When our shop was starting out, back in the early 1980s, we were
looking at different ways to get our name out there. We received a
somewhat unusual, but very wise suggestion, from an older builder,
who had used our cabinet shop in the past. “Take your whole
advertising budget and put it into customer service,” he said.
Somewhat taken aback, I asked him about the local newspaper, the
direct mail campaign we were planning, the brochure we were
thinking of, and so on. He just sat and looked at me hard and said
nothing. I knew right then that if we did what he said, our shop
would be successful.
The years have passed, and we have continued to place major
focus on quality customer service, and it’s worked out well though
we do spend a few dollars on other advertising and marketing
I suggest that you divide your own efforts into two areas: First
and foremost, keep in touch with people who already know about your
shop. Second, reach out to those potential clients who are not
familiar with your operation and what your company does.
Many established shops have
discovered that their past work can be the best advertising of
That bookstore in town shows off your work really nicely, and
it’s a public place to show off. Ask the owner if he’ll keep a
supply of your business cards on hand.
While Mrs. Jones’ kitchen probably isn’t seen by as many people as
the bookstore is, ask her if she’ll do the same thing keep your
contact information on hand and refer your shop whenever she
You should also photograph the jobs you do. What used to be a
relatively expensive proposition can be less pricey these days;
just get a digital camera and shoot away. While there’s nothing
that can compare with a professionally photographed project, it’s
great to be able to have an easy way to show your work to new
Staying in touch with your existing clients can be done in
several ways. Some shops use regular mail-outs. These can range
from the simple postcard (perhaps with a photo of a recent job?) to
a regular newsletter.
Announcements are a good way of keeping your customer-to-shop
relationship strong. If you relocate or expand, buy a new beam saw,
add an important piece of software, hire a new foreman any and all
of these events are a reason to drop your existing clients a line
to let them know.
These days, e-mail is fast becoming an easy and inexpensive way
of staying in touch, and your shop can use it, too. Once every two
months or so, send out word as to what you’re up to. You don’t want
it to be too intrusive or pesky, so include a note about being
“taken off the list” if the recipient so desires.
There’s also nothing that beats you as the owner contacting your
customers personally. This can take the form of phone calls, lunch
dates or hand-written notes in the mail. You’ll need some way of
keeping track of this kind of thing perhaps a contact piece of
software, or even just a simple list of your favorite/most
important clients. Make sure you reach out to them on a regular
Remember, it’s your past clients who can form your future’s
foundation. If you can convert them into your unseen and unpaid
sales force, you may not have to advertise your shop and its
services at all.
Reaching out to new clients is a
bit trickier. Your shop is an unknown for most people and, let’s
not forget, buying cabinets is hardly an every day, top-of-mind
activity for most consumers. Even for builders, remodelers and
contractors, you’re just one of many trades.
At our shop, we’ve found that expensive advertising such as
billboards, magazines or radio and TV takes a long time to pay off
when you’re a smaller enterprise, particularly when you’re
competing with the “Big Box” stores, lumber companies or design
Remember too, that your name and advertisement has to be seen or
heard many times before it sinks in. With so much coming at us
these days, many consumers are turning off the white noise of
Therefore, more of a “guerrilla marketing” approach may be
needed for your shop. If you have the time, read Jay Levinson’s
books on the subject they’re all about down-in-the-trenches,
inexpensive, alternative ways of getting your name out there. And,
the techniques work.
This may consist of things such as putting out flyers into a
neighborhood where you’re doing a kitchen remodel. The flyer could
mention that you’re doing a local kitchen and offer a coupon for a
discounted piece of design work, or a free visit and
Your marketing may be as simple as an inexpensive job site sign
saying who you are and what you do. Put a Web site address on
there, too. That way, potential customers won’t have to call and
feel any sales pressure. Remember to keep the signage short and
simple; people often can only glance as they drive by. It’s good to
keep the logo/colors consistent here, too. Whatever the customer
sees on a sign should be echoed in your letterhead, Web site all
Another proven and relatively inexpensive way of getting your
name out there is to offer seminars. Some shops do this on kitchen
design, others on the remodeling process, others offer cooking
classes. All of these are possibilities for your shop, depending
upon how much energy you want to spend. And, you don’t have to do
it all yourself; you can bring in experts to help. Some of your
local suppliers may be willing to help sponsor such events,
Brochures can be very expensive, and they tend to get outdated
quickly. Web sites are a reasonable alternative, as they are
getting more and more affordable.
All in all, though, your best advertising is the work that you do,
and the way that you do it. That’s what your customers will
remember and refer. They will tell their friends and business
associates about you especially if you have some programs in place
to nudge that along. Keeping in touch is the way to do that.