We, independent window coverers, don't question the value of advertising; we just don't use it much. Unless you classify word-of-mouth referrals as advertisements. (They are an essential selling tool.) Or, if you rate glad-handing community relations as an ad campaign. (Very effective for image.)
Regular paid advertising? Not much. An occasional price discount ad; a weekly or monthly image ad; maybe a series of radio spots for special events. Televison commercials? Forget them, much too expensive, even for low-cost cable television at 3 a.m.
We even have cut back on our usage of yellow page directory ads. The big telecom mergers brought new directories and space rate increases, too. Makes us question their value with so many competing directories now, each one claiming to cover the same area best. Also, we have to evaluate e-mail, Web site pages and online directory listings.
The typical comments and questions above, from small and large window coverings retailers, are prompted by several recent random surveys, conducted by this magazine and Kitty Stein, a featured columnist and workroom specialist for D&WC. The answers, basically from independent owners and custom workrooms, agreed almost unanimously on the best ways to reach good prospects:
1.Word-of-mouth referrals (75 to 100 percent of respondents).
2.Community involvement (average of 60 percent).
3.Directory advertising with just over 50 percent usage, down six to eight points from former surveys.
Response rates for other forms of paid advertising were much lower.
FINGER WALKING SPARKS SALES
Directory ads and store listings rated high for many solid reasons. Most important, they reach prospects who have already decided to do something at their windows. These shoppers don't need to be sold, they just want to find the best place to buy what they need.
Some may be former customers who know about your store. They finger walk to check your phone number or location. You can expect to get added business from these prospects, assuming they have good memories of your former service. You will reach others who may not know your store, also those vital newcomers looking for a decorating source, a special brand name, or better service.
True, most of your potential customers seldom use the yellow pages. They prefer hands-on shopping and mall hopping. They check other advertising and get word-of-mouth advice from friends and family. Any listings or yellow pages ads are of little if any value for these non-users of directories. Nor are directory ads or listings of great value for general over-the-counter merchandise.
But for stores specializing in custom products, designs and services; for stores in metro areas with much competition, directory ads should help attract prospects. Who knows? An ad or listing in a good print or online directory might be that final step needed to bring new home decorators to your store.
TOO MANY DIRECTORIES?
Not all reports are rosy. Most yellow pages directories have a large audience. You're ad or listing may be wasted and of no interest to many readers. However you still will reach your target audience. Smaller area and special directories can help eliminate some waste circulation.
If your business does not rely greatly on telephone calls, then anything more than a normal business listing can be a waste of money. Generally, the higher the cost of your product and service, the more likely a prospect will want more information than you can put in a listing.
The chief complaint from small and large retailers? "Too damn many directories." One merger of huge telecom conglomerates begets other mergers of related firms. Now entire industries merge to meet competition. And each new monstrous grouping means new directories.
Several years ago, Southern Bell Co. advertised its offer of "5,000 directories for a variety of different consumer, business and professional categories." Now Southern has merged again to form an even larger telecom firm. No telling how many new directories the new mega-firm will offer.
Lured by reports of good yellow pages business, other publishers, over 200 area and national firms, print telephone directories. And those don't include all the thousands of special-interest directories and listings, including:
•General business and professional associations.
•Skilled trade service and related product firms by market area.
•Special events and activities listings by schools, social clubs and community groups.
•Special event extras by printers who just need an additional buck or two in ad sales.
Most small local retailers keep a special budget account to buy ads in these local specials. They call it their "blood money" account. It is a legitimate business expense, not only for possible sales, but more for community good will and friendship.
USE FREE LISTINGS
Many of these special directories offer free listings to stores involved in their targeted ZIP code or desired special audience group. Some merchants neglect to complete and return their necessary information form for a free listing, regardless of whether or not they run an ad.
It is best to check out such listings carefully and take advantage of a free listing or just a mention. Any such listing is like editorial publicity. Your listing may catch the eye of a good prospect. If so, you might consider a small ad later in that same special directory. Maybe, it's an audience you overlooked.
A WALK ON THE WEB
You can't be in business today and not be aware of e-tailing, Web sites, the worldwide marketplace or similar names used to define the awesome sales potential of the World Wide Web. No room here to discuss lengthy details of this now accepted beneficial marketing tool. If you're still worrying about how to use a Web site for your store, here's a brief report about an easy and inexpensive way to do so.
It's this magazine's BuyWindowCoverings.com service (www.buywindowcoverings.com). In just two years, this site has become the major Web directory, literally an Internet yellow pages listing for window coverings retailers. Each day, an average of 500 prospective customers (increasing daily) search this site for window decorating information and the names of sources near them where they can get the help and products they need.
The site has all the advantages of regular directories plus the added sales impact that's possible on the Internet. You can buy a standard listing for less than 15 cents a day ($49.95 per year). Add boldface type for another $10 yearly; add a border and color highlight for another $10.
Your store will be listed at no extra charge in each product or special service category you check off. It will appear with other retailer names in your ZIP code area. Direct links to your own Web site or e-mail will cost extra.
It is all an honest long-range bargain. Consumers in your ZIP code searching the Net for window decorating assistance, will be directed first to D&WC's BuyWindowCoverings.com. There, they can check out photographs of room settings with the latest style and general product data in the Virtual Product Showroom. Then, they are directed to the ZIP code area listing your store and other local retailers. Also, they can find your store under the other special categories (brand names, products, services, etc.) that you have specified. So, check out the complete information about BuyWindowCoverings.com in the ad in this issue or call D&WC.
SOME OTHER BENEFITS
Yellow pages have helped businesses grow for more than 100 years. Consumers rate them and other reliable directories ahead of television, newspapers, radio and even direct mail. Here are more reasons why retailers on tight budgets consider them essential.
•You can find directory assistance just about everywhere: home, business, public areas inside and outside booths, and on the Internet.
•Their index and headings systems are easy to use.
•True, rates have gone up since mergers, but space/listings costs are still realistic when compared to other media. You get frequency and reach in one package.
•A directory is new for at least a year and that means long-range frequency for your ads. Its reach extends to all residents of a given geographic or a special classification of people. Your ad exposure possibility is huge. Also, remember:
1.Most directory users are shoppers needing help or information.
2.They probably have the money and desire to buy at once or soon.
Those last two incentives alone may be reasons enough, especially for custom product and special services stores, and those in very competitive areas.
If your business does rely on telephone calls, or if your competition runs display ads, then your company may need larger ads in addition to a listing. Space doesn't allow for deeper discussion on these points this month, however. Next month, we'll discuss how to decide if your company can benefit from larger ads and offer some tips to improve the results from directory advertising.
John J. Lichty is a consultant and senior editor for Draperies & Window Coverings magazine. He has more than 30 years experience in the planning and administration of various consumer, trade and retail advertising programs.