follow it, we saw a greater degree of consistency of business – even growth in a questionable economy.”

“Your ad doesn’t have to be perfect, as long as it is consistent, says what you want it to say and runs a long time to get the message out,” advises Brugnoni.

Mackowski stresses the importance of sleek production. “Remember that everything you do to market your firm must be professional; use professional photography, design full-color ads and don’t print marketing materials from an office printer.

You need to leave a lasting positive impression. If you don’t, your competition will,” she says.

Connelly is a proponent of using viral communications to get the word out. “I have always been a fan of public relations.

Most kitchen and bath advertising is ‘top of mind’. I get frustrated writing big checks without knowing exactly what the return is. In the case of our ugly bathroom contest, we got more ‘free’ advertising than we could have ever afforded at the time…and people were talking about the contest, and Kinetic Kitchen and Bath.”

Regardless of your individual approach, getting your name “out there” in whatever way you choose is the only way to ensure your business remains a business.

McDonald concludes: “I hate to think where our next job would be coming from if we hadn’t consistently marketed the Royal Cabinet name over the last few years. We advertised during the easy markets of 2003 through 2006, when we were busy without chasing new work. However, the residual benefit of this exposure is making a real difference now. There would be no easy way to kick-start an effective advertising campaign in 2008 to fill the showroom without a disproportionate budget. Long-term advertising keeps us in the public’s face to remind them that, when they are ready, we are ready."

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