Direct-Mail Marketing for Local Woodworkers

Direct mail definitely works if you do it right. Here are some success stories and tips. November 19, 2006

I have recently gone on my own after working for others for 16 years. I'm looking for some help on creating business letters to send to local designers, contractors and the like. I'm terrible about coming up with the right verbiage. Has anyone had success with this type of marketing? What style of letters are you using? I don't want to send something out that reads real cheesy.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor C:
Why not just skip the letters and go visit in person? Take along some photos of your past work in a 3-ring binder or photo album, dress cleanly, and bring your business cards. Ask for the person in charge. If he/she is not available, ask for an appointment. If he/she is there but is busy, also ask for an appointment. Leave your card and be punctual for the appointment. Be respectful of their time as you would want them to be of yours in the future.

Be sure you can describe what your business, and you, can do for them. Also, think about what work you do not want to do (just in case you are asked). Don't act too eager or hungry. It makes you look desperate. And, don't give your work away just to have work. Spend your spare time working on marketing your business instead of working for nothing just to keep busy.

I would be more impressed with someone who took the time to personally visit me rather than someone who sent out a mass mailing. Also, the personal visit would give me the opportunity to better judge the person's character.

From contributor B:
I'm with contributor C on this one - this is great advice. I've never had any luck with mailouts, but face to face visits will yield work. Also, do you know any other shop owners? Networking with other shops is a good way to get some work - especially if you already have a relationship with them.

From contributor V:

I have not had much luck with mail-outs either. Remember, to you they are important, but to those who receive them, they are just more junk mail. I will say this when dealing with designers/decorators - they need to be high-end mail-outs, and those are not cheap.

From contributor H:
I agree with visiting in person, but add this. Find out who the person in charge is before you visit. Ask for them directly when you do visit and you are less likely to get the brush off as just another salesman.

From contributor D:
I will occasionally stop at job sites, measure for cabinets and then print a picture of the proposed cabinets with a price and present this to the contractor. Although the final price and details will change, they are usually impressed at the fact that I took the time to measure and provide them with a professional looking proposal. It doesn’t take long to do this but has proven to be quite effective in picking up new work.

From contributor T:
I recently was faced with the same situation. I went with a local magazine instead. It's the kind that comes direct in the mail and is just chock full of your local businesses, pizza places, hair salons, etc. I was the only cabinetmaker in there. I stressed in the ad that I was local. Got enough responses that my 1 man shop is overwhelmed with work.

Never had any luck with the mailings to contractors. It's true that they just go in the trash. They get so much stuff like that. I did, however, find luck with a mass mailer I did by myself. I drove through developments that I thought were new enough that the people might need some stuff made. Nice, 300-500k houses. Literally wrote down the mail box numbers, printed labels, wrote a cover letter and photos. I again stressed that I was local, born and raised. You know what? Out of 200 sent out, I got 1 response. That 1 response was a 4,000.00 job. Did that job and got a referral for a 6200.00 job. It works.

From contributor U:
Here's what I did. Find a magazine that has members of the NKBD. Some of these designers work for cabinet companies. Others work independently and most are looking for new and unique suppliers. I called these designers up, told them who I was and asked if I could send them a CD of some of my latest work. Out of the dozen designers I found in my area, I think one said no thank you. My cover letter thanks them for the time on the call, relates back to something you talked about, and then briefly explains who you are and what makes your product special. If you discussed the potential of quoting a job, remind them of that in your letter. Write that you will call them in a week to see if they liked what they saw and offer to take them to any work you have done in the area. You have one chance to make a first impression. If you need to wait a month before you have a CD with a nice label on it, wait. Don't make them think you are sending out hundreds of these things. Call back in a week. No earlier. We have had a great response with this approach.

From contributor P:
Even professional salespeople don't often know how to write compelling and effective direct mail or how to target it well. Direct mail does work, but only when married with direct sales follow-up. Here are a few of the dos and don'ts that make all the difference between a 1/2% response and a 20% response.

1. Your introductory letter needs to be no longer than 3 short paragraphs, and needs to make clear what is different about you and your business. If you're just another cabinet guy, your letter is headed for the trash within 30 seconds. That's the focus at every step: differentiation. Why should someone prefer to do business with you over the other guy? If you can't answer that question, don't start marketing yourself until you can.

2. Never send letters to your whole mailing list at once. If you have 200 prospects on your list, send 10 letters a week and no more. Why? Because the following week you're going to launch telephone calls to each of them as a next step. In fact, your closing line in your introductory letter tells them to expect your call in a few days to introduce yourself and your company, and to arrange a short visit to talk about why you're different and how that can create real value if your difference maps onto real needs they have.

3. Next week, you launch 10 telephone calls to follow up your initial 10 letters, and to arrange appointments. You're also mailing 10 more letters.

4. The week following, you're mailing 10 letters, making 10 follow up telephone calls, and also keeping the appointments you made from the prior week's telephone calls.

If you're getting the sense that this is an ongoing process, you're exactly correct. And for a small or one man business looking to grow, it's essential. Unless you're feeding the pipeline all the time, even when busy building and installing actual jobs, you run the risk of having nothing behind the current backlog. Investing half a day each week to build the business (mailing letters, launching follow-up telephone calls, and keeping the actual appointments) requires discipline (particularly when you're on a deadline or working on a backlog)., the website for the National Kitchen and Bath Association, is a good source for a list of designers in your area. You can access the membership list by region, and then narrow it down to your own local area. If you're looking for reputable designers, that's a good place to begin.

One final thought: I disagree with the advice to make unscheduled cold calls. Nearly all business people actively resent the imposition on their time, and the implied arrogance of a cold call. You'll look much more like the stereotypical salesman by walking in without an appointment. Sending a letter telling the prospective customer to expect your telephone call within a few days and then making that call demonstrates that you can keep commitments that you make, and that you have some real discipline. It's your first opportunity to demonstrate that you're a person of some real integrity, and someone worth doing business with. Marry that with a compelling statement of why you're different from the other guys a customer could choose, and you're on the path to steady growth.

I know this works. I've built three different businesses doing exactly this. And instead of getting a 1/2% - 3% response rate typical of direct mail advertising, you're more likely to see a response rate of 20% (one out of five people will typically give you the first appointment you ask for).

From contributor S:
I have been in the same boat and had success with mailing letters/portfolios. I went out on my own 3 years ago and went to the ORA web site - Oregon Remodelers Association - and checked out certain web sites of remodelers (ones that looked like they had a successful business going for them). I typed up a short one pager about myself - three paragraphs about myself, my situation, and my background and experience. I included a picture of myself and a page of quality pictures of some of my work. I mailed out about twenty and then everyday I would call two with a follow up. Many were dead end roads, but I did almost immediately get some contacts and some work. I was even invited to an ORA luncheon, which was a great thing for networking. Three years later and I am now working on a custom cherry railing for a customer who received my mailing. He called me about five months ago. I thought it was very cool that he held onto that thing and called me 2.5 years later regarding work.

Have good photos and print them up on quality paper, be clear about yourself and your business... At least try and sound professional, include a picture of yourself (makes it a little more personal) and make some follow up calls. I had a little bit over a 10% success rate, which isn't bad for a page of words and some photos. The real catch here is the few contacts I made have brought me much more work. One contractor I worked for, the homeowner had me do some built-ins down the road - after the remodel. I have since worked for both her brother, her X, and her younger sister doing more built-ins and mantles. The other contact I made... same thing, but an entertainment center.

From contributor V:
My best results when I was making cabinets were in one of the small local papers in the business section. I lived in a metroplex and ran in one of the suburb papers. It always kept me busy. Apart from that, a phone book ad also brought in lots of calls.

From the original questioner:

Thanks so much to all. You have given great advice. As I'm new to the business aspect of things, this really helps. I need to work on my people talking skills. I seem to fumble my words or don't say the right thing sometimes. I didn't become a good craftsman overnight, so I'm sure I can do this too.

From contributor G:
A few weeks back, I was getting back into doing wood floors in houses and had no contacts, as I had been out of the residential sector for a while. So I drafted up a fax that explained what we can do, etc. Went for a drive around the nice part of town and recorded the details of general contractors working in this area. Sent out the fax to these guys, and got one job within a few days worth 9k. Sent around 45 faxes out. Now plan on contacting the others to ensure they got it okay and to follow up.