This Ugly House

Creating a unique marketing strategy can be a tough feat to accomplish. But when the market is down and the leads aren’t coming in, as a business owner you need to get your thinking cap on and find ways to keep your employees working and your numbers up.

This is the circumstance Allan Lutes, CGR, GMB, CR, GRI, president of Alpha Remodeling, found himself in when the Michigan economy was hit hard in 2006. With leads slowly trickling in, Lutes came up with an off-the-wall marketing strategy after reading Purple Cow by Seth Godin. The point was to create a viral marketing campaign that got people talking. This was the beginning of This Ugly House. The “ugly house” idea stemmed from a rental he owned that was going to be demolished due to a highway expansion. “The house was situated on a very high-traffic road,” says Lutes. “When we found out it was going to be demolished, I needed to find a way we could use it to help with the business.” After a few buckets of bright orange and lime green paint and a mobile trailer affixed with, the campaign began.

Knowing that launching this program would stretch his marketing budget, Lutes put together an “A-Team” of contractors and local suppliers. Also part of the team were two media sponsors, a country-western station and Our House, a local magazine. “The morning of the first radio advertisement brought in 10,000 hits to our Web site,” Lutes explained. “Now, we get anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 hits a month.”

The campaign asks for homeowners to submit projects in any of the four contests — ugliest bath, ugliest room, ugliest yard and ugliest kitchen. After pictures are posted online, people are directed to the site to cast their votes. “I have proven that viral marketing has worked here because when we check the votes, we will receive multiple votes with the same url,” explains Lutes. “One person will cast their vote and then go tell eight more people in the office to cast theirs as well.”

Another interactive aspect of this campaign allows people to submit their “You know you may have ugly house syndrome if…” suggestions. The responses have been hilarious and include: “You are still raking on your orange shag carpet,” “Your avocado refrigerator just won’t die,” and “The neighbors ask to graze their cattle on your front lawn.” The best suggestions receive a $50 gift certificate from one of the Ugly House sponsors.

Lutes says that this marketing effort has generated some jobs that he would not have obtained if it weren’t for the campaign. He is able to track this by asking potential clients how they found Alpha Remodeling and also by the use of This Ugly House coupons.

“Vistors to the site have the option of entering their e-mail addresses to sign up for coupons from all of the sponsors,” says Lutes. “When someone chooses to get a coupon for cabinet installation, that request goes straight to Ann Arbor Kitchens and they will follow up with the lead.” The e-mail database is also used for updates on the contest and more coupons.

Implementing such a unique and humorous marketing plan can be a risky move, says Lutes. But with the uncertainty that homeowners are feeling with a down housing market, getting your name out there (in any way possible) is a risk that some business owners are compelled to take.