A defined sense of direction will generate more leads and add sales.

Dutch Conner sent this semi-humorous postcard to his customers and had five calls within hours of when the piece was delivered. (Photo credit: Adams Hudson, Hudson, Ink.)

"To put it bluntly, I was at the end of my rope.”

With credit cards maxed out and a business flowing red ink, things looked dire forDutch Connerof Tucson, Ariz.-based Code Blue Plumbing.

“I knew I was a good plumber,” Conner added, “but economic realities were killing that dream right before my eyes. As a small shop, it’s hard to juggle all of the parts. I was stressed out most of the time. I felt if I could get the phone to ring more, many of my problems would go away.”

During a late-night Web search, Conner zeroed in on marketing ideas to help his new business grow. “I couldn’t afford an ad agency, so I had to do the research myself. Soon I became obsessed with two things,” he stated.

Those two things may seem obvious to the casual reader, but it’s the implementation (or lack thereof) that separates fortune from failure.

“All I could think about was lead generation and customer retention,” Conner said. “I want to get the new customers in and keep them forever. This was a huge eye-opener to me.”

Thankfully, things changed.

The Path To Quick Profits Was Short

Here’s a brief version of Conner’s action plan. This plan of attack can help any plumber, anywhere in the country, so take notes on how his lesson applies to you.

  • Direct-response marketing. Instead of the poor marketing methods most plumbers (including Conner) had been trying, Conner was coached to make the switch to direct-response methods. “We chose a three-pronged attack with email, direct mail and the community newspaper,” he explained.

    Why the newspaper? Most contractors overlook small newspapers, but they generate an incredible bang for the buck.

  • Customer retention newsletter. Conner needed to “circle the wagons” so no current customers would leave. That meant a turn-key newsletter with real informational value and only slight pushes through psychological sales triggers. These were scheduled to touch customers four times a year. This gave Conner some direct-response tools that said, “Call me now,” while working with retention tools that said, “Call me later.” It was a perfect combo.

  • A reworked offline and online Yellow Pages ad. When asked how well his Yellow Pages ad did for him, Conner responded, “I have to be honest - it stunk.” He was tired of the Yellow Pages rep “hijacking” his ad. After a critique that came back with many corrections, the ad was redone and shifted toward direct response: smaller, listed benefits and a clear call to action for callers.

  • Did any of this work?

    “We sent a semi-humorous postcard showing a bald man with the headline, `Sure. I need your free plumbing inspection like I need a free comb,’” Conner said. “Within hours of the customers receiving the postcard, we received five calls. I couldn’t believe it.”

    Conner then ran two direct-response newspaper ads for two weeks each and received more calls and more sales. The new Yellow Pages directory featured Conner’s completely reworked ad.

    “I was blown away by the leads,” he stated. “Within days I had 34 qualified leads and booked 22 of those. I closed 100 percent of them for $10,991 in generated revenue. The Yellow Pages ad alone paid for all of the marketing and generated a nice profit. To say that I was happy would be an understatement. I went from zero cash flow one month to $11,546 in profit the next month.”

    That was only the beginning.

    Customer Retention Obsession

    “I believe in customer retention,” Conner said. “However, most plumbers just take their chances. I didn’t want to do that. When my first newsletter went out, I didn’t expect much. Yet my customers must have been hungry. Within days of sending the newsletter, I got 22 leads and pulled in another $5,000 in sales.”

    This effort paid for Code Blue Plumbing’s newsletters for a year. Conner kept the marketing plan going and things got even better. In just a few months, the company generated nearly $110,000 in revenue, which Conner attributes to his new marketing efforts. 

    “I can now afford to add staff,” he noted. “I went from less than 200 customers to more than 1,200. I had to hire three techs and a dedicated customer service rep just to keep up with the leads, appointments and sales. I went from ‘the end of my rope’ to hiring new employees. I can’t believe where I’m at now.”

    Conner’s next step is to start a maintenance agreement program. “Most plumbers would say a maintenance agreement won’t work for plumbing, but then again, most plumbers think marketing won’t help them grow and keep customers,” he said.

    The best part is you can do exactly what Conner has done. Just break it down.

    1. Decide to act.Too many contractors spend too much time thinking and most never actually act. “This was a big hurdle for me,” Conner admitted. “Get a clear vision of where you want to go, find someone who has done it and copy what they did.”

    2. Check your options.“Really, the options are to do it yourself or hire somebody to do it for you,” Conner stated. “If you do a Google search for the normal keywords, you’ll come up with a good selection.”

    3. Go for it.“Get a plan,” Conner added. “Pick a sales goal and a lead goal, and apply the marketing dollars to reach it.”

    And now?

    “I plan to stay with my marketing program and let it do the work while I concentrate on plumbing,” Conner said.

    Sounds like a good plan.