Breaking Into the 'How-To' Market
Cal's Plumbing produces online videos for homeowners in a bind.
Owner Cal Campbell's online plumbing videos show real-time repairs.
Times are tough out there. Plumbing service businesses are feeling the pinch of cautious consumer confidence. As 2009 dawns, it seems clever and resourceful marketing tactics will be the order of the day: What new campaigns can we pursue? What new avenues can be uncovered? What new customers can I bring to the table?
PM spoke with one plumbing business owner who is ready to tackle the elusive DIY “how-to” market. San Diego-based one-man shop Cal’s Plumbing recently produced a series of online how-to plumbing videos that instruct homeowners on properly performing various repairs around the house.
“A lot of my customers are of the ‘mop-up’ variety,” owner (and star of the videos) Cal Campbell tells PM. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve arrived at a home and found a how-to home improvement book on the floor.” That scene usually is accompanied by a worried wife and a stressed-out (sheepish?) husband.
After encountering so many of these scenarios with homeowners in over their heads, Campbell, who has been in the plumbing industry for more than two decades and a sole proprietor for four years, began to wonder if there was a way to not only help these customers, but reach out to others before things get out of hand.
“I played with this idea for a long time,” he admits. “I knew the how-to market was out there, I just wasn’t sure how I could tackle it on my own.”
The genesis of his online video library took root with the explosion of and accessibility to Internet videos, such as those found on YouTube. With the help of a local production and promotion crew, headed by camera go-to man Wes Somoza of Event Video, Campbell taped seven videos - everyday projects that DIYers would attempt and sometimes fall flat.
“We wanted real-time repair, to show the ‘meat’ of the project,” says Somoza. “So it’s no laboratory setting; there’s no model or illustration demo. It’s Cal under the sink, screwing on pipe and walking viewers through the whole process.”
The videos are available at www.CalsPlumbingOnline.com and are priced from $12.95 (two- to three-minute videos) to $24.95 (eight- to 10-minute videos). They cover repairs from minor toilet re-builds to shower valve cartridge replacements to garbage disposal installations.
“These are all projects and problems that I’ve run into on the job,” Campbell says. In addition to purchasing the video, subscribers to Cal’s Plumbing Web site tutorials also receive e-mailed customer support for their project, a printable step-by-step guide, access to Cal’s weekly updated blog, and valuable resources for tool and material selection.
Extremely wary DIYers can even connect with Campbell live.
“I’ve walked subscribers through projects over the phone,” he states. “It’s all about creating goodwill. I saved them money, and they’ll remember that and call me back for those larger projects.”
Campbell admits that his ultimate goal would be to just sit back, relax and become “the online plumber” (he’s already a staple at online plumbing forums, offering advice to fellow pros and homeowners alike). But he’s also happy that his one-man shop allows him the freedom to pursue in-the-field service as well as online ventures.
“CalsPlumbingOnline.com is a way to multiply myself,” he says. “The potential for this is limitless.”
Campbell has even assisted a customer in France, and he’s inundated daily with requests nationwide for his opinion on new products and tools.
But what do other plumbers think?
“We’ve had feedback from plumbers and it’s been positive. But many have their own opinions.” The concern could be that Cal’s Plumbing is empowering homeowners to dismiss a professional’s help. But Campbell is unconcerned.
“I think of it as another service I’m providing my customer base,” he says. “DIYers are always out there. And with this economy, a lot of people are not going to be calling for minor repairs. This angle still allows me a chance to offer my services and expertise, and keep my company name in front of them.”
Campbell rationalizes that since homeowners are already shopping online and educating themselves, the addition of his tutorial videos can help them make a more informed decision, which in turn makes his job as a plumber much easier.
“Helping DIYers is a way to get your foot in the door,” Campbell advises. “If you’re waiting for the phone to ring, you won’t be in business much longer, so go get some. It’s out there.”