Connecting via newsletter
Although many distributors are using computer technology to communicate with customers, a newsletter is still a great tool to connect with the trade. In fact, the most efficient advertising vehicle to inform and influence your customers is a newsletter sent to an established mailing list of contractors.
Seattle-based Pacific Plumbing Supply discovered the power of a trade newsletter with its introduction of The Gazette to promote its travel and trip incentive program to customers. Each month the front page of the newsletter featured romantic copy and graphics, including references to "warm weather getaways on white sandy beaches," and the promise of travel vouchers. This resulted in a boost in business over a six-month period. Publication of the newsletter was discontinued when the travel promotion ended.
County Supply's newsletter, The County Supply Plumbing News, was used to educate its customers in the northern Massachusetts area about radiant heat. Bill Curry of County Supply, headquartered in Lowell, Mass., wrote the newsletter, which was published in-house and printed in two colors. The newsletter was written in a direct style, with no-nonsense facts about how to be a better contractor. No co-op money was accepted to underwrite printing or mailing expenses. Product spotlights, manufacturers' ads and jokes were deliberately left out of the newsletter. The newsletter was ended in 1997 in favor of a weekly fax memo.
The Aaronews, a newsletter from Aaron & Co., New Brunswick, N.J., has been published for 25 years. Jeffrey Aaron has served as its editor since the beginning and writes most of the copy. Unlike County Supply's Plumbing News, the Aaronews utilizes co-op funds. Co-op participation dictates what space is used by which manufacturer.
"We print an ad rate sheet to allow for a variety of sizes and prices appropriate to the nature and importance of the ad, and to the availability of co-op funds," says Kevin Manning, marketing manager.
The Aaronews avoids clip-art but makes frequent use of manufacturers' artwork. Printed in two colors, the newsletter contains current promotions, employee profiles and a listing of birthdays. Over the years the front page of the newsletter has been dedicated to important issues such as utility monopolies, showroom policies, major product line announcements and travel-incentive promotions.
Three years ago Aaron & Co. expanded the Aaronews and decided to have it produced professionally and bulk mailed by ACI, which is my marketing agency. This provided the newsletter with a wider reach and more professional appearance. A new branch in Freehold, N.J., the wholesaler's central distribution center in Piscataway, N.J., and the introduction of HVAC products were among recent features in the newsletter.
"The news we decide on for the newsletter is important to the contractor," Aaron says. "We've communicated water heater policies as well as changes at Aaron & Co. that affect our customers."
Magazine vs. newsletterTwo years ago Hughes Supply, Orlando, Fla., began publishing a quarterly magazine, The Source, targeted to customers. Terry Helms, marketing director, spearheaded the idea of a company communication vehicle for trade readership and presented the concept to the executive leadership team.
"Due to our rapid expansion we needed customers to get acquainted with Hughes Supply quickly," Helms says. "I presented a 92-page magazine that is 60% editorial without blowing our own horn. We decided on a format and online version (thesource.com) that spots news from the building and construction industry and all 10 divisions of Hughes Supply, including several feature stories."
Hughes' mailing circulation contains more than 100,000 names. Each issue of The Source has about 100 pages on four-color glossy stock.
"We are proud of it, but really don't know how well it's working," says Jim Holland, a group president of Hughes. "We break even on the cost of its production and mailing, but the jury is still out on how effective it is."
The Source does not contain sales promotions or aggressive sales statements. It resembles Newsweek for plumbers. Editorial content addresses each of Hughes' 10 product categories: plumbing, HVAC, water systems, electrical, water and sewer, utility, industrial PVF, building materials, and pool and spa.
To get the publication to the right people in a cost-effective manner, Helms linked up with Dun & Bradstreet's mailing list service. A mailing firm is used for bulk mailings and list maintenance.
The magazine often contains full-page, four-color professionally designed ads from manufacturers. No co-op funds from Hughes' earned co-op program are used to underwrite The Source. Instead the wholesaler accepts discretionary co-op dollars that are available but take a higher power to obtain from manufacturers.
"When a manufacturer can reach 100,000 installers knowing these are not just loyal Hughes Supply customers, that becomes a media decision," Holland says.
How to save moneyA newsletter can be substituted for specific direct mail. Once you have committed to doing a newsletter, stick to it. Include it in your budget. Discontinue other mailings and utilize the newsletter to the fullest.
Several distributors say they were able to stop sending Christmas cards by using the front page of the newsletter for a holiday message.
You can save the cost of separate printing and postage of invitations by featuring any special event, educational seminar notice or trade show announcement in the newsletter. Include a reader response section in the newsletter to get valuable reaction from customers.
Using bulk mail for mailings of more than 200 pieces and cutting less important mailings will save money.
A newsletter is a great way for distributors to keep marketing efforts self-contained, economical and focused. No matter what size your firm, give this marketing device some serious thought.