Spring Marketing Tips to Grow Your Business

Copyright © 2013 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in February 2013, Volume 38, No. 8 of The Engravers Journal
Handing out promotional products to customers is one way to market your business. Laser engravable pen from LaserBits, Phoenix, AZ. Keep your product line fresh by introducing new products, such as these trophies from Marco Awards Group’s (South Windsor, CT) Super Star resin trophy line.

   Where has the time gone? 2012 is long past, the IRS is lurking behind every bush, the winter doldrums are at their peak and sales are spotty at best. If this sounds like you and your business, then it is time to get ready for spring and redirect any pessimistic thoughts into optimism. Spruce up the place, build up that spring awards business and, yes, stop feeling sorry for yourself—even if you’re pity party is justified. Let’s get up and get going—spring is near and there is a lot of good business out there just for the taking!
   If you’re like me, winter is brutal. Not necessarily the weather but the short dreary days, the drop in business, the slow economy, the struggle to get last year’s taxes done, the political tug-of-war that is captivating the news media—it all seems so depressing and sometimes I find it difficult to get myself out of the doldrums and moving forward again.
   However, spring is not far off. In fact, it will be here before you know it. The question is, “Will you be ready for it?” I know the economy is slow and, yes, there have been a lot of sports teams that have stopped giving trophies, but here’s the good news: There are still a lot of sports teams who still give trophies or some other form of award. The question is, “Will you be the one to get their business?” You can be—if you really want it. Even if those organizations have purchased awards from another dealer for years, you can take the business if you really want it. What you have to do is decide whose business you want and then make a plan to go after it.
   That’s called “marketing” and in this article, I am going to look at some ways you can market your business so you can get those much wanted accounts.
   Now I know that the word “marketing” scares some people. They think marketing is equivalent to sophisticated strategies, a lot of manpower and spending gobs of money—but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, some of the best marketing techniques cost little or nothing to pull off. Here’s a look at some techniques you can use to get your business out there and in the running for all of that potential award business.
   1. Clean up the joint! If your shop is anything like mine, it can collect a lot of junk over time. The problem is, we get used to seeing it and don’t pay that much attention to how it’s building up. We might even appease ourselves by saying, “Well, a messy shop is the sign of a busy shop,” even when we know it’s really because we just haven’t taken the time to organize and clean. The truth of the matter is that customers, especially new ones who are seeing your shop for the first time, do notice all the clutter, mess and dust, and that first impression can mean the difference between them being impressed or turned-off by your shop. Clean things up—especially your showroom.

Victory resin trophy from Marco Awards Group.

   2. Speaking of showrooms… Not only is it important to clean it up, it is also important to freshen it up with new products, new displays, perhaps some fresh paint or new signage. If your showroom is already clean and well designed, consider just moving things around a bit. I learned that if you constantly move displays from one side of the room to the other, customers will see the products as new. Failure to add new products and keep your showroom fresh results in statements like, “Oh, they always have the same old stuff.” That statement is a death song to a business. You must at least have the impression of always having something new.
   3. Make sure people can find you! How is your outdoor signage? If people have trouble finding you, you are going to lose business. Even if you have good signage, people get used to seeing it and will often drive by it several times a day and not really see it at all. Put up a banner to make it easy to find you and make it something different so the everyday passersby will notice you again.
   4. Take advantage of Facebook, Twitter and/or other social media. If you are part of the older crowd, you may not spend much time on social media such as Facebook, but chances are, your customers and a whole lot of potential customers do! Statistics vary, but there is evidence that young to middle-aged people tend to buy from businesses they hear about on social media. If you don’t know how to get started, just ask. Friends will be happy to help you set up a business page. It’s easy and it’s all free. Best of all, you can reach hundreds, even thousands of people in a very short time on these social media sites. Don’t blow them off!
   5. Do you have a website? If not, you should at least have a “web presence.” That is a single page with your company name and vital information on it, such as your phone number, e-mail, street address, business hours and a description of what your business does. Developing a website with e-commerce is a big deal and can be very expensive but if you don’t have one, you might consider beginning the process. Many successful businesses in this industry make a lot of money selling outside of their local area. If you do have a web presence already, consider cleaning it up a bit by changing the front page and updating the information, adding new products and, most important, removing products that are no longer available.

Continental Awards & Trophies, Memphis, TN, offers die cast medals in a variety of stock categories. The 23/4" medals feature colorful enamel and a smooth engravable or imprintable back. Condé Systems, Inc., Mobile, AL, offers sublimatable plaques in a variety of shapes and sizes.

   6. Check out new products: Visit a tradeshow or spend a day online checking out new products and bring in some new samples. (EJ’s Supplyline and Product Spotlight departments are also a good source for finding out what’s new as are our special Advisory issues. Check out the 2013 Awards Advisory in this issue for a fresh look at what’s new from suppliers.) Trophy columns, for example, change every year. Bring in some new ones and make it a big deal in your showroom with displays and signage. If you already have a ton of inventory, build up several sets of trophies using your existing inventory that are different from your usual designs or offer them at a slight discount to encourage people to save a little money by buying last year’s columns at “last year’s prices.”
   7. Hold an open house. When your showroom is cleaned up, and before ordering time begins for spring trophies and awards, hold an open house for old and new customers, and the community at large. This doesn’t have to be a fancy affair, just offer a piece of cake, some small hors d’oeuvres and coffee or soft drinks as refreshments and take this opportunity to introduce potential clients to your business and show existing customers what’s new. Consider holding it over a weekend when most people are not working and include Friday afternoon so you can pick up businesspeople who can come by while “on the clock.”
   Promotion is everything for an event like this, so start getting the word out at least a month in advance. Send a flyer with every order, do a mailing (direct, e-mail or, better yet, both) to your customer list plus anyone you can think of who might be a potential customer, even if they buy from somewhere else. Deliver handbills door to door, put up posters in the windows of neighboring shops—anything to spread the word. Word can travel fast. You may not get a flyer to the person responsible for buying awards but you will likely hit people whose children are on the league and if they see something they like in your shop, they will pass the word on.

Higher-end trophies, such as this sports trophy from Classic Medallics, Inc., Mount Vernon, NY, will appeal to some buyers. Unique awards will draw attention and help make sales. Photo courtesy of Classic Medallics, Inc.

   8. Seek out customers. Offer to actually go out and meet with sports management groups such as soccer or baseball leagues to show them what you can offer in the way of awards, certificates, participation trophies, etc. If you don’t already know who the league leaders are, just watch for the “sign-up” posters and either call the number or stop by one of the sign-up locations. A short discussion with the adults signing up the kids can glean a wealth of information so you can find out who is in charge of buying awards. Listen closely to the horror stories about past award orders—most leagues have some story about late delivery, using the wrong color, the misspelled team name, etc.
   9. Use an added-value strategy. Always have some “added value” you can use to enhance your customer’s order. For example, if a customer wants a 2" riser on the trophies, offer an additional inch at no extra charge. Some businesses offer free engraving or a 2" disk for the awards customized with the league logo (these can be engraved or sublimated). Added-value items are extras that don’t really cost you much and yet make you stand out in the crowd of award dealers.
   10. Look ahead. Always try to secure next year’s order at the same time you write this year’s order. This idea may seem a bit strange, but it comes to me from Stephen Capper, owner of a very successful awards business, and it has certainly worked for him. It works like this: When a team, club or league places an order for awards, ask them if they would like to have a guarantee for the same award next year at the same price. Most will be more than happy to secure a locked-in price and not have to go through the hassle of finding an award again next year that they like and can afford. When they say “yes,” have them sign an “Order of Intent” for next year. Now this isn’t binding in court or anything like that, it just indicates that they have selected an award and are promised a set price. They can make limited changes, such as the quantity, as needed. It’s convenient for the customer because it takes care of one thing on their list of things to do next year. More importantly, it causes them to say, “Oh, we’ve already placed our order for next year” to any other award dealer who tries to muscle in on your account.
   11. Use promotional products. Items such as pens, key chains and other promotional products are a great way to help team or league leaders remember who you are and they easily provide your contact information. You can have these made in large quantities or make them yourself as you need them. I’ve never found promotional products to work well enough by themselves, but when coupled with a personal visit or handshake, they can be a terrific tool for closing the deal.

A good way to impress customers is to keep your showroom neat, clean and tidy. Photo courtesy of Tri-State Trophies, Evansville, IN.

A Few More Marketing Tips
   Keep in mind that you won’t win every sale, so don’t be discouraged if you come up empty handed on your first or second try. There are many reasons why people buy awards from one dealer or another. Listen to what they say and try to discern why you didn’t win the deal. Was it because of something you did, said or didn’t do or was it because you never had a chance in the first place? An old adage is that “people buy from people” and it is true. If your prospective customer has been buying awards from one dealer for years and has always been happy with the products and the service, you will be hard pressed to win the account. I dare say from experience, however, that will be rare.
   Another piece of good advice is, don’t give away the merchandise. One of the big falsehoods of all time is that the lowest price gets the order. Although this may be true with some award buyers, most people are not so simple minded, even those who claim that “price is everything.”
   First, there is usually a little more money available than they will admit to and their own children are probably playing in the league they represent, so chances are they want something nice. Therefore, find a fair price and stick close to it. Use things like “added value” (mentioned earlier) to enhance your sale, not price. There is no reason to bid on these jobs if you aren’t going to make a fair profit. The team or league will want you to be there next year and they will demand quality products and quality service—those cost money. Sell your reputation for quality products and service as well as your product. Don’t give away the farm just to get an order. Whatever you have heard about losing money this time and making up for it in additional business or in the next year is simply not true—it never works that way. If you lose money this year, you will always lose money with that customer. Let your competitor lose money instead.

This sublimatable pennant from Conde Systems, Inc. makes a unique graduation gift.

   Times are tight. The economy has changed the playing field for almost everyone. Parents don’t have the expendable income they used to and prices have gone up for everything while income has stayed the same or even gone down. It’s no different with them than you. We are all in this economic speed bump together.
   The amazing thing to me is that many sports teams believe we dealers have been making so much money on their orders that we can hold our prices and service at the same standard and actually reduce prices even more! Of course, for most of us, that isn’t true and part of selling our products is educating the customer about the ways dealers can reduce prices: They can offer inferior quality products such as a thin wall trophy column vs. a thick wall column, by changing the base from a high end to a lower quality version or by using plastic rods rather than metal ones. Cutting these corners may be okay, and even common practice among some dealers, but they become good reasons to justify your price, and selling point. I believe that when money is tight, people don’t want cheap products for cheap sake. They want quality at a price they can afford and most are willing to tighten the belt just a little more if they understand the difference between two products that may look alike on the outside but are totally different on the inside. Your job, if you really want to make the sale, is to help them to understand the difference and why your product is a better buy.
This maple plaque is part of B.F. Plastics, Inc.’s (North Lawrence, OH) BF Woods line of laser engravable wood.

   Oh, one other word of advice: Never, never, never run down the competition by name. Use phrases like “other dealers” or “other trophies” when comparing the quality of products. Never use your competitor’s name, even if the customer does. Your job is not to run someone else down but to build yourself up, and people are smart enough to recognize the difference. When you run down someone else, it only makes you appear petty and, very often, it will cost you the sale.
   Money is tight, the number of customers is smaller than it used to be and there are always dealers who are hungry for the sale no matter what it takes—even losing money. Helping your customer know that a fair profit insures that you will be there for them next year is as good a selling point as any I know of and if you don’t make a little money, you can’t survive.
   Well, the season is upon us. Get out there and go after those jobs you want. Be proactive and take some marketing steps as soon as possible to make your business stand out in the crowd. Good luck!




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