What works, what doesn’t (in construction marketing)


Jason Whipple in West Pawlett, VT, sought his peers’ guidance at remodelcrazy.com on a newspaper ad he planned to have published last summer.  The design and wording he chose didn’t win universal support — other contractors expressed concern that the ad would be utterly ineffective and a total waste of money.  One reviewer even went out on the limb and indicated in a posting that he would put his money where his mouth is, and offered to pay $50 for each sale the ad generated (thinking the offer would never be ‘called’.)

Whipple went went ahead and paid for the ad to run for three weeks, with a follow up in a local directory.

My results from the first ad was 10k worth of work. The second ad in the Fall flier produced nothing. Could be me, could be the economy, who knows…

and NL still owes me $100! lol.

Whipple, of course, is working within the unique framework of his own business and his own market area.  Vermont’s smaller towns are not New York City, Los Angeles, Miami or Nashville.  His skills and abilities are not the same as a renovation contractor working on suburban tract houses or high rise condos.  These points suggest, rightfully, that the marketing approach and media which would work for him may not be equally effective elsewhere.

Equally, in his postings, he described some issues that relate to his own experience and marketing challenges.  Previously, he had worked either as a sub trade or through architect and owners for commercial projects — not a direct match for direct-to-consumer heritage work — or accepted leads from leads services where the potential clients were most interested in a low price, and not much else.  So the (generally wise) advice of another marketing consultant to check with his existing clients to review the potential advertising just wouldn’t apply here.

Whipple’s big challenge is validating and establishing consistency.  If the ads worked “once”, will they work again in the same media?  Perhaps.  Or perhaps he tapped the available (obvious) group of potential clients looking for his services from that media and further advertising won’t be nearly as productive.  He cannot find out unless he commits to a more consistent strategy, either repeating the advertising week by week, or setting regular “runs” for the ads.  Then if he sees signs of success, the marketing experts would suggest he try variations, comparing the original successful advertisement in  different media and formats (one change at a time).  Each success creates a new and hopefully more successful baseline.

Ahh, this is not as simple as it sounds.

Then there is another aspect, which I advanced to him in an email.  Why not seek out some local media publicity?

I asked if his clients would be willing to let the media into their homes.

All my clients co-operate and they are very gracious with reviews on all my media platforms. The problem, I feel, is they they are speckled around my area and not so easily identified. There is no mass market in preservation but there is a whole lot of people who think the trade is gone or too expensive. Neither one is true. The fact is, these historical building don’t still exist because they have big, fat wallets; they exists because it’s affordable to preserve what they have. Why wouldn’t 1000′s of home owners understand this? Especially the ones who fear the high price solution?

Instead, they believe that replacement is the best option and if it’s too much, they do nothing.

Whipple has many things right here; a unique selling proposition, understanding of his local market and the willingness to test run and share ideas in a safe environment (a peer-based forum, accessible only if you register and obtain a password.)  One size doesn’t fit all.

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  1. Great article. I would also wonder if the work that Jason’s ad created was from people who had never heard of him or from people who had some previous knowledge of Jason and his services. Most businesses find they get the majority of their business from people that know, like, and trust them. Successful marketing efforts usually center around building relationships, keeping in contact with existing customers and referral sources.

  2. John,

    They both had never heard of me before. One was a homeowner of a mid 1800′s home that has me doing some window restoration. She’ll be having me back to do a few at a time as she can afford to take care of them. The other was a historic society in charge of a local museum. I’m rebuilding a porch for them and making it ADA accessible. The museum is municipally owned so there will be lot’s of eyes on this project and a great chance to get better known for the work I do.

    In all cases, when I meet someone who needs my type of services, I always hear how difficult it is to find someone they can trust to do this. They tell me theirs lots of people willing but no one with the experience.

    After 5 years of being in business on my own, I’m just now realizing that it’s a different art to capture my audience. I still have plenty of work to do to gain a long client list but I can definitely say things are more positive for me in that respect.

  3. Hi Jason, not sure if it helps but it’s the same here in the UK i’m based in Liverpool in the north , my work takes me all over the UK /Europe worked in Canada & States and futher afield New zealand, but most of that work comes from 3 points first major amount comes through my website which has been running since 1992, other work is recommendation the rest comes through various heritage or church organisations.

    Haven’t used local media might give it awhirl, Same here regarding people not realising that skills are available plus too many are happy to ditch original features for a quick fix!! Mostly lack of info and also the govt in both countries not getting up to spedd with reference to promoting good craft skills usually because in amongst the good ones are the rip-off merchants the result is no one will say if a company is good or not in case they may get sued. we live in a bad world run by people scared of their own shadows. hope things go well for you. Regards Steve

    we restore Victorian tiled floors =encaustic & geometric.

  4. “In all cases, when I meet someone who needs my type of services, I always hear how difficult it is to find someone they can trust to do this. They tell me theirs lots of people willing but no one with the experience.”

    You need to make it easier for those types of folks to find you and to know what your services are.

    I agree with John Stahl as to the value of building relationships.

    As a business owner you have the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and you should take the time to make sure that they know you and your work. If they have any state-wide conference or event attend it. Also it is smart to do well by the historical societies as those property owners who take an initiative to look for honest experienced traditional trades generally will ask the local historical society who they would recommend. And when the local historical society does not know who to recommend they may ask their SHPO.


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