Make headlines. Call the editors of your local newspapers and take them out to lunch. Develop a relationship. Add them to your mailing list so they can see what's going on at your business. Personally invite them to special events. Call them with story ideas that you can help with, such as a spring story on "How to get your yard ready for summer," or a fall story on "Six easy steps to fall cleanup."
Network, network, network. Join your local Rotary Club or the Chamber of Commerce. Go to the meetings and spread the word about your business. Always have business cards on hand, and make it known that you are the person to call when an equipment or service need arises.
Start a mutual admiration society. Don't just hand out cards, but collect them as well. Let the folks you meet know you're always looking for more business. Refer friends and customers to non-competing businesses. Those businesses will often return the favor. Keep in touch with the contacts you make. Every new relationship can turn into referrals or sales.
Be creative. Where else could you make a name for yourself? Volunteering for charities and local organizations is often another way to make contacts. Sponsorship of local sports teams can be another alternative. Are there any organizations you can provide services to that will turn into future referrals? Every community offers different opportunities. Just make sure your investment of time and funds is worth it to you and your business.
"The goal is to get others to become advocates of your products and services," says Skylar.
Set your priorities
Of course, the top priority of any marketing plan is to grow sales. But it is important to be careful about who you want to attract. Divide your budget for each customer segment into two categories.
"Part one should be for 'acquisition' (new customers) and part two should be for 'retention' (repeat customers)," says Skylar. If you are still developing a customer database, he recommends spending 75 percent of your marketing dollars on new customers. But once you have a well-developed customer database, you should spend 75 percent on customers you already have.
Skylar explains that "in the old days" there was no shortage of new customers. But today, it is more difficult and more expensive to bring new customers into the store. So it is wise to develop your existing customer base as much as possible.
"Your goal should be for customers to spend 100 percent of their available dollars in your store," says Skylar. "Right now, they are probably spending 20 to 25 percent. If you do your marketing job right, customers will come to you when they have a need."
Make a plan
What other marketing methods will complement your networking efforts? Experts say to take advantage of a few things to optimize your marketing dollars.
First, review the co-op plans offered by your suppliers. What will they help with? "Many businesses don't cash in on all they could for co-op funds," says Rivers. "They also don't utilize all the different marketing tools offered by suppliers."
Many manufacturers offer well-written, well-designed postcards, newsletters and brochures for a reduced cost to dealers. Buying these items in bulk is much less expensive than designing and producing them on your own. Be sure you know what is available.
Also, wheel and deal with your manufacturers for help on certain promotional materials. If you've got a great idea that doesn't happen to be in the co-op agreement, call your manufacturer and let him know what you are doing and that you'd like help. Manufacturers provide these opportunities because they're looking for sales to grow, too. If you're promoting their product, see if they'll supplement your promotion.
On the flipside, don't be afraid to say no to certain co-op deals or marketing materials if they are not a good fit for your business or market. Even a really good deal can be a waste of money if it's not tightly targeted to your audience.
"Too much money is wasted on advertising that won't be much of a benefit to the dealer," says Skylar. "Make sure any special advertising offers are part of your store's strategy and not just part of the media's."
Skylar also warns against spending too much money on "passive forms of advertising" like Yellow Pages and other directories. They are considered passive because you have to wait for the customer to come looking before you can give him your message. It is better to focus the dollars of a limited marketing budget on "active forms of advertising."