Robert Dudley, for example, doesn’t think a company logo has to be all that catchy. Or that trucks have to win national recognition for design. But he isn’t so modest explaining how an aggressive marketing plan he started in 1995 makes customers associate radiant and snowmelt systems with his family’s business, Harris-Dudley Co., Salt Lake City, Utah.
“Building a new home — let alone choosing a radiant or snowmelt system — is a long-term decision,” adds Dudley, who along with brother Michael Dudley is the fourth generation to run Harris-Dudley Co. Their father, John R. Dudley, is still at the helm as president. “The people you hear from today are people who read a newspaper article about you a year ago and clipped it out. Too many contractors will get discouraged since they don’t typically get an immediate payoff from marketing. So they figure it’s best to cut their losses — never realizing that they’re cutting any possibility of gains, too.”
Instead, the former marketing major insists on sticking to a well-thought out plan that integrates advertising, marketing and public relations into a seamless game plan.
The results? Before Dudley implemented his plan four years ago, Harris-Dudley had done only two radiant jobs. Last year alone, the company installed 100,000 feet of PEX, and completed 22 projects ranging from retrofits to individual new homes with $60,000 heating and snowmelt projects.
“It’s a campaign,” Dudley explains. “It’s not a single newspaper article or a single home show appearance or a single Yellow Pages ad. The overall mystery about marketing is that it’s nebulous — you can’t necessarily tie a result directly to one action. But you’ll never get results without sticking to a plan.”
Admittedly, Dudley started out with a big advantage — his great-grandfather founded the company in 1931. But as Dudley sees it, 60-plus years of service was just the beginning. He wasn’t about to leave the company’s continued success to the chance that somebody might have seen one of his trucks a time or two. Dudley also knew his plumbing and traditional hydronics company needed a boost when he set out three years ago to expand into the radiant and snowmelt market.
The company’s success is all the more exemplary considering the relatively small size of a company that employs 11 and has revenues of $1 million. What’s more, Dudley keeps track of inquiries and knows what’s working. “I won’t pretend to have an awesome set of data,” he adds. “But we will pick a month, track inquires and get a handle on it that way.”
Finally, as elaborate as Dudley’s plan is, it is not as expensive as you may think. “We get co-op funds from boiler and tubing manufacturers, plus even the gas company,” he adds. “Our ads do not cost a lot.”
Let’s take a look at the plan Dudley put into place:
LogoRobert’s father designed the company logo back in 1960. In 1995, however, Robert made his dad’s handiwork the focal point of almost all the advertising and promotional efforts of the company. The logo appears prominently on the company’s trucks, brochures, ads, business cards, letterhead, home show displays and jobsite signs. And every effort is made to have the logo “sneak” into the photos published in newspaper articles.
“You don’t have to have the prettiest logo, but the logo does have to tie everything together,” Dudley advises. “When you get right down to it, what you want from marketing is exposure. Exposure breeds familiarity.”
In other words, maybe a potential customer sees the logo on a newspaper ad. Later they spy it on a truck and a jobsite sign. All of a sudden, Harris-Dudley is an overnight success.
Even free tee shirts featuring the logo have produced jobs. While a former customer wearing the shirt filled up her car with gas, a man at the next pump saw the shirt and asked about radiant heat. The man contacted Harris-Dudley, which started the job three months later.
Public RelationsThe company places ads in its local newspapers, the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune. Each paper has a Saturday supplement entitled, “At Home in Utah,” which features articles focused on new home construction and remodeling ideas. Circulation for this section is 208,800.
With the purchase of a display ad — not necessarily even a full-page ad — the paper offers its advertisers a chance to write an “advertorial.” “Small newspapers need well-written articles about radiant heating just as much as I want to see them published,” Dudley says.
The articles give Harris-Dudley an opportunity to explain in detail the benefits of snowmelt and radiant. “Many people don’t even know there is such a thing as snowmelt,” Dudley says. The articles also give more credibility than an ad — after all, if it’s printed in the newspaper, it must be true!
“The heating system is one of those forgotten items that many people take for granted,” says one article headlined, “Hot-Water Heating Offers Comfort, Economy To Today’s Homeowner.” “The new homeowner anticipates that any heating system will provide adequate heat during the cold days in January.
“New homeowners are beginning to realize that adequate is no longer good enough. Consumers want a system that will provide a high level of comfort with low operating costs.
“Radiant heating systems do both, says Bob Dudley of Harris-Dudley Plumbing and Heating Co.”
We couldn’t have written Dudley’s article better ourselves. The one article we reviewed goes on to extol the virtues of radiant, snowmelt and even indirect water heaters. Dudley even throws in a quote from his wholesaler. All in all, the article gives the impression a reporter put it together — when in fact, Dudley wrote it all.
The articles have been one of the company’s best marketing tools, generating 50 percent of jobs to homeowners searching for radiant heat. One $375 ad produced more than $100,000 worth of sales over the past three years.
Would-be customers tend to hold on to this information. “We’ve had several inquires from articles that were more than a year old,” Dudley says.
The legitimacy of a published article also has the power to spread the message. “One customer had us install his radiant and snowmelt system in his new home. His general contractor has subsequently used us for three snowmelts and two other radiant jobs.”
Yellow PagesCurrently, the company advertises in two communities. The Salt Lake Valley edition has a distribution of almost 600,000. The heating section includes 17 pages of ads and listings of all the other competition Harris-Dudley is up against.
It’s easy to see, however, how they determined to separate themselves from the pack. The Harris-Dudley ad stands out by touting “Radiant Floor Heating” — with the headline in a quarter-inch high red banner with reverse white lettering.
“Radiant is the better buzzword than hydronics,” Dudley adds. It’s a good choice. Consider this: Only about 18 companies list boilers or boiler repair, five list snowmelt and 13 feature radiant heating. But of these 13, only one other competitor lists radiant as the headline for its ad. The rest bury radiant and snowmelt in the body of the copy where it could be easily missed.
Dudley figures that the “Radiant Floor Heating” ad pulls up to 12 inquiries per month.
The company also places an ad in the Park City Yellow Pages, which has a distribution of slightly more than 46,000. The heating section includes six pages of ads and listings. Only eight promote hydronics. Of these eight, only two others besides Harris-Dudley list snowmelt, six others include radiant or hydronic heat. The company currently only places a low-key alphabetic listing in this Yellow Pages. But Dudley may go up to a display ad. While the area is about 30 miles away from the company’s base, the area’s huge homes with radiant heat and gigantic driveway snowmelt systems offer a great opportunity for more future growth.
Information PacketsInformation packets are sent to all prospects who contact the company. The initial packet contains a letter of introduction, company brochures, as well as sales literature from manufacturers.
Later on, when bids are presented, they are placed in a folder along with a “quality” letter and a “helpful hints” letter.
“The quality letter is our last chance to convince the customer why our company and materials are superior,” Dudley explains.
The letter reminds customers that “various bids that appear to be equal upon initial inspection can be very different. To help you in this process we would like to point out the following features of our system that may or may not be included in your other bids, some of which can make or break your system.”
The letter goes on to reiterate the five-year “homeowner protection plan” offered by Harris-Dudley’s boiler maker of choice, Weil-McLain. Also included are Wirsbo’s 30-year guarantee on its PEX tubing. Finally, the letter reminds homeowners of the high degree of skill required of the work — a level that Harris-Dudley has earned through classroom training and trade association membership.
“There’s no greater compliment than being told we were chosen for the job even though we weren’t the cheapest,” Dudley says. Meanwhile, the helpful hints letter gives customers information designed to make the job run smoothly and avoid costly mistakes. It also doubles as a helpful hints reminder to general contractors who may be reluctant to go with radiant or snowmelt.
For example, the letter includes some points that are obvious — that the electrician must provide Harris-Dudley with a 110 volt power in the boiler room. And also some less so obvious — the carpet and pad should not exceed an insulation value of R-3.
“Once you can demonstrate to the builder that radiant isn’t disruptive and that there are benefits, they’ll hire you for other jobs,” Dudley says.
Home ShowHome show appearances are also a component of the company’s marketing strategy. But not for the reasons you might think. To be sure, the one home show appearance the company makes is tremendous for pure exposure — accounting for up to 30 percent of the inquires Harris-Dudley receives. However, the booth has the added benefit of helping staff gain confidence being in front of an audience and talking up the benefits of radiant and snowmelt.
Wirsbo provides the company with its backdrop. But Harris-Dudley takes it from there. A self-made manifold display incorporates a 1-1/2 inch concrete overpour, tubing and, of course, a manifold. The company’s most complicated display is underfoot. A working radiant floor includes two sheets of plywood covered with four different materials:
- Wood Laminate
Underneath is 1/2-inch Wirsbo PEX supplied with water heated with an electric 5-gallon water heater, Taco pump, a floor sensor and a setpoint control.
“Most people take off their shoes to feel the warmth — and realize how cold their concrete basements are,” Dudley adds.
The booth also includes a videotape showing radiant and snowmelt construction projects. The company first started using video to record the tubing layout before the overpour. However, it became apparent that prospective customers enjoyed watching the construction aspects of the radiant floor and seeing for themselves how snow melts off a driveway. Dudley is currently mulling over the possibility of including a videotape along with every proposal.
Over all, the home show results are mixed. The one show brings in an odd mix of customers, and has even included a request to heat an iguana cage. (Sorry, no sale.) After considering the responses, cost of the booth and the cost of manning the booth, Dudley says it may not be the greatest value for the marketing dollar. But it is still a valuable part of the overall plan.
BrochuresThe company’s brochures are designed and written to answer basic questions and concerns customers have regarding radiant and snowmelt systems. Dudley printed separate tri-fold brochures for radiant and snowmelt, and includes a bit of company history on both.
“Just having our own brochures gives us the opportunity to let our customers know that we are professionals,” Dudley adds
The brochure for snowmelt, for example, states: “Whether you have a long, steep, curving driveway or a pad in front of the garage, a snowmelt system can make your driveway the best part of a snowy day instead of the worst.”
The copy goes on to explain the benefits of snowmelt in terms of safety (“Reduce liability and chance of lawsuit by eliminating slippery ice and snow.”); reduced maintenance (“Carpets are cleaner and last longer because snow and salt are not racked over them.”); and health (“Reduce the chances of back injuries, muscle strain or heart attack induced by shoveling snow.”).
The next run may be printed in full-color.