When I owned my business, marketing was by far my favorite segment of the overall business management area. Maybe because I had a marketing degree, maybe because I'm fairly creative in that area, maybe because I'm a salesman at heart or maybe because I knew we had to attract clients to our business. I also knew that when they did come in, we had to sell them then if we wanted to keep the doors open. Whatever the reason, I love marketing.
All businesses are made up of three separate and distinct business management areas of responsibility: financial, human resource, and marketing. All three are very important and each requires a separate set of skills. In large companies a different person is responsible for each and is the “expert” in that area. In smaller companies the owners/managers may wear all three hats. This is tough, because it's difficult to be well versed in each of these important segments.
Running a successful wholesale operation requires very strong skills in financial management and in human resource management. Being very good at managing the two key asset areas of accounts receivable and inventory plus being proficient in the areas of purchasing and expense control will all add up to a well-run wholesale business. But generally speaking, there is less marketing involved. The wholesale business requires less in the areas of marketing, promotions and public relations than a retail-oriented business.
MarketingWholesalers that operate showrooms have to learn a new skill: how to be good marketers. If the consumer is the No. 1 decision maker on decorative plumbing products, the showroom must be consumer friendly in every way possible. (This is regardless of whether the homeowner, builder or plumber is buying the product.)
Marketing consists of several very important segments: advertising, promotions, public relations and the all-important selling phase of the business. The first three are all directed at driving clients into your showroom. Once they come through your doors the objective is to sell them everything you possibly can at margins that justify the expense, time, effort and value that you bring to the sale. Let's take a look at each area of marketing.
AdvertisingMr. Webster says this is “to tell about or praise a product or service publicly, as through newspapers, handbills, radio, etc. so as to make people buy it.” Yep, that's why we spend all that money - to get folks to buy our products and services.
The “opportunities” to spend those dollars are unlimited. Some of them include: Yellow Pages, newspapers, magazines, radio, television, direct mail, billboards, flyers, Web sites and more.
You have only X amount of dollars, so how do you decide where, what, when, who and how much? At our business we did some of all of the above. When we were a new business trying to get the name and image out to the community, our main dollars went to high-end magazines, Yellow Pages and some newspaper. As our reputation (good, I might add) grew and folks knew who we were and what we did, we changed to more specific directed forms of advertising like direct mail, Web site and advertising around events and promotions.
Right here I have to interject that you MUST have an advertising, promotion and public relations budget and time frame. You have to have a plan! This should be developed in November and December for the new year. Have a calendar for the entire year. Plug in what, when and how much.
Now you're probably wondering how much should be budgeted for these areas. We used 5% of sales as our guideline. This included about 1-3/4% of co-op dollars from our vendors.
PromotionsWebster defines this as “to help bring about or further the growth or establishment of a business.” I loved promotions. It was an opportunity to really be creative. Remember, the purpose is to drive clients into your place of business and then sell them! Common promotions for wholesaler showrooms might be open houses or participation in trade and home shows. They're fine, but not enough. Here are a few other promotion ideas:
- Host other trade associations' monthly meetings in your showroom (ASID, NARI, AIA, NKBA, etc.).
- Do educational seminars in the showroom such as, “What's new in styles, colors and trends in plumbing products.”
- Conduct an annual or biannual sale.
- Arrange a celebrity cookbook signing.
- Offer a luxury product education event for tradespeople.
- Provide limo lunches at the showroom for trade businesses.
Permit me to share just one example that my business did and still does: an annual “Parking Lot Sale.” This is a weeklong event with tents, balloons, free refreshments, tables and pallets full of new, old and obsolete products. Everything in the store is on sale! It's also a great opportunity for wholesalers to purge some of their old/obsolete inventory! (These items are at a “move-it-out” price.) There's plenty of advertising: newspaper, television, radio and direct mail to current and past customers. The event yields about $350,000 in sales and draws a lot of people to the store. It's fun and lucrative!
Public RelationsThe dictionary describes this as “relations with the general public as through publicity; specifically those functions of a business concerned with attempting to create favorable public opinion for itself.”
Public relations is great! A third party is saying something positive about you. You want the newspaper, magazines, television, or radio to do stories on your company, your showroom, your people, your products and projects. These stories rarely happen on their own. You have to make them happen. Build a relationship with the various editors - they are always looking for a good story. It can't be “rah, rah me!” It has to have an interesting “hook” that will appeal to the readers/listeners.
I did almost all the advertising, promotions and PR at our business, but I liked doing it and was pretty good at it. Many folks would be better served to hire outside professionals to help them in each or all of the marketing areas.
Look The PartAnother part of marketing is developing an image. If your showroom is high-end, then everything you do has to have a high-end perception: how you look, how you dress, your logo, letterhead and even the refreshments you serve.
If your target market is more mid-priced, the image has to reflect this.
Sell, Sell, Sell!The ultimate goal of marketing is to generate sales. Driving folks into the business is Part 1, selling them is Part 2! Awhile back I did a series of five articles on Successful Showroom Selling Skills. If you missed it, get on the SUPPLY HOUSE TIMES Web site (www.supplyht.com) and get a copy.
Selling is a skill. It's an art! It requires learning techniques and then practicing them. Too many companies spend all their time on product knowledge training (which is very important) and little or no time on teaching selling skills. Please, do whatever it takes to hone your selling skills.
By becoming better marketers and doing a better job in the areas of advertising, promotions, public relations and selling you'll see productivity and profitability increase and everyone will have more fun and make more money. Go for it!