Marketing and Advertising Ideas

More thoughts on how to get your name and business in front of the public. March 11, 2009

What is the best, most effective way to advertise my small one man cabinet shop? I have business cards and have been giving them to my friends and other people that I run into but I still have not gotten any work. From that I think that I need to take it to another level. Any ideas would be appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor K:
I have finally admitted to seeing the light. I am in the process of putting together a website. If you have not done this yet, you must do it! Just in the past month of trying to get my own advertising started, some of the best contacts I have gotten have requested my website address. I have become embarrassed to tell them I don't have one. It has become clear to me that it is now a necessity to have a website in order to keep up with or get a jump on all of the other shops out there.

There are also some advantages that I never realized were there before. Have you ever gone to a website and found a link there that you went to and found something interesting to you that you may not have know about if you had never gone there. That link could be you on someone elseís website, say a plumber, designer or builder. So, basically it's a way to "network" with other trades and maybe shops that are related to you and what you do in order to make your business as visible as possible. Some have even suggested starting a blog within the website to communicate with the customers on a more personal and direct basis. I am on the fastest track I can be on to getting my website up and running because without it, the rest of my advertising now seems to be inadequate.

From contributor H:
Now I am not against advertizing. But you can, and people have, advertized themselves out of business. Set a limited dollar amount and stick to it. Sales people will try to get you to spend more than you should. Advertizing has a delayed response. Don't expect fast results. Build it and they will come. Don't put the cart before the horse.

From contributor J:
Have you used/had any luck with the Yellow Pages?

From contributor A:
The Yellow Pages is very hit and miss. I didn't get a call for two years straight. The next two years I got three calls for refinishing. Last year I got two calls - one was a great 10k casework job, the other was a $5,500 entryway that I ended up suing for final payment. It can be ugly when you work for strangers. I try to only work for people that other people I know, know.

From contributor R:
Once you have a website, the Yellow Pages become totally worthless. I did the Yellow Pages for two years and got a call at least every week from "some old lady" wanting to know if I could fix her cabinet door or take down one of her trees that was about to fall on her house. She always offered to give me the wood for free as payment! What a great deal.

Itís not just the terrible "prospective clients." Itís all the ďwould beĒ woodworkers that just show up at the shop to talk about themselves and show you pictures of their tater boxes and clunky, overbuilt cribs they made for their new grandchildren. I then tried to get out of the Yellow Pages. It took them three years to stop printing my listing. I certainly stopped paying, they just liked having me in there so much that they let me do it for free! I wonder if that would work for my cable bill?

On the web, people can see the quality, and pricing, so the tire kickers and lady's with old barns, etc. will leave you alone. I have had great luck with Google AdWords by the way.

From contributor P:
Marketing comes first, then advertising. In your marketing plan, you figure out what you're going to sell, who your target market is, and how you're going to position yourself to sell to that market.

It sounds like a bunch of BS, but your strategy for selling to the general public would be much different than selling to builders or interior designers.

There's "branding", too, which includes things like your logo, and how you want your company to be perceived (high end, low price, "green", etc.). A good thing to remember is that all of your marketing materials (website, brochures, business cards, etc.) should have a consistent appearance - same colors, fonts, etc.

No single thing is a magic bullet. If you have time on your hands because you're not busy yet, get out there and talk to people. Call designers and builders and ask if you can meet with them. Ask them what they'd want from their "ideal" cabinet shop. If you're going to do a website, look at lots of other sites to see what you like or don't like. Do these things now, because you won't have time for any of this stuff once you get busy.

From contributor T:
I would tend to agree with contributor Pís comments. Some good points are being made here. You might also want to buy a paperback called "Guerrilla Marketing". It has some good, low-to-no cost ideas that work well for small businesses.

I think that business cards are your number one ad piece. Many people will keep them for future use. So, make sure you have lots of them. Making calls face to face is a great idea. Get to know people and they get to know you. Don't get too impatient, it takes time to get your name out there.

From contributor K:
In regards to your question about yellow page adds, 22 years ago when I started the business, I did a nice Yellow Page ad for five years. I never had one call from it! I also did a local lifestyle magazine and got nothing from it either. I realized that for a one man high end shop the Yellow Pages is not normally where the customers are going to look for a cabinetmaker, it's word of mouth from friends and coworkers. After that first five years I never again did any ads. I actually never needed any advertising. I always had work up until I moved from Chicago to Denver. Now I am starting over and need to do something to get my name out in front of people.

From contributor S:
It sometimes depends on what area of the planet you are in. What works in one place might not work elsewhere. Things change from year to year as well. A web page is probably your best bet, because people are basically lazy and want you to bring the world to them. You can receive a phone call and get them to look at what you do all at the same time. That way you and the customer know if you are on the same page before you waste time on a visit. If you are a one man shop, when you get busy, your time is precious. You need to get out and sell yourself but also be in the shop producing or you will fail anyway. You can try fliers, but they work one time and next time not. Once in a while something completely off the cuff happens and pays off big time. I was walking down the street in our city and was approached for a man on the street interview by a TV crew.

Nothing related to my business at all, but the next day the calls started coming in from previous customers. They saw me on TV and remembered they needed a new dining table or whatever. I never forked over a dime and ended up with 20k worth of work. If you are relying on handing out business cards, it is best to have one that people will remember. If they look homemade, or a little dull, people will throw it in a drawer and forget they even have it. I got one from a salesman from a plastics company and it was printed on clear plastic, and it looked great. I have it in my wallet and I don't even buy the plastics he sells, but I like the card.

From contributor J:
I've been playing with the idea of ordering a Yellow Pages add but haven't heard great things about the response (except from the Yellow Pages people themselves).

From contributor L:
I tend to agree with contributor P. I also think Yellow Page ads are a total waste of money. Get out there and meet people. Have some nice business cards that you can leave that have some information about what you do, you can also use the back of them for more info (put a note on the front to "look at the back"). They donít need the cute little graphics they will try to sell you.

"Contacts" are your best bet, make lots of them and keep doing it. I've had very limited results from "direct mail" also known as "junk mail." Exploit every contact and customer to make more contacts. Keep refreshing the contacts; memory is a terribly wasted thing. Remember this is a service business, we don't provide stuff, we provide a service (which may be providing stuff that fulfills a perceived need).

From contributor P:

Traditional advertising (radio, TV, newspapers, and magazines) is expensive. I like the ideas about the free or cheap methods. Contributor S's story about the TV interview reminded me that the media is always looking for stories. Maybe you have one. Are you changing careers? Maybe just the fact that you're a small business starting up during a down economy is a story.

You can also submit a press release to the local paper. In my area, they're always running them, usually in the business section - short and sweet. Something like "XYZ Woodworking has opened a full service cabinet shop offering custom cabinetry and furniture for residential and commercial clients. Owner X has 25 years experience in all phases of woodworking, most recently serving as shop foreman for ABC Millwork."

About ten years ago, I started a handyman business. Besides business cards, my only advertising was posting fliers on a few grocery store bulletin boards with little tear-off telephone numbers. I got one client who kept me busy for almost a year that way.

Word of mouth is by far the best. When you do get a job, be on time, prepare a professional proposal, and of course do a perfect job on the project. Returning phone calls and showing up will place you ahead of half the hacks doing business these days.

From contributor K:
Here in the Denver metro area new housing is dead. Living in the metro area makes it hard to find the work unless you know someone. I will say, I have finally made a contact for a kitchen remodel so I'm keeping my fingers crossed! I do believe once I get there to work on a job, I'll find more. It usually is upper end work.

From contributor R:
What contributor K said is relevant to how productive a Yellow Page ad will be. In a metro area your ad will be buried in the mass of ads. In a rural area word of mouth rules. In a suburban or quasi-suburban area is where Yellow Page ads will pay off the most but even then, a large ad isn't really needed, heading placement is more important.

From contributor B:
Talk to people - that is the key. Drop in to all the area lumber yards and purchase a small item you need. At the counter introduce yourself and leave a few cards. Do the same at all the paint and hardware stores. Make cold calls to builders and architects. Let the local electronics stores know you are out there and can do a whopping good job on entertainment centers.

My experience is that paid advertising for a small general cabinet shop is pretty much wasted money. The general public that responds to print ads typically expects that custom made means less expensive the Cheapo Depot. Word of mouth is the key to success.

From contributor H:
One problem is that most people don't tell you how they got your name and we just plain forget to ask. I started asking years ago and found out that the Yellow Pages are fine with a small ad but a waste of money on display ads.

The best money I have ever spent is on the radio in the winter, sponsoring the local weather. It seems every one stops to listen to the weather when itís bad. I did it two weeks on two weeks off. People will still say they just heard your add when it was on last week.

It takes time to get your name out there, as others have said. Once it is out there and you do good work, you'll be fine. Then itís just a matter of trying to keep everyone happy. You won't please everyone. The more people you serve the more that will be unhappy. Anyone that claims to have 100% customer satisfaction has only had one job and it has gone well.

From contributor K:
One more point I would like to add, and I would like to hear if you agree or disagree, but how and where you advertise will be dictated by the price and quality level you want to work in. If I'm building 200 square foot kitchens in the $40,000 range, I don't see potential customers going to the Yellow Pages to look for a cabinetmaker. They are asking their friends who did their kitchen, etc. If you want to turn out production, run of the mill cabinets with adjustable shelves in the base cabinets and no bells or whistles, then maybe some Yellow Page ads may work, appealing to the general public.

I don't want the general public calling me because I'm a one man shop and can only do so much work. I want that work to be high end customers. I don't want to waste time quoting work I know I can't get. I simply can't pay the bills on the lower end work, among other reasons. So you need to determine who your target market is and direct your efforts to that market. Maybe you should be in local lifestyle magazines?

From contributor E:
I have advertised in a couple of different places over the years - local papers, the front cover of a directory, etc. and have gotten one call that produced work. Most of the calls (and they were few) were like contributor R talked about. My competitors have listings in the Yellow Pages but they don't keep any more business than I do. Good quality work, service, personal attitude will be your best advertising. I had some pencils made with my business name and number and I give them out to contractors and crews, customers, etc. I have a hunch this will be at least as effective as an ad.

From contributor O:
Pencils with your name are a good idea. If you buy cheap pens with your name on them, if they don't write people throw them away and swear at the pen while doing so. Even if they don't use pencils they still stick them in a cup on their desk.

Another thing you can do, but it takes a little acting ability, is just drive around and look for construction sites. Make sure you have a clipboard and a tape on you. Walk in and announce you are there to see Tony, Ralph, or whoever you want. Someone will ask you what you are supposed to be there for, so you say youíre there to quote on the millwork.

They will say, "you must mean John , thatís his department". Look pensively at your clip board and say, "sorry, you are right it's John." When John shows up he will either say "I didn't have an appointment to see anyone" or he will bring out the plans and give you a look. When we did a lot of commercial millwork, I did this quite often and got a lot of work out of it. A sub shop, hanging doors in a lawyerís office, school reception area and on. The worst that can happen is they tell you they have it covered and send you on your way. That also gives you the chance to give him your card and ask him to give you a shot next time.

From contributor W:
You create an impression the first second you meet someone. Be well groomed. Get a damn haircut. Dress like you have one foot in the shop and the other foot in the office. Your personal presentation should be neat and orderly, just like your shop and your work. If you can, don't drive a vehicle that looks like it has been rolled a couple of times. Relax, smile, and be yourself. If you don't already, learn to like people.

Get comfortable with a couple of lead-ins, depending on the situation. One that worked for me yesterday, in response to "what can I do for you?" was "well, if you buy doors, we have something to talk about. If not, I'll just get in my car and get along on my merry way." Fortunately, he buys his doors. I know you probably know all this, but some people don't - just thought I would throw it out there.

From contributor G:
It seems there are nearly as many opinions about advertising and marketing for woodworking businesses as there are woodworking business owners. I agree with much of what has been said above, but there are a few other items to highlight and consider.

In order for any advertising to be effective, you need to understand exactly who you want to sell to. Once you have defined your ideal client, (a prime prospect, if you will) placing your ads is much easier. You simply match your prime prospect's characteristics to the form of media you are considering before you make the ad buy.

For instance, if you wish to sell directly to homeowners who are age 45-60 who enjoy gourmet cooking and travel, running a commercial on a radio station that plays hip hop/urban music would not be as effective as one that is a news/talk format. The same is true if you wish to sell through builders/architects/designers or other businesses. Running an ad in the local consumer Yellow Pages would not yield the same kind of results as placing an ad in the local trade association newsletter.

Secondly, tracking and costing your inquiries will give you a benchmark to compare the effectiveness of one form of advertising vs. another. For instance, if you run an ad in the daily newspaper for a cost of $200 and get ten inquiries, your cost per inquiry is $20. You can take tracking and costing to other levels, like determining your cost per qualified lead and comparing one form of advertising to another on an even playing field. However, if you never ask "how did you hear about me" and write it down, you'll never have this important information available to you to help you streamline your entire advertising approach.

It's very important to realize that advertising's function is to generate inquiries, not to make sales. I describe the sales process as a funnel. Inquiries are poured into the top of the sales funnel. Certain inquiries will be sales leads, and others will not. Some inquiries will fall out of the funnel because they are not the kind of work you want to do. Certain sales leads will become appointments, and others will not. Certain appointments become sales. A sale is what drops out of the bottom of the funnel. If your funnel is empty, there is simply no way a sale will come out. Advertising's job is to help fill the funnel, along with word of mouth, business cards, referrals and past clients or just about any other method of generating inquiries. It costs both cash dollars and time dollars to generate an inquiry. Many of those who say advertising is expensive have never figured the cost to get the phone to ring with an inquiry, whether they buy ads or rely on word of mouth or something in between. Anyway you slice it, it costs something to bring a job through the door.

From contributor X:
I have found the following have brought in the most customers.

1. Word of mouth exceeds all other methods.
2. Business cards displayed all over.
3. Business sign at your location.
4. Business sign displayed on your vehicles, they are a traveling billboard.
5. Your business name listed in Yellow Pages in small letters (no ads), but listed in various places. Need that phone number shown. Always keep the same number.
6. Small ad that runs constant in your local paper, whereby you are keeping your name alive.
7. Sign located at where people group together for social gatherings such as sale barns, auction houses, well traveled roads (billboard type). All of the above can be done at low cost to the business.