What types of advertising have had the greatest effect for you? What has had the best cost/profit ratio for you? I'm trying to figure out as a start-up which way to go on this issue. I build custom furniture and cabinetry as well as restore. I'm in the Northeast.
From contributor K:
Although there are many ways to market our products/services, we're strong believers in bringing the advertisement to the people in living color so they can touch/feel the product they are going to receive.
Others' experiences may be different, but one of the quickest ways we've found to generate business, especially this time of year (tax refunds), is home shows. You will find yourself among many other companies (we've been at shows that had 25 competitors), but realize that the prospects you are talking to are more often than not pre-qualified (i.e. - they have the money to spend), as they plunk down $20-$50 to get in. If you do something memorable (not just another cabinet display), you will make an impression. We just had a woman call who saw us 1 1/2 years ago at a local home show. She kept our info, as after she saw our product (we do an extensive demo of our cabinetry, which gets the prospect involved), she called us back because she liked our product better than what she saw at all the other booths. She was convinced because we involved her in the demo.
More cost-effective than showrooms, and guaranteed focused traffic... Never been at a show, even a small one, where we didn't close business.
There are other methods, but unless you are creating brand recognition, I'm not a strong believer in print advertising as a main source of prospects, as you usually have to give something away (i.e. your money), to entice the prospect to even call. You know - "$500-$1000 off your project with this coupon"... blech! After all, you are usually competing with other ads, where everyone's products are the highest quality, or they have the best price, or a lifetime warranty, blah, blah, blah.
Any opportunity where you can get a prospect to touch your product and experience it first hand is, in my opinion, the best spent money.
Print advertising was limited to trade magazines. Here we have Florida Design Magazine, where $25,000 gets you a whole glossy page of a pro picture of a piece. Sometimes the shot was in place and sometimes the shot was in a studio. I had good response with this also. It was a lot of money, but usually the first customer's order would be enough to cover the ad.
I have had success with newspaper writeups about the company, usually through a paid publicist. When you pay the local newspaper home and design editor to write all that glowing BS about you, it turns into traffic.
One thing I did learn is that writing about yourself does not work too well. You have to have a publicist build you up in ways that you can't do yourself. I always thought that being on TV would work great, because this is where everybody is - in front of the TV. Usually during the home and design shows this is very expensive, and I have never tried it.
P.S. One thing about home shows. You have to show up quite a few times. It does not kick in right away. People have to get used to seeing you around a lot. I guess this shows that you are established or something like that. The home shows can be from two to four times a year and you have to plan on going to all of them before you get noticed.
Nothing beats "word of mouth" - this is where I get my best customers by far.
$25K for a one-page ad seems astronomically expensive, but if it works for you, and generates the sales to justify it, more power to ya... They include at least 1000 color glossy reprints for that price, right? Well, it's been our experience that print advertising requires a repetitive, consistent program to be effective, and this can be extremely cost-prohibitive for a start-up.
Being a start-up, and depending on his capitalization, the questioner may need to look at options that generate immediate sales to grease the proverbial wheels... One-day local municipality street shows in his town and towns next to him cost next to nothing, and will generate local interest and, more importantly, sales. Don't discount these local shows, as we've generated over $100K in sales from one show. Even picked up a reference from a builder at one show. His friends had asked him to refer them to someone, and he happened to be at a local show, saw our display, and after talking to him for about 20 minutes, he told us he was going to refer us to his friends. 'Course, I didn't really expect him to, but he did, and we sold the job. Wasn't a huge job (around $20K if I remember correctly), but that job also resulted in more business. Look for developing areas, new construction, and call the local municipality and find out when they are doing their "town show", plunk your $50-$100 down for a spot, and you'll have immediate hands-on exposure from, I assume, your target audience. After speaking to them, whether it results in an appointment or not, we always tell prospects to be sure and "don't forget to tell your friends about us."
Referral income can kick in anywhere from 6mos - 3 years, depending on the quality of your work and turn-around.
Put together a media-book, which contains before and after photos, any reference letters you may have, any company info/literature for prospects to flip through at shows, and at their home while you're measuring their project for pricing (gives them something to do that keeps them focused on the task at hand, rather than letting them cool down by getting distracted watching TV or paying bills, etc. while they wait for you to measure).
I ran some numbers and for 1000 postcards to be printed and the postage to mail them, if I got a 1% closure rate, it would be profitable for me.
The media book/portfolio is in the works. (Coming from a whole family of graphic designers!)
Also think of joining some service organizations. This can put you in contact with decision makers or those folks who have ready cash for a new kitchen or are possibly looking at building a new home or cottage (I use the term cottage loosely, as the last one I worked on was approximately 3500 sq ft).
I don't know if you hunt, but Safari Club International has proven to be a great source for high quality work. Cabinetry, trophy rooms, upgrades throughout the house of the woodworking type.
I have advertised my backside off and some of this is necessary. However, I believe, especially for a new business, that it's not so much what you know but who you know.
Here was mine at first: I am a great cabinetmaker, so I will start my own business and make lots of money. What an idiot!
Build a quality product for a reasonable price and people will beat your door down in time.
Business plan, business plan. Always changing, always analyzing.
I designed this piece for a customer's house and asked if we could use it in the upcoming home show. The customer was ecstatic. He said sure. The entire unit was designed, drawn, built and installed in the convention center in four days. 15 guys working for four days till midnight each night to get the job done. Yours truly included. The paintings on the paneling were added because in the house there were a pair of French doors in their place. Everything else is as sold to the customer. We did the show and it was fabulous and we got lots of leads. We took the piece back to the shop and touched it up and shot it with another coat of clear and off to the customer, where it is to this day, no problems. I'm just showing what can be done. When you have a will, there is a way. The unit is 27 feet long. Mahogany and black lacquer.
I always thought there wasn't enough time and money to do a show, so that idea was shelved. You could do a ton of shows and always have something different. The only cost is set up and knock down. Full price for display.
Oh man. Got to get cracking on this one. Thanks - I was just about to go to bed.
Actually, it is more accurate to say it is smack dab in the middle of the box and I could not even see it with the blinders on. Just never thought it possible with built-in stuff. I was always thinking it had to be free standing pieces.
The unit sold for $27,000. And yes, the light was too close to the mahogany balls and they were quite toasted. Please leave more room.
When I was with my previous employer, we did 3 telecom shows a year. Equipment, display, the whole nine yards. Ton of foot traffic. One guy finally said, "This guy wants to talk a buy, but I can't do it right here on the floor." We put in a curtained area next to the display and closed 8 deals by the end of the week.
So if you do home shows: 1) Have a small secluded area to talk to the customer one on one. Most customers don't like talking money in public. 2) Be prepared to close the deal then and there. Take that deposit and set the schedule. Your competition is probably not prepared to do that. 3) The woman dragged the man to the home show. You have to psyche her but convince him that if you close the deal now, he can get home and watch the game.