When our shop was starting out, back in the early 1980s, we were looking at different ways to get our name out there. We received a somewhat unusual, but very wise suggestion, from an older builder, who had used our cabinet shop in the past. "Take your whole advertising budget and put it into customer service," he said.
Somewhat taken aback, I asked him about the local newspaper, the direct mail campaign we were planning, the brochure we were thinking of, and so on. He just sat and looked at me hard and said nothing. I knew right then that if we did what he said, our shop would be successful.
The years have passed, and we have continued to place major focus on quality customer service, and it's worked out well though we do spend a few dollars on other advertising and marketing efforts.
I suggest that you divide your own efforts into two areas: First
and foremost, keep in touch with people who already know about your
shop. Second, reach out to those potential clients who are not
familiar with your operation and what your company does.
Many established shops have discovered that their past work can be the best advertising of all.
That bookstore in town shows off your work really nicely, and
it's a public place to show off. Ask the owner if he'll keep a
supply of your business cards on hand.
While Mrs. Jones' kitchen probably isn't seen by as many people as the bookstore is, ask her if she'll do the same thing keep your contact information on hand and refer your shop whenever she can.
You should also photograph the jobs you do. What used to be a relatively expensive proposition can be less pricey these days; just get a digital camera and shoot away. While there's nothing that can compare with a professionally photographed project, it's great to be able to have an easy way to show your work to new clients.
Staying in touch with your existing clients can be done in several ways. Some shops use regular mail-outs. These can range from the simple postcard (perhaps with a photo of a recent job?) to a regular newsletter.
Announcements are a good way of keeping your customer-to-shop relationship strong. If you relocate or expand, buy a new beam saw, add an important piece of software, hire a new foreman any and all of these events are a reason to drop your existing clients a line to let them know.
These days, e-mail is fast becoming an easy and inexpensive way of staying in touch, and your shop can use it, too. Once every two months or so, send out word as to what you're up to. You don't want it to be too intrusive or pesky, so include a note about being "taken off the list" if the recipient so desires.
There's also nothing that beats you as the owner contacting your customers personally. This can take the form of phone calls, lunch dates or hand-written notes in the mail. You'll need some way of keeping track of this kind of thing perhaps a contact piece of software, or even just a simple list of your favorite/most important clients. Make sure you reach out to them on a regular basis.
Remember, it's your past clients who can form your future's
foundation. If you can convert them into your unseen and unpaid
sales force, you may not have to advertise your shop and its
services at all.
Reaching out to new clients is a bit trickier. Your shop is an unknown for most people and, let's not forget, buying cabinets is hardly an every day, top-of-mind activity for most consumers. Even for builders, remodelers and contractors, you're just one of many trades.
At our shop, we've found that expensive advertising such as billboards, magazines or radio and TV takes a long time to pay off when you're a smaller enterprise, particularly when you're competing with the "Big Box" stores, lumber companies or design centers.
Remember too, that your name and advertisement has to be seen or heard many times before it sinks in. With so much coming at us these days, many consumers are turning off the white noise of advertising.
Therefore, more of a "guerrilla marketing" approach may be needed for your shop. If you have the time, read Jay Levinson's books on the subject they're all about down-in-the-trenches, inexpensive, alternative ways of getting your name out there. And, the techniques work.
This may consist of things such as putting out flyers into a neighborhood where you're doing a kitchen remodel. The flyer could mention that you're doing a local kitchen and offer a coupon for a discounted piece of design work, or a free visit and consultation.
Your marketing may be as simple as an inexpensive job site sign saying who you are and what you do. Put a Web site address on there, too. That way, potential customers won't have to call and feel any sales pressure. Remember to keep the signage short and simple; people often can only glance as they drive by. It's good to keep the logo/colors consistent here, too. Whatever the customer sees on a sign should be echoed in your letterhead, Web site all your "frontage."
Another proven and relatively inexpensive way of getting your name out there is to offer seminars. Some shops do this on kitchen design, others on the remodeling process, others offer cooking classes. All of these are possibilities for your shop, depending upon how much energy you want to spend. And, you don't have to do it all yourself; you can bring in experts to help. Some of your local suppliers may be willing to help sponsor such events, too.
Brochures can be very expensive, and they tend to get outdated
quickly. Web sites are a reasonable alternative, as they are
getting more and more affordable.
All in all, though, your best advertising is the work that you do, and the way that you do it. That's what your customers will remember and refer. They will tell their friends and business associates about you especially if you have some programs in place to nudge that along. Keeping in touch is the way to do that.