The three mouse clicks on an electrical distributor's Web site that a customer makes to download a PDF technical bulletin needed to finalize a quote for a six-figure switchgear job. A salesperson's 300-mile road trip in the dead of winter with a rep for an 11 a.m. sales meeting to discuss that vendor's biggest product launch of the year. The 10 megabytes of data on potential customers that you download at your local business library to develop a mailing list for a promotion aimed at drawing customers into your newest branch.
These activities all have at least one thing in common — marketing. For all that has been said and written about marketing over the years in the electrical wholesaling industry, marketing remains an elusive and often misunderstood concept to many electrical distributors. If the definition of marketing is to create demand for products and services, then electrical distributors are always marketing themselves, often without even realizing when they are doing it. Many distributors are hit-or-miss with marketing. They do a good job with a few elements of marketing, but they often fail to tie them together into an integrated marketing plan. Many companies have terrific counter areas; others do a beautiful job with printed publications or promotions. Some distributors do a great job of working with manufacturers in the roll-out of new products. The trick is to weave all of these and other forms of marketing into one rope that you can use to pull your company toward its end goal — to sell more stuff.
To do this, you will need a marketing plan that forces you to set specific goals for your company, like “increase sales in XYZ products by XX percent in six months in X county.” Relatively few electrical distributors consistently take marketing to this level. That's how this article can help you. The 99 marketing ideas are all real-world strategies that electrical distributors now use. None of them are rocket science, and you can develop a very workable marketing plan by adopting some of the ideas mentioned here and tailoring them to meet your company's marketing goals.
We know that our readers could add many more marketing ideas. To round out this list to an even 100 marketing ideas, we are running a contest for our readers. If you are willing to share one of your best marketing brainstorms, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. If selected, you will win a $100 American Express gift certificate, and have the idea publicized in the magazine's December issue and on the Electrical Wholesaling Web site at www.ewweb.com. Just send your idea by November 10; the magazine's editors will select the most innovative idea and include it in EW's December issue. For more information on this contest, see page 4.
Michael Fromm, president of Fromm Electric, Reading, Pa., would tell you that market research is not about industrial espionage: on the contrary, distributors have all the tools and information at their disposal to make effective marketing decisions.
The most important information to act on, according to Fromm, can be obtained directly from customers. “There are a lot of fancy ways to collect data, but sometimes the best thing you can do is let your customers tell you,” he said.
Fromm trains his sales force to be inquisitive when calling on customers. “You can do all the mailings, e-mailings, surveys and other things — and we do them all, don't get me wrong — but sometimes the best thing you can do is prepare your sales organization with some questions to ask their customers that they can just give us feedback on.”
To give his customers something to talk about, Fromm began asking his vendors for product samples he can give away.
“What we've done very effectively is we've allowed our manufacturers to use customers as their local product advisory council (so-to-speak). And the feedback we get from those customers we publish to the rest of our customers.”
Fromm emphasized that getting honest, meaningful feedback about products often means getting those products in the customers' hands.
As a means for increasing market-share, Fromm pointed to another resource not far from home. He uses his manufacturers' market share data to help set his market-share goals.
“We will solicit market share data from all of our major suppliers to help us understand what their penetration is in the marketplace — which helps us to understand what our penetration is. I'm talking about in a geographic area.”
By comparing his own market share to his manufacturer's market share, Fromm said he can determine how much remaining potential there is for any given product in any given marketplace. This is made possible by the manufacturers' detailed data, which is often broken down by zip code.
“One way or another, we can develop our own information from what they are giving us to know how well we are attacking the market beyond our existing customers,” Fromm said.
Perhaps the most readily available market research resource for distributors is their own sales data. The process of account mapping tracks the activity of a customer within the confines of a distributor's business. Fromm said this is another way to set goals and earn a significant share of a customer's purchasing potential.
“We keep those (purchasing) records in order to compare ourselves against ourselves,” Fromm said. “If we know that a customer's purchasing potential is $100,000 and we sold $20,000, then we use that $20,000 to compare ourselves next time we measure. So the historical buying habits are an integral part of measuring our penetration efforts — by account and by geography.”
Using all of this information may result in only estimates of the marketplace, but that can be supplemented with other well-publicized industry market reports, as well as traditional market surveys, he said.
“My rule of thumb is every answer prompts more questions,” Fromm said. “Every time you get some information, it spawns a whole list of other questions that you need to ask yourself.”
John Bakovich, area manager for Rexel Colotex Electrical Supply, Loveland, Colo., believes that as more smaller distributors are acquired by the big players, it will become increasingly important for smaller distributors to place an emphasis on marketing.
Bakovich, a marketing major in college, has long been aware of the positive effects good marketing can play for an electrical distributor. “A lot of people think of marketing as just an advertisement or a promotion,” said Bakovich. “They don't think of the really important parts of marketing like market segmentation and target marketing and even sales strategy and pricing. Marketing encompasses a whole lot more than putting an advertisement in a magazine or newspaper. Rexel is placing what I call the ‘right emphasis’ on marketing.”
Rexel's acquisition of Colotex was finalized in June, so Bakovich, who headed Colotex's marketing efforts before the acquisition, has been able to compare marketing approaches firsthand. “I know that my experience with Rexel so far has been that they place a lot of emphasis on the true role of marketing.
“Being part of a large distributor now, I see the resources that they have in the marketing department,” said Bakovich. “They have specialists that put together programs to target specific market segments. Those are things that a typical independent distributor just doesn't have. They don't have the people or the resources available to do that.”
Now if Bakovich wants to know what a certain market segment's potential is in one of Rexel Colotex's territories, he can get that information from Rexel's marketing department. He didn't have easy access to that information before Colotex was acquired. “Not without a lot of phone calls and a lot of research and a lot of time that a typical independent distributor just doesn't have,” said Bakovich.
Windy City Wire, Chicago, is one independent distributor that recognizes the importance of database marketing. From Windy City Wire's inception in 1994, owners Gary Keller and Rich Galgano had a vision for the company. “We didn't want to be another ‘me-too,’” said Keller. “And we didn't want to work 70 hours a week doing nothing but fixing problems,” added Galgano.
To reach those goals, the two entrepreneurs knew they had to lay a firm foundation. At the core of that foundation is Windy City's database. “We have an extensive database, and it's what really drives the company,” said Galgano.
It's that database, along with an Internet fax server, that allows them to send faxes to specific segments of their market. For example, they might send a fax to companies that install fire alarm systems. The fax briefly introduces potential customers to Windy City Wire and directs them to the distributor's Web site for a few days of special pricing on fire alarm products.
When it comes to updating the database, there's no fooling around. Galgano and Keller realize the importance of the information to the company's sales efforts and marketing strategies. They expect their salespeople to update the database, period.
The Ultimate Events
The success or failure of a counter day, trade show or other event will usually come down to one word: preparation. Wing it and you will waste the time of your customers, vendors and employees. Your best bet with these events is to eliminate as many of the opportunities for screw-ups as far in advance of the event as possible. Step No. 1 is getting someone to take the lead to keep your timetables on track. When planning an event, make sure you cover each of the following areas:
Decide what you want to get out of the event. If you are going to focus on a certain market niche or manufacturer's products, you must bring vendors into the planning process as soon as possible.
Make sure you have your reservations in early for space at trade shows, hotels or other conference or convention facilities. If you are staging the event on-site, do the same for any equipment or services that you will need for the event, such as tents, tables, chairs, catering, security, etc.
You will probably want a promotional “hook” for the event, such as a customer-appreciation day, a tie-in with a local sports team, or a sole sponsorship from a vendor.
Get the message out early. Four to six weeks minimum is best for any direct-mail campaigns, store signage or mention on your Web site. Send a coupon in a mailer that attendees can redeem for points, discounts or drawings at the event.
If you are counting on manufacturers to provide certain promotional displays, make sure you reserve these well in advance because these displays often travel throughout the territory. Over the past few years, several manufacturers, including Bussmann/Cooper Industries, St. Louis; Klein Tools Inc., Chicago; Siemens Energy and Automation Inc., Alpharetta, Ga.; and Square D Co., Palatine, Ill., have sponsored race cars, and the racing teams often have promotional demo cars available for customer visits. However, these cars are in demand, so if you want to do a race promotion, get on the vendor's calendar early.
Get your assignments for booth duty and other posts in writing so there is no confusion.
Think through how a customer will get to an event. Do you need to make arrangements for a parking shuttle? Will local police have to direct traffic? Are you busing customers to the trade show? Do you need any permits to run the event? These are all questions that you must answer early on.
This is one of the most important elements of event planning, but probably one of the most commonly forgotten, too. Follow up on sales leads before they go cold, and be sure to talk with customers, vendors and employees about how the event can be even better the next time.
Using Co-Op Dollars Wisely
Distributors welcome help from suppliers with programs that offset costs, offer guidance and/or provide materials. Manufacturers' funding and materials for their distributors' advertising and promotional efforts often get lumped together under the heading “cooperative advertising.”
Co-op programs are well worth tapping. They open the door for distributors and manufacturers to work together on campaigns that can boost both parties' sales. For distributors active in marketing, these funds and materials can stretch advertising and promotion budgets.
How distributors use co-op money and materials varies widely, but distributors seem to agree on what smart uses of co-op have in common: helping fund innovative and creative promotions and projects. Distributors today use their co-op dollars at targeted marketing efforts rather than just spending them on hats and coffee mugs that they hand out for free at the counter area.
Teche Electric Supply, Lafayette, La., was recognized in September by Affiliated Distributors (A-D), King of Prussia, Pa., with A-D's Excellence in Marketing Award. According to Chad Sonnier, Teche Electric Supply's marketing manager, the award was based in part on Teche's entry for Innovative Use of Co-op Marketing Funds.
“Most of our competitors around here give out caps and pens like everybody else does, so we just try to be a little bit more creative,” said Sonnier. Along with other campaigns, the distributor used co-op money to help fund its “Roman Expedition Promotion.” The culmination of the promotion was a trip to Rome for some of Teche's best customers.
Rexel Colotex Electrical Supply was recognized by IMARK Group, Oxon Hill, Md., earlier this year for “Outstanding Marketing Activity of the Year.” The entry that won the distributor the title was for a spiff program engineered by John Bakovich, area manager at Rexel Colotex. “That was the spiff program we run for our inside salespeople that awards them for selling different types of lamps,” said Bakovich. “For different lamp categories, they get different prize dollars. The higher grade the lamp, the more they get paid.”
The spiff money? Co-op dollars.
“Ours sales for lamps for the two months that we usually run the promotion are just phenomenal,” said Bakovich. “Everyone on the sales side has some incentive to go out and push the product.”
Jim Dunn, vice president sales and marketing at Warshauer Electric Supply, Tinton Falls, N.J., allocates 100 percent of his co-op support toward Warshauer Tech, which helps electrical contractor customers earn state-required continuing education credits. He said that when he started his career with Warshauer seven years ago, the distributor spent most of its co-op money on counter days and T-shirts. “We gave them away at the counter haphazardly to whomever walked in.”
Now, Warshauer Electric takes a more focused, innovative approach with marketing and merchandising. In February 2000 Warshauer Electric added Jennifer Montalvo, a full-time marketing coordinator to its staff. Montalvo played a major role in the recognition Warshauer Electric Supply received as a TED Best of the Best winner for its merchandising guidelines.
The Magic of Merchandising
In the past 10 years, hundreds of distributor counter areas were redesigned with the help of retail marketing strategies that electrical distributors learned from the retail marketing masters such as Home Depot Inc., Atlanta. Teaching distributors Merchandising 101 and developing plan-o-grams for their counter areas became a core piece of the marketing strategies of manufacturers such as Ideal Industries Inc., Sycamore, Ill.; Panduit Corp., Tinley Park, Ill.; and Thomas & Betts Corp., Memphis, Tenn. Graybar Electric Co., St. Louis, took to merchandising on a grand scale with its Flagship Counter program and redesigned several hundred counter areas during the 1990s; dozens of smaller independent distributors did the same with their facilities.
Now that most distributors who go after walk-in trade from electrical contractors, facility maintenance personnel and other customers have redone their counter areas, the merchandising movement in the electrical wholesaling industry is more mature and is seeing more refined strategies, rather than explosive new construction and redesign as in years past.
In the first phase of the merchandising movement, many distributors were starting from scratch. They had to do things like rip out brown pegboard displays and replace them with brighter pegboard or slat-wall displays; reposition shelving to establish customer-friendly traffic patterns in the counter area, blend manufacturers' point-of-purchase displays with their own shelving and develop a more professional appearance.
Now that distributors have mastered many of these merchandising basics, they are building on this base. In the past, revamping the counter area may have been the main element in a distributor's marketing strategy. That's no longer the case, as many distributors are now using counter area promotions as a tool in their overall marketing plan. To coordinate their counter promotions with vendors' new product launches, seasonal sales campaigns and other marketing strategies, distributors are working with vendors to develop yearly merchandising calendars so that they know exactly when, where and how specific products will be promoted at their counters. For instance, Graybar has taken this coordination to a new level and uses computerized layouts of all its counter areas so the corporate office can plan which products are merchandised — right down to the exact shelf location.
Some industry observers believe the next major move for electrical distributors in the counter area will be to do a better job with the point-of-sale data collected there to forecast buying trends, develop more insight into customer demographics and to refine stocking levels even further to reflect the business patterns at the counter. For this to happen, more distributors will have to install bar coding equipment at their counter areas so they can scan in product information and customer data, and then use that information, much like supermarkets or warehouse stores use the product and demographic information that they gather.
The World Wide Web brought a new term to the marketing world: “one-on-one mass communications.”
Bob Hite, vice president of operations for the marketing communications firm Sage Marcom, Liverpool, N.Y., views the ability to tailor a Web site to individual users as perhaps its greatest benefit.
“Web sites can be developed in such a way that by identifying what kind of person is coming to the site, you can communicate with them in a very personal one-to-one level,” Hite said.
Online marketing can be accomplished in several ways. By building different pathways into a Web site, every customer can have his own specialized content, but companies can also bring the content to them through permission marketing, which employs personalized newsletters via e-mail.
“Most of the sites we build have a ‘keep me informed’ function,” Hite said. “This allows the user to give permission to communicate to them about certain topics of their interest via e-mail marketing techniques. You don't really need to do anything more than ask them who they are and identify what they have an interest in.”
The next step is feeding them the information they asked for.
“Once they have something newsworthy to share with these people about any given topics they've selected, an e-mail program can go out to them and create links back to their site so they can get more enriched information,” Hite said.
After they become online customers, Hite said there are very effective ways to keep directing them to new products. He said by using the knowledge of what they've already bought online, you can market certain similar products that might pique their interest.
“If you go into Amazon and you tell them the areas of your interest, they're coming back with wonderful information to you over the course of time.”
Distributors can also use the Web to enhance their own traditional marketing strategies.
Sage Marcom builds sites for a number of manufacturers. One of the things they offer them is the downloadable images for distributors to print off for their own use.
“(Distributors are) able to get black-and-white and color photography and art work that they can use for their own local promotional purposes…for cut sheets and sales tools,” Hite said.
Also, manufacturers are teaming with many distributors with Web training. This is the same training for sales and service purposes that is usually done in person, but it can be available at any time of day, without the cost or hassle of travel.
An important final consideration in marketing is that companies cannot assume customers will stumble upon their Web sites.
One method of bringing traffic to a Web site is based on assuming customers are already surfing around. Hite said online advertising is ignored by most people because it usually does not pertain to an individual's very specific search criteria. But Hite said he has helped companies gain attention by building ads that pertain to what a person is searching for in the first place.
“What you're doing in that instance is you're actually buying space according to the key words that are punched in.”
But Hite says advertising in magazines and traditional media can effectively drive traffic to a Web site. “I'm a very firm believer that traditional marketing techniques are some of the best fundamental ways to drive traffic and people to the site,” Hite said.
Visit a handful of electrical distributors' headquarters and the tour will probably include stops in company training facilities. The number of distributors that have not yet dedicated resources to training employees and customers continues to dwindle as distributors realize training's benefits.
Offering employees continued training and room for career-path growth is one weapon that distributors have added to their arsenal for keeping top talent. At The Reynolds Co., Dallas, employees ranked training No. 1 in a survey of their needs and concerns. “We have an open-door training policy,” said Walt Reynolds, president. “If you want training, you come and ask us and you'll get it.”
Like The Reynolds Co., many distributors have dedicated resources and space to training. Reynolds' Tech Center attests to the commitment the company has made to training. With comfortable seating for more than 50 people, built-in tables and a big wall-size projection screen, the logistics of employee and customer training sessions are simpler. Reynolds' Tech Center also has computer workstations to do training in smaller groups.
Customer training has long been a part of the average electrical distributor's regime. Many distributors partner with vendors to provide customers with installation and product training, but Warshauer Electric Supply Co., Tinton Falls, N.J., has added a twist to that concept with its Warshauer Technical University, which offers electrical contractors two state-required continuing education credits per class. The twist? Attendees are almost exclusively the owners of electrical contracting companies.
“That's the thing that has been most enticing to the manufacturers,” said Jim Dunn, vice president sales and marketing at Warshauer. “I'm giving them an audience of business owners. I'm not giving them the field guy or a purchasing agent. I'm giving them the ultimate authority to make a buy or no-buy decision, try a new product, switch brands or whatever it might be.”
The state of New Jersey requires 34 hours of continuing education credits every three years in order for an electrical contractor company to keep its license. According to Dunn, in New Jersey an electrical contractor company will usually have one license that all the employees of that company fall under. In most instances the license is in the name of the company's owner, and the state requires the license holder to obtain the continuing-education credits.
Warshauer Electric partners with a different manufacturer each month and offers three evening classes. Even with class sizes limited to 75 people by the state, that's still 225 company owners each month. Although the state's accreditation and curriculum-approval process was a rigorous, eight-month ordeal, Dunn said that it was well worth it. “The success that we've had from this program is something that I know we're going to carry into the years to come,” said Dunn.
Warshauer Tech is an expensive venture for the distributor, though, even with all its co-op money funneled into the training. “Everybody always asks me the golden question,” said Dunn. “Have you seen an increase in sales? That is very tough question to answer.” Outside factors like the nation's troubled economy make the effect of Warshauer Tech on sales difficult to gauge, but Dunn is able to point to new customers picked up as a result of the classes.
For distributors considering embarking on a training excursion, try this seven-point test used by Platt Electric Supply, Beaverton, Ore.:
How will this training save money or reduce expenses?
How will this training increase sales or improve productivity?
How will this training improve or enhance internal or external customer relations?
Who are we trying to train, and what are their training needs?
What must the audience be able to do before they're considered ready for training?
What materials, equipment and personnel do we need?
What time, money or resource constraints do we have?
Pulling It All Together
As you can see from this article, the concept of marketing doesn't just apply to legendary Fortune 500 marketers such as Pepsi, Coca Cola and Proctor and Gamble. That's because whether you are selling soda pop and toothpaste or locknuts and fuses, you still need to create demand for your products. This article touches on many of the key tools that you will need to market electrical products: market research, database marketing, merchandising, counter days and trade shows, promotions, direct mail, publications, co-op advertising and online marketing. An in-depth discussion on each of these topics is beyond the scope of this article, but you can see what Electrical Wholesaling has published on any of these topics by using the magazine's online article archives at www.ewweb.com. It has the full text of every article the magazine has published in the last four years.
As we have mentioned throughout the article, most electrical distributors are pretty adept at a few aspects of marketing, but few develop a plan to integrate all the marketing tools at their disposal into an integrated marketing strategy aimed at creating demand for the products they sell.
The concept of integrated strategic marketing isn't new to the electrical industry. It was one of the core ideas that drove the success of Affiliated Distributors (A-D) buying/marketing group, King of Prussia, Pa. David Weisberg, the group's founder knew from his background with Progress Lighting and as a distributor that electrical wholesalers knew how to sell products, but they didn't know how to create demand for those products. When A-D was founded in 1981, there had been plenty of buying groups in other industries that consolidated the collective purchasing clout of their members so they could get volume discounts in the form of rebates. Where A-D was truly unique is that its members had to “earn” their rebates by performing specific joint-marketing activities with their A-D vendors, such as going out on X number of sales calls with that vendor's salespeople in that region, or holding X number of counter days to promote that vendor's products.
The A-D model's emphasis on working closely with key vendors to jointly develop marketing strategies to create demand for that manufacturer's products is one that can be modified to work for any distributor. Here's how you can apply it to your business:
Select your vendor partner(s)
Although you probably have relationships with several hundred vendors, you can count on both hands the number of companies that are truly critical to your business. Identify these companies and develop marketing plans with them because you have a limited amount of time and resources to devote to marketing.
Target the products that you want to jointly market
This is where the rubber meets the road. You should already be displaying the logos of your key vendors on branch signage, in the counter area, on Web sites and in promotions so you can feed off of the brand building that vendor has done over the years. Where you can really make things happen for you and your vendor is focusing your efforts on selected products.
Develop the marketing strategies to create demand for those products
Here's the fun part — brainstorming to see which marketing tools you will use to make things happen. You won't use each and every marketing strategy discussed in this article on each marketing campaign. For instance, some products will lend themselves more to a heavy training component, while others do best when positioned as impulse items in the counter area.
Measure your results
Profits and sales are the ultimate yardsticks, of course, but you should do a “post-mortem” on all marketing efforts. Ask yourselves these key questions: What worked? What failed? What would we do different next time?
Start gearing up for the next marketing campaign
Learn from your failures and build on your successes. Lots of people can sell stuff, but only the masters of marketing can say they can create the demand that drives people to make the purchase.
Develop an Overall Market Plan
Market Your Company to Your Employees
1. Make sure employees are informed about the strategic direction and financial health of the company.
2. Develop a mission statement that clearly states the company's reason to-be.
3. Offer career-training opportunities.
4. Offer a competitive package of company benefits.
5. Eliminate a “punch-the-clock” mentality by creating a work environment that makes employees feel they are part of a team working toward a common goal.
6. Teach the company's key leaders the importance of open communication with all employees.
Market Your Company to the Overall Community
7. Keep all company locations and parking lots well maintained and properly lit.
8. Keep all company signage on buildings and trucks freshly painted.
9. Provide shirts, sweaters or uniforms with the company logo for all employees — particularly for truck drivers, counter workers, outside salespeople (if appropriate) and anyone else with customer contact.
10. Be active in your town's civic organizations for the networking opportunities and community exposure that they offer.
11. Be an active member of the local electrical league.
Market Value-Added Services
12. Offer a tool-rental program for more expensive power equipment such as power benders and generators.
13. Provide industrial plants with full-time, on-site tool crib stocking.
14. Work with distributors of other construction and industrial supplies to provide customers with a one-stop source of supply for MRO-oriented products.
15. Provide key customers with demonstration models of tools or samples of new supplies so they can evaluate the products under job-site conditions.
16. “Kit” products for manufacturing plants that need a certain group of electrical or electronic components to be built into the products they produce.
17. Package products for shipping by job-site location, such as an area of an industrial plant, apartment complex unit, floor of an office building, etc.
18. Review the core services that all distributors offer (local inventory, delivery, one point of sale for hundreds of different products) and brainstorm on ways to market them. If you need a reminder on the core services that an electrical distributor offers, go to www.ewweb.com and type “50 Ways to Add Value” in the search engine.
Integrated Strategic Marketing
19. Develop a written strategic marketing plan with input from key employees that specifically defines the company's short- and long-term marketing goals and the strategies it will muster to meet these goals.
20. Hire a marketing director whose job responsibilities are devoted 100 percent to marketing.
21. Join a marketing/buying group for the volume discounts, marketing expertise and networking opportunities that they offer.
22. Hold “home and away” meetings with key or potential customers so your company and the customer can connect a face with a telephone voice.
23. Change out a product line and replace it with another vendor to consolidate your purchasing clout with that company.
24. Brainstorm with a local independent rep or factory salesperson months in advance of the targeted launch date on how to proactively market and roll out a new product. Don't try to develop marketing strategies after launch.
25. Go out on joint sales calls with a manufacturer.
26. Develop a written events plan that includes instructions on promoting the event, assigning tasks, and necessary follow-up after the event.
27. Instead of having a counter day that doesn't accomplish a specific marketing goal, schedule counter days with specific product themes that are part of an overall marketing effort to increase sales of a specific market segment.
28. Bring a group of manufacturers together for a counter day at the customer's facility.
29. Hold a seminar for customers on a new product or a change in the National Electrical Code that will affect the types of products required on a job.
30. When exhibiting at a trade show, man the booth with knowledgeable personnel who can answer the most technical of questions.
31. Display products at the booth that customers can play with.
32. Promote your presence at the show to prospective attendees at least a month in advance.
33. Keep the booth manned at all times.
34. Acknowledge all visitors who stop by the booth.
35. Follow up on leads as quickly as possible.
36. Take customers as your guests to local electrical shows so they can learn about new products on the market.
37. Analyze customer traffic patterns and buying habits in the counter area before developing a merchandising plan.
38. Get outside input from retail merchandising masters such as Home Depot, Sears and Lowe's for your merchandising plans.
39. Create a merchandising team that offers input on products to display. Team members all should understand their roles in the counter area, such as restocking shelves, maintaining displays, etc.
40. Don't underestimate the importance of image and ambiance. Customers want to shop where business is thriving, and employees want a pleasant working environment.
41. Make sure it's easy for customers to find a place to park near the counter-area entrance. Not having enough parking spaces is a silly reason to lose business.
42. Keep counter displays current, well-lit and maintained.
43. Borrow an idea from the playbooks of the home centers and price some fast-moving items as loss leaders to spur impulse buying.
44. Promote seasonal items, such as cable-pulling lubricant, hard-hat liners, heavy clothing and ice melt during winter months, or place smoke alarms in end caps during fire-safety week.
45. Have company owners or branch managers occasionally work the counter to get a feel for the questions that are asked and to see how customers “act” in the counter area.
46. Accept credit cards like Visa and MasterCard if you are marketing your company to the smaller contractors who often rely on credit cards to keep their businesses going.
47. Sell nonelectrical but job-site related items like maps, coolers and raingear in the counter area.
48. Paint pegboard displays or racks white or gray to brighten up the counter area. Steer clear of brown pegboard displays that absorb light and make facilities look dark and dingy.
49. Provide baskets or shopping carts for customers.
50. Serve customers breakfast occasionally. Home centers in your market may already be doing this, but it's a proven winner that draws customers out of the woodwork.
51. Develop some of your own merchandising displays, such as using wheelbarrows for sales items and close-outs or empty wire reels for an interesting, multi-tiered display for smaller items such as twist-on wire connectors or fittings.
52. Use “carded” products with information cards that highlight the features and benefits of the product.
53. Let customers play with products in the counter area.
54. Run sales to take advantage of the fact that your customers are consumers who enjoy the thrill of a good sale as much as anyone.
55. Make it easy for customers to find the items featured in promotional flyers. Customers don't want to go on a scavenger hunt for the products that drew them into the store.
56. Lay out your counter areas so customers get to the will-call area without a hassle.
57. Increase add-on sales by cross-aisle merchandising — positioning related items across the aisle from each other.
58. Use “benefit signs” on shelving, hanging from the ceiling or in other hard-to-miss areas that call out product features. For instance, you can highlight the differences between premium-priced leather tool belts and what a lower-priced competitor offers.
59. Take full advantage of the high profile of counter space. The counter is some of the most valuable promotional real estate in the entire counter area — don't waste it.
60. Don't scrimp on the shelving in the counter area. It should be sturdy, attractive and kept clean.
61. Utilize product cartons that double as displays. Some manufacturers package products in cartons with a tear-off “lid” so that the carton itself acts as the display. These cartons usually have attractive, informative labeling to catch the attention of and inform customers.
62. Use displays for the purpose they are intended. Don't stack other vendor's products in a display intended for another company's products. It doesn't look professional and will confuse customers while irritating vendors. Also, use the displays for products, not as a convenient resting place for the morning's donuts or other goodies.
63. Pay attention to the customer. Just because customers are browsing the aisles doesn't mean they don't appreciate occasionally being asked if they need help or have questions.
Online Marketing and Computerized Services
64. Provide accurate computerized information for customers.
65. Offer customers e-mail as an option to send in orders, request information, etc.
66. Take orders through Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) to cut down on paperwork errors.
67. Maintain a Web site that offers 24-hour access to product information, order status, company services, etc.
68. If you have expertise in-house, help key customers build their own Web sites.
69. Offer PDF versions of the literature and printed publications that generate the most requests or have the broadest circulation, such as catalogs, promotional specials, sale coupons, etc.
70. Use a simple, clean graphic design that doesn't have a wide variety of typefaces. Try sticking with one typeface for the text in main articles, a complementary typeface for sidebars and factoids and no more than two different typefaces for headlines.
71. Publish the company newsletter in print and in a PDF online edition.
72. Send out press releases about personnel promotions, new branch locations, anniversaries and acquisitions to local newspapers and the electrical trade press.
73. Compile a list of media contacts and keep this list updated.
74. Contact all media contacts to see if they prefer receiving this information in print or via e-mail.
75. Write press releases that include all pertinent information (who, what, where, when and how). Include job titles, branch locations, and other easy-to-forget details.
76. Identify everyone in photographs sent out with press releases.
77. When sending photos to publications via e-mail, make sure that you send them at a resolution of at least 300 dpi (dots per inch).
78. Send out a direct-mail piece for a product special with a coupon or other incentive that the customer must bring into the counter area to redeem.
79. Offer that same direct-mail piece on your Web site as a PDF file.
80. Select your key vendor partners and devote as much marketing energy as humanly possible to aggressively promote their brands.
81. Take advantage of the fact that manufacturers spend millions to create brand awareness amongst your customers. Use their logos wherever appropriate — company signage, Web sites, flyers, newsletters, etc.
82. Keep a file of manufacturer logos for use in promotions and signage — in both electronic versions and in camera-ready art form.
83. Change the recorded phone message that customers get when they are on hold to include information about sales, promotions or events. Update the message often.
84. When looking for lists of potential customers, new geographic areas or potential buyers of products in a new market niche, make your local business library your first stop. Libraries often have databases provided by Dun & Bradstreet and American Business Information.
85. Check out the www.census.gov site if you are looking for information on specific customer segments.
86. Check out www.incmag.com for a comprehensive resource on database marketing and related topics.
87. Assign someone to keep the database updated. A database with inaccurate contact information wastes your time and alienates current and existing customers.
88. Survey customers and then listen to what they say. For instance, try asking customers for suggestions about what other products you should stock.
89. Conduct a focus group.
90. Trade shows or counter days offer an excellent opportunity to survey customers. Don't miss this chance.
91. Contact local colleges or universities to see if any of the business professors ever have classes that do survey work for outside companies as part of their course work. It can be an inexpensive method of conducting a survey, and it's great experience for the students.
92. Funnel co-op money into one big promotion/event/sales effort. By having co-op dollars from multiple sponsors, you may be able to create an event or promotion that you could not afford on your own.
93. Be proactive and contact all vendors for the most current information on their co-op programs. An amazing amount of co-op dollars go unspent.
94. Develop a database of the vendor contacts in charge of co-op funds.
95. Help electrical contractors and other smaller customers develop business skills such as accounting, bookkeeping, estimating and marketing by offering your in-house experts in these areas as mentors or teachers.
96. Don't underestimate the value of training as an image-building tool. It helps place you in the mind of customers as a knowledgeable resource.
97. Consider giving customers who complete training courses a “coupon” they can redeem for a discount in future training courses or for promotional items (hats, shirts, coolers, etc.).
98. Use articles from trade magazines as discussion points for “Lunch-and-Learn” sessions to train employees on areas of focus for your company.
99. With the changes in the 2002 National Electrical Code coming up, have a National Electrical Code Changes luncheon or dinner with vendors whose products are most affected as speakers. Many of next year's changes will affect manufacturers of ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) and circuit protection equipment.