“Why did our business increase 50 percent last year, and why are we on target to hit $10 million this year?” Jackson asks. “It’s because our brand has finally arrived.” Harper agrees, noting that developing a brand can take at least three years.
Marketing isn’t just about buying shiny ads, Jackson notes. People forget about opportunities, such as public relations. “There are many opportunities to be written about if you communicate with the people who are looking for stories,” he says. “If you find those outlets—newspaper, magazine or whatever—and present those people with a very tight concise story with photos and verbiage, you make that publication’s job easier; they’re going to call you, but you have to be proactive.”
Another way Jackson stretches his marketing budget is co-op advertising agreements with appliance dealers, cabinet suppliers and other vendors with whom the company does business. “Twenty percent of our marketing budget was paid by co-op dollars in 2011, and this year it will probably be more,” he says.
“It’s a formalized partnership,” he adds, “It’s not just a handshake deal. We follow it up with a two-page signed agreement that says what we’re going to do, what the goal is, when we get paid and how we track it. It takes the mystery out of it, and then we commit to it.
“During good times, no one wanted to give you any kind of co-op deal,” Jackson says. “Now they’re saying, ‘What do we have to do to earn your business?’ We’re supplementing our dollars. I think if vendors see you’re spending money on marketing, and it’s going to give them more business, they’re willing to invest in your business.”
Asked if remodelers should keep their marketing operations in-house or hire an outside firm, Jackson replies: “I’m probably more of a control nut, but I’ve done it both ways. I had an outside person who, at the time, I thought was my marketing person, but all he did was buy media. Today, I have a project manager on staff to run my jobs, I have designers on staff to design, and I have a marketing director to market. The latter position is as important a position in my company as my accountant or my controller.”
Casting a Wider Net
For another California remodeler, marketing is a mix of old and new tactics. “Speaking for our company, we certainly still do a lot of business from referrals and repeat customers, but I think part of the reason we’re seeing increases in our business is we’ve made the commitment to cast a wider net via the Internet,” says Jim Tibbs, vice president and creative director of HDR Remodeling, Berkeley, Calif.
“More and more clients are finding us every month through Internet searches or because they happen upon an article or a blog where we’re mentioned. The number of those is increasing, and I’m confident that’s contributing to our double-digit growth at a time when the industry is not growing at the same pace,” he says.
Nevertheless, Tibbs is not about to abandon what has worked in the past. “We still invest a pretty significant amount of time and resources in keeping in contact with our current client base. We send out an email newsletter on average every six weeks. We’re staying in contact with our top customers and keeping our name in front of the people who have been very loyal. We certainly don’t want to let them slip out of the mix,” he explains.
Tibbs does not discount social media, but cautions remodelers about expecting more than it may currently deliver. “I think the age group we’re appealing to [as potential clients] is between 40 and 70, which isn’t necessarily the core social media group. The social media outreach we’ve used is a great supplement in terms of giving clients or potential clients access to more information in very user-friendly ways. I don’t necessarily think it’s effective in terms of making the initial contact or attracting customers who are maybe only just hearing about your company,” he adds.
“Young people who are getting into their first homes [and who are more likely involved with social media] probably aren’t going to be using our company to do work on that first home. They’re going to look for more cost-efficient ways of doing it or doing part of it themselves,” Tibbs says, acknowledging that 20 years from now, the Facebook demographic will have changed or have been replaced by something else.