My husband and I are starting a cabinetry shop. Our problem is getting clients. I'm finding it very hard to even get in front of a general contractor to show him our portfolio.
How do we get in with the general contractors if all I get are answering machines or a secretary that screens well?
What are some good choices for advertising?
Any other advice?
Advertise in the yellow pages, talk to designers and contractors, go to home shows, and expect to make no money the first year. Give discounts to first time buyers. You could build a small showroom and sell hardwoods on a retail level.
I realize that with zero cash flow, hiring a salesman full- or part-time can't happen. There are some 'freelance' salesmen out there who sell on commission-only basis for multiple clients. Or perhaps you could find one who'd be willing to defer their commission until the job was completed and you were paid in full (his commission would need to be higher as incentive).
Be on time with your bids--that is often a button with generals. Follow up the mailing with a phone call and be persistent. And SELL--don't just turn in bids anonymously. Good contractors are basically looking for someone they can trust at the price they have budget for and compared to the other bidders.
I wouldn't try to hire a salesman at first. I have found it very difficult to get a good salesman. I also haven't had much luck with advertising. I think you will find your money is much more effectively spent with a monthly mailing and a web site that you advertise in the mailing.
In Indiana, we have a newsletter that puts out construction market data (CMD). It lists all the jobs that are being bid each month. It lists the contractors who will be bidding the jobs. Get on the list and use it as a resource. Initially, people will call you to price check other cabinet shops, but may eventually accept one of your bids.
You could also join the chamber of commerce and go to their weekly and monthly meet and greets.
I don't think the yellow pages will bring in much business for you. I used to put an ad in the newspaper just below the weather report on Thursdays, Fridays and Mondays. That worked well for me. I did pay a premium for it.
You may have to bid on a lot of projects at the beginning, with a hit ratio that will be less than 10%. Hiring a salesman who knows the industry players is a smart move. Using the builders' exchanges on the Internet is a good way of searching for jobs bidding in your area. They're usually not too expensive and really easy to use.
Your newspaper, along with trade magazines, may well be interested in doing a story about your new business, especially if you're changing careers to start it (lifestyle editors love the "chuck it all, go in a new direction" kinda stuff). A brief, well-worded press release giving basic info, accompanied by a cover letter and followed by telephone, is a great way to spark some initial interest. Send along a picture or two of special projects if possible.
Much depends on your area, but another *almost* free kind of advertising is outdoor markets, to which you take some small craft items and your portfolio. If the market is in an upscale or destination kind of area, you might be surprised at the interest you'll get. When I was just getting started, I displayed helixes (those stepped, wooden whirligigs that spin in the wind) at such a market in trendy Bucks County, PA, and wound up building bookcases for a client in NYC.
Cheap advertising is also good: regular visitors have heard me beat the drum often for classified ads in magazines or newspapers that cater to upscale audiences or are delivered to higher-end neighborhoods. Offer a free initial consultation and portfolio review (not "free estimates" which makes you sound cheap).
The main thing about marketing is always always always keep your eyes and ears open, and don't be shy about trying different, even offbeat, approaches.
Anthony Noel, forum technical advisor
Also, get a copy of the book Guerilla Marketing. Good guide for getting free or low cost advertising.
If you're contacting contractors, spend some of your time tracking them down for a personal introduction.