Most wholesalers don’t do much marketing because the nature of the business doesn’t require it. They may do some incentive programs (trips, golf outings, fishing, etc.) for the plumbing and HVAC contractors. They may do some selective product “push” programs with key vendors, but as a general rule, wholesale doesn’t demand the creative marketing that retail does.

When I started my showroom business, I quickly learned that to be successful I needed to do some creative advertising, promotions and public relations - with the purpose of driving potential clients through our front doors. I also learned early on that there were more opportunities to spend money than there was money available. This was a dilemma that could only be solved by having a well-thought-out marketing plan.

In 2006, I wrote a book titledKitchen and Bath Business Managementthat was published by the National Kitchen and Bath Association. It’s full of great information for owners/managers of small businesses. It covers, among other things,financial, human resource and marketing management. I’d like to share some of the information from the marketing management section with you.

In several past articles, I’ve made the statement that “nothing happens until the sale is made.” Everything in business starts with the sale.Profitablesales pay our expenses. We also know that no sale will be made without customers. That is what marketing is all about - finding customers, enticing them to look at and then buy your products and services.

In the book, I define marketing as:
  • The process you create to attract and keep customers.
  • The matchmaker between what your business sells and what your customers buy.
  • All the steps involved in tailoring your products, messages, distribution, customer service and all other business actions to meet the desires of your most important business asset - your customers.
  • A win-win partnership between your business and its market.
  • A two-way conversation between seller and buyer.

Marketing and sales are not the same

Too many people, including folks operating showrooms, confuse the term “marketing” and “sales.” They believe that marketing is a high-powered or more sophisticated way to say “sales.” Selling is not a substitute for marketing, even though the sales function is one of the ways to communicate your marketing message.

A sale is the point at which the product is offered, the case is made, the purchasing decision occurs and the business-to-customer exchange takes place. Selling is an important part of the marketing process, but it is not, and never can be, a replacement for the marketing process.

Pieces of the marketing puzzle

Following are three of the main pieces to the marketing puzzle:
  1. It requires a written, detailed plan and budget - including co-op dollars from your vendors.
  2. It must be measurable and achievable.
  3. It will typically include three areas: advertising, promotions and public relations.
      Let’s take a look at the big picture - what I call the “marketing wheel of fortune.” If you took an aerial picture of the marketing process, it would look like the graph in Figure 1.  The arrows would follow the pattern: After the Sale Follow-up; Target Customer; Product, Price, Packaging and Distribution; Communicate; Make the Sale; Installation and Customer Service; After the Sale Follow-up, etc.

      Every successful marketing program, whether it is for a billion-dollar company or a small plumbing showroom operation, follows the same marketing cycle. Follow this “wheel of fortune” and go around the cycle, starting at the top with “Target Customer” and circling clockwise.

      Marketing is a continuous circle. It begins with knowing who your customer audience is and cycles around to customer service and after the sale follow-up. It is the strategic plan for your showroom business.

    Measuring your market strength

    To determine whether your showroom/company marketing is strong, quickly rate yourself to see if you think your business does well in the following areas:
    • You and those who help you run your showroom/company have a complete understanding of the products and services that you offer. Do the people running the wholesale business really understand the showroom products and services?
      Yes or No  
    • You have good knowledge of your competition.
      Yes or No  
    • You are aware of and responsive to the threats and opportunities that exist in your marketplace.
      Yes or No  
    • You have a clear description of who your potential customer is and what you have to do to entice that person to buy from you. This would include the plumbing contractor, custom home builder, remodel contractor, interior designer, architect and any other potential customer.
      Yes or No  
    • You are able to think in terms not only of making the sale, but developing mutually beneficial long-term relationships with your customer.
      Yes or No

    Your marketing plan and budget

    Your showroom business should have a written, detailed marketing plan and budget. It should be created in November/December if you operate on a January 1-December 31 fiscal year. The marketing plan will be your road map to help you reach your destination goal. If you have never done a detailed plan or budget, the first time will take a little longer. Dedicate some private time in a quiet place. Use the following format as your guideline:

    2007 Marketing Plan And Budget

    • State your business purpose (what you hope to accomplish in the new year) from a marketing point of view.
    • Define your current market situation (what products and services you currently offer).
    • Set goals and objectives: What do you hope to accomplish with your new 2007 marketing plan?  Will you try and add new products and services?  Will you expand on your current customer base?  Will you stay with current suppliers or will you make changes?  Will the showroom remain the same or will you make changes?  These (and more) are areas that need to be looked at when developing a new year marketing plan.
    • Next, select a marketing strategy that appeals to your target audience. What advertising, public relations and promotions should you use to communicate your message to your target audience?  (It will vary by customer base. How you market to plumbers and builders will be different than how you communicate your message to homeowners and interior designers.)
    • Figure out how you plan to advance your position and brand strategy. Your plan and goal should be to make your company and your value points your brand – not the vendors you represent.
    • Establish a budget. At my business we budgeted 5% of total showroom sales for our annual marketing plan. This budget should include the co-op dollars you can expect to receive back from your vendors, so your net commitment would be about 3%.
    • Blueprint your action plan. Develop a spreadsheet that includes:
    • What item/activity
    • When it will occur
    • Where it will occur
    • How much it will cost
    • What the goal/purpose is
    • How to measure the results
    • Do a monthly timeline for each activity. Some of the activities you can do yourself. For others, you may want to hire professional outside help.
    • Start thinking long-term (12 month minimum – and on some issues, three to five years). Think about where you are today, where you want to go and how you’re going to get there.
    • Use your plan as your roadmap. It isn’t necessarily set in concrete. You can make changes and update as the year progresses. But you must have a plan to act as your guideline. Part of your preparation should be to sit down with each of your vendor partners at the beginning of each year and develop a specific marketing strategy with each of them. My book has an “Annual Vendor Marketing Form” in it - to act as your guideline for this process. If you’d like a copy of this form, e-mail me at

      This is my second consecutive article on the subject of marketing – so you can tell how important I believe this phase of running your business is. The difference between running a wholesale business and a showroom business is dramatic. Right now is a good time to make a commitment to learning the showroom part!

      Good luck!