The Last Word on Marketing

Everyone's looking for that one book called "How to Effectively Market Cabinets for The Least Cost and Effort". Until it comes out, here's another Knowledge Base thread with some pretty good ideas. August 13, 2007

How does one go about marketing for the cabinet shop? Everyone that is in the business already has the business card, phonebook, showroom, and salesman. I need another source of getting sales leads that are already qualified to put money down for your cabinets. Not because you are the low priced leader, either. I want a marketing system that is proven to work in any area, notwithstanding a little tweaking from region to region. Now that I have my own shop, marketing is so important to me that I'm almost ready to quit to work at another shop so I can see how they do it. Does anyone out there have a system that works? I'm tired of reading books that say you need to sell to the consumer and then give vague steps on how to actually do it. I'm kicking myself for not taking some sort of marketing classes when I was in college!

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor P:
I don't think there is a "golden egg" or perfect answer to your question. Everyone has a different scenario depending on each unique situation. What one person says worked for them may not work for you. I was told in the beginning that certain ways of advertising just didn't work (which proved to be false). But it seems to have a been a combination of things for me - website, print ads, mass mailings, word of mouth. All have produced at different times. Forget the college marketing BS. I never took it. Hang in there.

From contributor D:
Marketing in this business is all about doing a good job on every job you do, so the customer does the marketing for you. Being on time every time is a plus also. I'll agree that there is no golden egg and you do need to hang in there, if you can. It can get tough.

From contributor S: This is internet era - people are shopping on the internet for everything and anything. Having your own site is a good idea.

From contributor X:
You never mentioned if you had a showroom to display your cabinetry. I found that some stores will display your cabinetry and sell it for you, with you doing the final tweaking on the sale. Bath/plumbing, carpet, lumber, and wallpaper stores, for example. They get a commission of course, and sales can be brisk. Just depends upon your type of display. Just have to visit and ask.

From contributor J:
This is a method that might work if you are just starting out.

Step one - Create some kind of showroom or display area. It is very difficult to sell stuff if people have nothing to look at.

Step two - Advertise it, and in the advert, show your opening hours. Make sure your hours are sufficient to give people a good chance of being able to get there outside of their own working hours. Don't say they have to call for an appointment.

Step three - Get a website. Ideally do your own. There are simple programs out there that are easy to use. Put the web address in your advert.

Step four - If and when the leads come in, learn how to close the sale.

Step 5 - Make sure you charge enough to cover your costs and your personal requirements.

Step 6 - Do a good job and ask for referrals.

Step 7 - Repeat.

From contributor I:
The best marketing is referrals and the best way to get those is to always give the customer just a little more than what they expect. Happy customers is the name of the game.

From contributor M:
Understand the difference between marketing and sales. Its seems that there are a lot of guys that think they can place an ad on Friday and the phones will start ringing on Monday. You might be better off thinking of the marketing process as building a long pipe. You have to educate your target audience that your pipe exists, then you have to get them to enter the pipe and start filling it up. Marketing and advertising are the ways you do that - when the stuff starts dripping out the other end, then you get to do sales.

Marketing takes a lot of work. You really should have a good understanding of who you want to be your customer, or what you want to sell, then construct your message around that. You need to let that target customer know that the entrance to your pipe is there, then draw them in.

There are a lot of options for tools that help you do that. A website, combined with some kind of offline advertising that lets folks know that it's there is almost a must these days. It's the internet age, and if folks are going to research large purchases like TV's and cars on the internet, why wouldn't they research cabinets? So your web site needs to do a very good job of telling your story and showcasing what you do. Testimonials, portfolios, etc.

You should also plaster your web address on everything you can. Any print media you have (cards, flyers, brochures), and advertising you do needs to point people to where they can see what you can do or get more information - that's what people are looking for.

Try to get your newspaper advertising and your web site to play nice together. Which of the following would get you to take action if you were looking to buy a TV and you were reading print ads? "We make really nice expensive TV's - call us!" - or - "come up to and see the best innovation yet in high definition, game-ready TV's - you'll wonder how you ever watched TV before!" Get the picture? The point is your website should be a living, breathing representation of who you are - not a billboard.

You have to get folks to start to notice your pipeline - get curious about it, and want to explore it. If you can get them to go through that pipeline, you can start to fill up your sales pipeline, and the drips will turn into trickles, then into a steady flow.

Oh yeah, and this process does take time, so don't expect instant results. Those that have placed an ad on Friday and got calls on Monday have been fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. Like bouncing your bait off the nose of a 6 lb largemouth on the first cast.

From contributor J:
I'm sure contributor I realizes that referrals are great when you have been in business long enough to get them. I think he meant that that was what you should be aiming for in the future. For the time being, though, you need to get customers by other means. The pipe analogy is a very good one.

From contributor L:
No magic bullet. Build relationships, get referrals, find out what the customer really wants (is willing to pay for), what you can provide that is missing in your market area, use all the free promotion available. Your web site can serve as a catalog if you can get people there, but most likely they won't find it on their own. Keep it up-to-date and educational.

From contributor B:
Contributor M's comment is great. And I agree that referrals are everything. But market downturns, new competition, and overrunning your customer base (people dying off or moving) necessitates an ongoing marketing campaign. Or you could be like me, the new guy. I wholeheartedly disagree about golden eggs, though. Small time local direct mail outfits almost always get results. Finding the one with the golden list that gets better than 5% response is a luck thing, though. As far as the web site goes, my experience is it won't do you any good without a pay per click campaign, and links from referral sites like, or "www.find a cabinet" All this costs money, and your mistakes will be expensive.

To contributor M's plan, I would add the analogy of a funnel atop the pipe. The funnel is direct mail, hand-outs, pay per click, referrals, calling on builders/designers, etc. The funnel directs you to the pipe, which is your web site or catalog/brochure. The end of the pipe directs you to a contact method like phone, e-mail, etc. And then the show and tell starts, or selling starts. The biggest problem with marketing is not having a good plumber to keep tabs on your pipe. If your pipe has leaks and you don't know it, you can lose customers, waste money, or worse yet, scrap advertising that's working!

By the way, has anybody tried "Welcome Wagon?" They seem to have a good track record, but I was wondering if anyone had results in the cabinet biz from them?

From contributor O:
Nothing is foolproof. What works one year may not give the same results the next time. It doesn't hurt to mix it up a bit, to keep things fresh. Sometimes you do a job for a client thinking that this will get lots of referrals. That customer decides they like to keep you a secret so their friends don't get similar work from you. I have sent fliers to areas, gotten a call and assumed it was a result of the flier, only to have them say they never got it. I think it is often a combination of things. The best of all is to just make sure you put out a very good product.

From the original questioner:
I appreciate the feedback. I have a web site, get referrals, and have a broad customer base. Just about every shop I worked at never had a marketing system in place, meaning a mailing list for getting new referrals. I think a lot of shops get confused on what marketing is in the first place. I don't agree that word of mouth is or should be part of anyone's marketing program because that's going to happen if you do good work anyhow. Who is actively pursuing new clients through that pipe? How are they doing it? How much does one set aside each month for a marketing budget for TV, internet, mailings? What magazines give the best bang for the buck? Where should one place an ad - on the first page or the second page or in the back? How long does one have to wait to change how the ad appears if one thinks it's not working?

From Professor Gene Wengert, Sawing and Drying Forum technical advisor:
The first step of marketing is to get a business plan that defines the important characteristics of the company. A good book on forest products marketing is "Marketing Forest Products: Gaining the Competitive Edge" by Jean Mater, M. Scott Mater, and Catherine M. Mater.

From contributor M:
I think the answer to your very specific questions is, very generally, "whatever works in your market." You touched on a lot of different tools that you can use to start creating awareness in your target customer base. You are probably the only one that can answer those questions based on your business, how much you can handle, and how customers respond to your efforts. As I said earlier, this is where the work starts in marketing. You can place your ads, measure their effectiveness, and then adjust accordingly. The whole point is that the tools need to be worked, according to your situation.

We have all asked the questions you are asking, and have been looking for that one book called "How to Effectively Market Cabinets for The Least Cost and Effort." It's not out there yet. Just like my saws won't cut cabinet parts unless I work them, my ads won't have their optimal impact unless I try, measure, adjust, and try again. I wish it could be simpler, but it isn't.

One thing you can do is look to other cabinetmakers, as you did here, or look to the CMA, a great organization for small cabinet shops, and get input from them. It won't be as specific as "what page in the Yankee Flyer should I put my ad on to optimize it," but there will be other, unique takes on marketing tools and ideas.

In my case, I'll let an ad cook for 3-4 weeks, then measure my website hits and adjust. I'll also make ads that are specific to a particular page on my site, like TV cabinets for example, and measure how effective that is. I measure the amount of traffic against the number of inquiries, then adjust. If the site hits are high, but inquiries are low, then the message on the site needs to change, and vice versa. But that works for me, in my market - your mileage may vary.

It's going to come down to planning your work and working your plan. And people wonder why I outsource doors with all this marketing work to do?