Practicing Successful 'Out-of-the-Box' Marketing

Practicing Successful 'Out-of-the-Box' Marketing 0999

by Stephen Vlachos,'
CKD, CBD

Our business, Atlantic Kitchen Center, is located in the rather sophisticated little city of Portland, ME. My residence, however, is about 25 miles from the city in an area that, at best, can be described as rural. Others have referred to it as "in the boonies."
Each morning, as I head to work, I pass by a family farm owned by one of my neighbors. It's not a particularly prosperous looking place, but it does appear to have a great deal of land. For a long time, I couldn't tell if it was an active farm or just a crumbling barn exhibit. All that changed a couple of years ago, however, when the farm owners got serious and began what was certainly their first marketing campaign.'
Somehow, they got a hold of a used portable reader board with changeable letters. The sign is the type that you can put bulbs in and illuminate at night. Since they never did that, I have to assume that they had identified their target customer as someone who drove only during the day. It was probably a momentous occasion when they hauled the sign out to the road and launched their campaign with: EGGS
It was clean. Simple. It must have worked, because it sat out there for almost a year until, eventually, a new effort emerged: HAY
After a few more months, they must have felt that they had the hang of the advertising game and developed a more ambitious program which, I assume, capitalized on their previous successes. It went like this:'
EGGS
HAY
Probably succumbing to market pressure from local supermarkets, or maybe even from the Internet, they recently went for a big score with: PIGS
Pigs? I question this campaign. Do people see that sign and pull over? When you buy a pig, do you pick it up, or is it delivered? Once you own a pig, what do you do with it? Can a pig catch a frisbee?
At any rate, I've decided that the farm's marketing efforts directly correlate with a great deal of the marketing efforts I see generated by kitchen and bath dealers. In the Home and Family sections of many newspapers, there are countless black and white ads touting 30% off, 40% off, 50% off. Free sink base, free design service, free delivery, free dishwasher, etc. Mind numbing, sleep-inducing stuff. Rarely does a marketing effort by my industry colleagues inspire me to sit up and take notice.
One notable exception is the marketing program put together by Thomas Kelly CKD, CBD, and his staff at Northshore Kitchens Plus, in Marblehead, MA. The firm's business slogan is "Making the Turn," which signifies the firm's commitment to excellence in performance, customer service and marketing as the new millennium approaches. The'
group at Northshore Kitchens Plus represents out-of-the box thinking at its best.'
They started their marketing effort by determining the top 100 people in their market area who could positively impact the growth of their company. Their list included four distinct groups of professionals made up of architects, interior designers/decorators, high-end builders and real estate brokers.
They then began developing marketing materials aimed specifically at each group. An all-important fifth group, the homeowner, was also targeted. The firm committed to spending 3% of sales on these efforts. More significantly, they agreed to aggressively tap the resources of their business "partners." While most firms think of their suppliers as simply vendors, Northshore Kitchens considers them to be true business partners.
Tom and his group have always been very loyal to their vendors and they justly expect loyalty in return. As "partners," the mission is one and the same find a way to put more product in consumers' homes.
One of the firm's major marketing initiatives was the production of a series of videos aimed specifically at each of the five groups mentioned above. Each video is professionally filmed and narrated. Projects completed by the firm are presented in a way that emphasizes the connection between Northshore Kitchens and the targeted professional or homeowner. The costs of producing the 15-minute videos were shared by Northshore Kitchens and its cabinet, appliance and countertop "partners." Having viewed them, I can assure you that the presentation of the firm and its abilities are exceptional.'
When a homeowner visits the showroom for the first time, it may set off a whole chain of events. The homeowner leaves with a video.
The project architect, if not already targeted on the top 100, receives an introductory letter about the firm, along with a video. When the builder is selected, another letter and video are sent on their way. The same happens when an interior designer becomes part of the project. The real estate broker who sold the lot or existing house also receives a package.
Once the project gets underway, the Northshore group provides a specification binder to the architect, builder and interior designer. Along with information about Northshore Kitchens, the binder also contains all job plans and complete specifications on cabinets, appliances, countertops, etc.
Northshore Kitchens' mission is to become an invaluable member of the project's design team. This is a great example of what value- added selling is all about.
Another outstanding marketing venture by this group is the impending publication of its own 16-page, four-color magazine called Beautiful Kitchens.
It features Northshore Kitchens projects, along with narratives about each project and the products used to complete it. Again, the cost of producing this marketing piece has mostly been offset by the contributions of the firm's business "partners." This is not a bunch of glossy photographs stapled together. Instead, it's an impressive publication that most kitchen and bath dealers would assume is way beyond their means. Tom and his staff prove that assumption wrong.
The "Making the Turn" campaign also includes the publication of a three-times-per-year newsletter. The newsletter is a vehicle to make sure that past clients remember Northshore Kitchens Plus and continue to recommend the firm to friends and neighbors.
When a client visits the showroom, he or she does not leave with manufacturers' literature. Instead, clients go away with an impressive multi-media array of promotional material that touts the expertise of the design firm.
Appointment confirmations and follow-up client correspondence is usually handled with a color postcard featuring a recently completed kitchen project. Photography generated for the postcards and the magazine is also sent to national consumer publications, and has resulted, among others, with features in Remodeling magazine and Better Homes and Gardens.
Is the "Making the Turn" campaign a success? This seven-member firm is on track to achieve a 233% increase in product sales over the four years since the firm started its initiative. Even more significantly, gross margin has climbed from 33% to 43%. In real dollars, gross profit has risen $660,000 in just four years.'
Impressively, Northshore Kitchens has accomplished this growth with the addition of only one staff member. Marketing costs were 3% of sales before the firm started the campaign, and remain at 3% of sales four years later. The key is that the company identified who it wanted its customers to be and then went out and got them.
You may be wondering, what does all this have to do with a'
family farm? Quite a bit, actually. We've all heard report after report about the demise of the family farm. What's rarely talked about is the number of small businesses that have also met their demise. Only a few years ago, there were corner drugstores, local appliance dealers, neighborhood bookstores. Where are they now? It seems like only yesterday that computer stores were springing up everywhere. Today, they're nowhere to be found.'
Our own industry is experiencing a similar change of landscape. Distributors are disappearing. Manufacturers are selling direct. All of which is motivated by what I call "big boxification."'
Are you ready to compete with it? Are you thinking "out of the box?" Do you have a "Making the Turn" campaign? If not, I'm afraid the same fate will befall you as will probably befall my neighbor. Without significant changes, the sign out front will soon say: CLOSED.

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