There are notable exceptions within our industry when it comes to incorporating marketing techniques. Some well-known fabricators do it really well. Invariably, the top 20 percent of firms who account for 80 percent of our industry's total volume, manage it. The very best among us did not first get big and then, one day, embrace modern marketing concepts. It was marketing – the brand building – that grew their value and created the platform for raw growth. As with most challenges, it took faith to make those early promotional plans and cut those early marketing checks. And it will take that same faith on everyone's part to really get the job done. Fortunately, there are now mentors within the industry whose actions and success can be mirrored.
Earlier in the year, this magazine published its findings from an exclusive marketing survey taken of fabricators. Some of the results were startling to confront. Shops were asked to describe the role that marketing plays within their business. Just 31 percent of responding fabricators said that marketing was an important priority that received their time and budget dollars. That means that almost 70 percent of the industry felt that marketing was either unnecessary to their continued success or that marketing is neither a current priority nor a well-understood concept. Were I a competing fabricator, I would be devilishly pleased to hear such news knowing that I could take clear advantage of such limited thinking.
Further, the same study revealed that fabricators rarely (47 percent) or just occasionally (42 percent) received assistance from manufacturers and distributors when it came to developing new business. Together, 89 percent of fabricators – nearly 9 out of 10 – felt let down by the level of support gotten from your "upstream" partners. That sound you hear is the nearly unanimous gasp of "self-reliance" striking fabricators who once felt they had a hand to hold.
If those numbers weren't motivating enough, the last finding of the survey – the one that screams "APPLY MARKETING EFFORT HERE!" – is the fact that only 23 percent of customers are believed to be brand-loyal! What does that mean exactly? Customers know brand names but they are more sensitized to, and influenced by, price, quality and service, regardless of brand. Price, quality and service are the areas that you most closely control! There is no more persuasive way to demonstrate that it is the fabricator, after all of these years, who ultimately shapes the sale. Your hard-earned dollars have a definite place in marketing. Branding your business as a differentiated provider is a very relevant and very rewarding process.
Perhaps you're a bit more convinced of the role that marketing need take in order to enhance your chances of success in such a dynamic market but you're still not sure where to start or how to start. What to do? Consider that you may need a few resources to get an appropriate marketing program off the ground. First, you must always count on yourself. If you need it, get educated. Start with a modern college text for a basic marketing course – they're not cheap but they are great for building true understanding. Better yet, enroll in the actual course! Don't just read the latest business best-seller.
Next, try reaching out to your own support network (manufacturers, distributors, trade organizations, bankers, accountants, Chambers of Commerce, etc.) and tell them of your desire to build a marketing plan. Ask if they can help with either advice or support dollars. Maybe they can loan you an expert for a few hours. Large banks have great marketing teams. Ask. Loan officers love owners who want to learn and grow! Finally, watch your colleagues (both near and far) and the industry itself. What are the messages that seem to work best? Mirror the winners. Until you find your own marketing groove, it's okay to borrow and interpret good ideas.
Given the challenge and sacrifice found in creating and then maintaining an efficient and profitable business, wouldn't it be terrible to waste such hard work simply because we didn't find a way to tell the right people all about it? Often, the very difference between a surviving business and a thriving business is marketing. Learn to market. Learn to thrive.
About the author: Chris Traynor, SPHR, is the Director and Knowledge Scout for Whip-Smart Management Consulting LLC, of Wayne , New Jersey . He has 25 years of top-level experience in the solid surface industry as a former owner of the NY Metro area Corian distributor and as a specialized consultant to fabricators. More thoughts on marketing and management, as well as Whip-Smart's coordinates, can be accessed on the Web at www.whip-smart.com.