Our shop built a decent-sized kitchen cabinet job for an old-time builder some time back. He was very happy with the work, and at the end of the job, we asked for his opinion on spreading the word about our shop’s services. The advice he gave us was memorable; he told us to take the dollars we were thinking of spending on advertising and put it all into customer service. That would be, he told us, the best marketing money ever spent.
Time has proven him right in many ways, and although our shop has spent money on other effective marketing avenues, it’s definitely good to start out taking good care of your existing clients.
In our operation, however, we found that, with marketing, you have to concentrate on two things: keeping your customer base, and growing your customer base.
KEEPING YOUR CUSTOMERS
Solid marketing techniques start with the basics – all of which cost you money, but for which you may not be able to budget or keep track of. Take care of the obvious, and the work will continuously come your way.
Do quality work consistently and the projects themselves will do the marketing, if albeit a little slowly at first. Your name will gradually get out there, as people tell their friends and colleagues about your shop. That Craftsman-style cherry kitchen that you built 10 years ago, if it holds up, will be an excellent piece of advertising for you later on.
Delivering on time is another great marketing tool for your firm. In a business where custom-made cabinets are often late to arrive, you’ll be ahead of the competition – and will be perceived as such – if you can get the work to the job site when you say you will.
Fixing problems is also another way in which you can advertise without paying for advertising space. If the oven cabinet you made is too small for the appliance, the quicker you can take care of the problem, the more you’ll be remembered in your customer’s mind – and that’s the basis of marketing.
Another good way to market yourself is to treat and keep your customers as part of a family. A newsletter could help here; send it to everyone who’s bought from you. Sure, it requires effort to put this kind of thing together, but it’s a good way of connecting regularly with people who are fans already. They may well pass your name around, and that’s the best marketing of all.
It’s that connection with your clients you want to keep alive. Some shops do it with postcards or mailers showing recent work. Others do it with e-mail “blasts” – quick updates about what your shop is doing. You can connect to customers with cooking seminars; you can have an anniversary party for your shop, an open house, a summer barbecue. Just as long as you keep those relationships going, they’ll be the lifeblood of your future work.
SET A BUDGET
So what should you put aside for your marketing budget? Conventional wisdom recommends that you should spend around 2% to 5% of your annual sales on getting and keeping your shop’s name “out there.”
If your volume is $500,000 a year, that would be $10,000, at the low end of the range. That may seem like a lot of money, but remember that it doesn’t go too far these days. Just try hiring someone to set you up with a good-looking Website, or placing a reasonably sized advertisement in any reputable publication. You’ll be spending your hard-earned money fast – and a lot of it.
However, one thing is clear: You should think of your spending as divided between what you have to do to keep your existing customers, and what you need to spend on finding new ones. Probably, the lion’s share of your marketing expenses would be better spent on maintaining your existing relationships. After all, it’s those people who will repeat, refer and sustain your shop.
Here’s a good rule of thumb – spend 80% of your “sales” money on your existing customer base, and 20% of the funds on your new, potential clients.
GROWING YOUR CUSTOMER BASE
There are a few other effective ways you can keep your shop’s name “top of mind” in your local community.
Staying connected with people is the key. Take those potential clients and organize a lunch, a game of golf, a ball game.
Whether it’s builders, design professionals or homeowners who feed your shop with work, you need to be knocking on their doors. Keep a list of your key connections, and contact them regularly.
Doing charitable work is always very effective – as well as being a noble gesture – and often only costs you your time. Sponsoring kids’ baseball teams may cost a little more, but maybe it’s just the ticket for building your name if your shop is located in a small community where everyone knows each other.
How you look to the outside world is also an important consideration. It’s a way of “branding” your shop at its most basic level. Think about your trucks and cars – a good logo, and then signage on the doors – as inexpensive ways of waving your shop’s flag. Something as simple as t-shirts for employees, friends and colleagues can easily spread the word, too.
It also pays to have a Web-site these days. It’s a very non-threatening sales tool; people can browse your work on their own time. It can be simple and inexpensive – you can start out with a simple portfolio of digital pictures of your work, and a brief description of your shop. There are lots of independent people out there putting together Websites – or you can even get inexpensive software to do it yourself.
Plugging whatever sets you apart from the rest, like offering a good warranty, can be an effective marketing tool, as well, and a great way to become memorable. Check out the Acme Brick Company in Texas: they offer a brick that’s guaranteed for 100 years, and that sets them apart. Could you offer a warranty on your products that’s longer than the one-year industry standard, for example?
Advertising is usually an expensive venture and, if it’s not specifically targeted to the right audience, it can be an enormous waste of your marketing budget. Potential customers need to see an ad many times before they’ll remember your shop. You’re probably better off figuring out who you’re really after, and spending your money going directly to them.
Some shops hire salespeople to market themselves – although we’ve found this can be an expensive endeavor, too. There’s a very big difference between selling and marketing – and your marketing platform has to go on all of the time in order to be effective.
Read past columns on Cabinet Shop Management by Stephen Nicholls, and send us your comments about this story and others by logging onto Kitchen & Bath Design News’ Website at www.kitchenbathdesign.com.