Beyond the Yellow Pages

Marketing is an aspect with which almost every business needs to concern itself. One of the keys to successful marketing is setting your company apart from competitors. Concrete contractors around the industry have found some unique and non-traditional marketing strategies to increase their visibility with consumers in their markets.

Show us what you've got
When it came to a unique marketing strategy Colorado Hardscapes, Denver, decided to go big - 4,000 sq. ft. big. Five years ago the company decided to create a design center, says Jay Fangman, business development director. Since then, the center has gone through three renovations to incorporate new product lines and expanded samples. There is also a 2,000 sq. ft. outdoor sample area.

The idea to create a concrete design center came after Fangman was driving and saw other businesses with design centers. "We just wanted to have some place where we could invite clients to come, see the possibilities and then educate them about the possibilities of the project," he says.

Fangman estimates that 10 to 12 potential clients, primarily from the design community, come through the center every day. "It's set up where we have different product offerings in certain areas," Fangman says. Eight different product areas in the showroom display samples, pictures, bins of aggregate and specifications for the products.

The overall theme of the center is to "educate, stimulate and engage," according to Fangman. The design center has a research and development area where clients can have hands-on learning. Also, a computer in the design center allows clients to download their plans and see what the finished project would look like with Colorado Hardscapes' products.

Clients have told Fangman they are impressed with the size of the center as well as the benefits seeing and walking on the products provides. "We hear comments all the time about not having any idea that concrete has gone so far in the last few years," Fangman says. He likes to tell potential clients that half of what is in the showroom didn't exist five years ago.

The major benefit of Colorado Hardscapes' design center is that it establishes the company as a resource in the design community, adds Fangman. He has no doubt the center has been a successful marketing tool.

"Everything we do is a form of marketing," Fangman says. "Marketing has a lot to do with education. And that's what we look at. Are we educating; are we informing; are we adding value to whatever we try to put in front of our clients? And if we're doing that than it very much is a marketing function for us."

A 'web' of opportunity
Having a company website may not be unique in a world where the Internet is fast becoming a necessity. However, contractors can tailor their websites to fit their own desires and audiences.

Graley Concrete Construction Inc., Osceloa, Wis., created its first website seven years ago, according to Jeff Haley, president. In 2001, Haley decided he wanted to gear his company's focus toward decorative concrete and increase the volume of his work. So Haley created the company's website (www.graleyconcrete.com) to suit those needs.

His strategy was to keep the site basic. "Competitors dazzle everybody with these songs and all these off-the-wall things, and you can't even get into the basics of what they're trying to do," he says. The company's website has been updated since 2001, but Haley has kept it simple. The basics, he says, are key elements to a good concrete contractor website.

Haley says the home page should give information about the contractor. "You're experience does it - putting on what you've done and what you do," he says. "Just start at the top with what you do best and what you want to sell, and then work down from there." He also suggests being personable through the site's text.

One element of the site Haley finds particularly useful is the "Color Chart and Patterns" page. People can lose or misplace print handouts, he says. Having it available for customers on the website prevents Haley from returning to the job multiple times to hand out samples.

Haley says he feels the website is a good supplement to what he does. "It gives someone a very informal way to check me out," he says. "Pretty much they've already seen our work."

Swederski Concrete Construction Inc., Spring Grove, Ill., created its first website in 2002. The company's newest site (www.swederski.com) has been up and running for half a year. Joe Swederski, vice president and contracts manager for Swederski Concrete, says the user-friendly website targets a diverse audience including general contractors, architects, engineers and other customers.

"We wanted to show our customers that we are an established concrete company and what services we offer," Swederski says. He says the company specifically wanted to use the site to show its expertise in concrete parking lots.

Swederski says the site has been a helpful marketing tool to the company. "When customers jump to our website they see some of the larger projects that we've done, and they are a little more apt to use us," he says.

The site has only generated one inquiry call for the company, but Swederski isn't discouraged. "A lot of our work comes from referral, and when a company doesn't know much about us I'll say 'Hey, go to our website.'"

What a company does and what it specializes in is key information for a good concrete contractor website, Swederski says. "In concrete there's so many different elements. Explain to the customer what you actually do," he says. Your location and service areas should also be included on the site, he adds.

Get connected
Schmitz Ready Mix, Inc., Milwaukee, found a way to market its company and take the hassle out of finding a contractor. The company created the Schmitzmix Concrete Connection program, which links homeowners to concrete contractors. A homeowner contacts Schmitz Ready Mix, either via its website or telephone. Schmitz Ready Mix then utilizes a database to identify up to three contractors who work in the area and perform the services the homeowner is looking for. So far 49 contractors have joined the program, and the company is looking to add more.

Terry Estes, vice president, says a third-party consumer survey conducted in late 2005 sparked the idea for the creation of the program.

Although the program was designed and completed in late 2006, the advertising campaign was rolled out in early 2007. Advertising consisted of radio, television, print magazine and electronic billboard ads. "All these mediums were very good for name recognition in the program start up," Estes says.

Since the program is still relatively new, Estes says his company is slowly but surely adding more contractors to the program. "Although we do not require that contractors in the referral service use us, we certainly would like them to," he says. And even though using Schmitz Ready Mix isn't a requirement of the program, Estes says that contractors who join the program in effect become a client of the company.

The Schmitzmix Concrete Connection program focuses on serving Southeast Wisconsin residents and contractors. For other companies or contractors who might be interested in starting their own program similar to the Schmitzmix Concrete Connection, Estes has some suggestions. "Do your homework, and do your cost projections," he says. "There is considerable expense involved in initially starting it up and making a commitment to publicize the program." Estes says having an individual who can manage activities on a day-to-day basis is another key program aspect.

Estes says he is pleased with the success of the program so far. "At this early stage we feel it has merit, and we are tweaking it all the time. We're very happy with the way it has performed," he says.

The Schmitzmix Concrete Connection program benefits homeowners, contractors as well as Schmitz Ready Mix. It gives the company a chance to increase participation in the market and gain additional name recognition.

Portable marketing
PolySteel Alternative Building Systems, Inc., Central Point, Ore., has found a way to take its marketing from static to mobile. Two years ago the company teamed with a local ready-mix supplier and created "mobile billboards," says Darrin Thornton, owner and president of PolySteel Alternative Building Systems. The ready-mix supplier, who Thornton uses exclusively, originally agreed to put PolySteel's logo onto four of its concrete trucks and recently added the PolySteel logo on two brand new trucks." It gives us more name recognition. Instead of static displays, these trucks are all over town," Thornton says.

But Thornton didn't stop there. The PolySteel logo can also be found on his and his wife's trucks, which they drive both during and outside of work. The exposure from a combination of logos on ready-mix trucks, Thornton's trucks and jobsite signs has generated many new calls for Thornton's business, he says. "Each year my business has increased. And it's not just one or two jobs; it's five to 10 jobs. It just keeps growing and growing," Thornton says.

Having the logo on his personal truck has been a great way to generate prospects outside of working hours, too, Thornton says. "My wife has a stack of business cards in her truck because she has had several notes left on the windshield," he says. An increasing interest in ICFs and the recognizable PolySteel logo have helped to spark people's curiosity, which has helped increase business for Thornton.

Thornton takes his portable marketing one step further by featuring his company's logo on articles of clothing such as t-shirts, jackets and hats. Thornton says he gives this clothing to his subcontractors, suppliers and customers as more of a thank you than a marketing ploy.

Although he hasn't had any work specifically generated from the clothing, he does say it helps with name recognition. "Promotion of the business is a great side effect," he says. "And it's not a very expensive way to promote yourself."

These contractors have all found unique ways to market their businesses and services beyond the yellow pages. What's great is that these marketing strategies are available to everyone. Thornton says the goal is to be known. So get those creative juices flowing and find your own unique marketing strategy that will work for you company.

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