Sitting around and waiting for customers to call in orders is so 2008 – and early 2008 at that.
Now businesses, especially ones that support other businesses, must work harder for each sale. And that means resorting to more aggressive means such as cold calling and direct marketing.
About 1,000 business people that provide a product or service to retailers gathered at the Retail Merchant’s Expo on Tuesday and almost unanimously said that their jobs are harder, but sales are still getting made.
And the mood at the annual event was upbeat.
BizSense was on the scene at the Convention Center and talked to several company representatives.
Here’s what several pitchmen had to say about marketing in a recession.
Darick Lane, ad consultant and owner of N Traffic Advertising. Lane is a former employee of Circuit City. As senior product manger, he helped launch the firedog tech support brand. In January, he launched his own advertising company that displays ads on two trucks driven around Richmond.
What have you learned during your first year in business?
“In today’s business, it’s more than just talk. You have to deliver on that promise. You have to be able to at least paint a picture of the opportunity to improve growth, marketing and revenue. If you don’t do that, you don’t stand a chance, because businesses are looking for things to cut out of their budget. When I come to ask for money, it’s a challenge. If you have a product and you believe in that product, you can go to another business and make a valid pitch [and hope] they will give you a shot.”
Kyle Dillaman, account executive for Holiday Signs which builds and installs custom signs. You’ve seen their work at Winding Brook and Movieland.
How have you changed your approach to getting customers in the past year?
“Instead of scaling back our marketing in hard times, we actually increased it through using a new website, direct mailing, email blasts and search engine optimization.”
What trends have you seen over the past year?
“We’ve taken down more signs this year than we did last year. A lot of retail folks are hurting, but we are doing better.”
Jeff Krupnick, executive vice president for Broker Merchant Services a company that serves as a one-stop broker for business needs such as financial services, retirement plans, and gift cards.
How has the economy changed the way you do business?
“It’s a Catch-22. Business is rough, but everyone is paying on credit cards. You’ve got business dropping off, so merchants need to save more money. It’s a win-win theory for us. We can go into the merchant’s business and save them a little percentage on their money and overall keep them floating through this economy.”
Robert George, vice president of sales for VATEX promotional products, which produces custom promotional products such as reusable bags, T-shirts, key chains and anything else you can put a logo on.
How is business?
“My vertical market is hospitals and healthcare. While they are not recession-proof, they are a little more recession-resistant than some other industries, so we haven’t been as affected as others have. In 2009, we certainly treaded water, but we have done okay.”
What have you changed in the past year?
“A lot more Constant Contact email marketing. We hadn’t done that before, and it’s tended to do well for us. We go to more trade shows. In the past, I would limit myself to certain trade shows, whereas something like this show I come to for more of a PR effect.”
What are you hearing from customers?
“It’s one of two things: Its either they are not spending at all, or, if there is money to spend, it was ‘x’ last year, it’s now ‘y’, and ‘y’ is a lesser dollar amount. It’s almost a case of working harder to make less, but that beats working the same and going out of business.”
Bill Sroka, co-owner of FastSigns, which produces signs and other graphics displays, including vehicle wraps.
How is business?
“This past month was the best month we’ve had year to year since back in October. We had a big banner sale, but it’s driven I think by the fact that psychology is changing that the world isn’t going to end. We also do a lot of business with customers that are not that affected, such as hospitals and government. We were affected to some extent with real estate, and that has obviously been hurting.”
How have you managed to keep above water?
“Our business is very diversified. There are some sign businesses that just specialize in one thing, like developments or homebuilders. There have been several sign shops that have been around for a long time that have gone out of business. Every business that starts needs some kind of signage. Of course the vehicle wraps have become a major way to advertise.”
What have you changed in the past year?
“Our sales team has been much more proactive with outreach. We’ve been in business over 20 years. If someone hasn’t found us by now, we can’t depend on them to find us. We’ll find them.”
Heidi Chadwick, marketing director at Cobb Technologies:
What has changed about your approach to finding customers?
“We are out with our sales force doing a lot of cold calling and a lot of follow-ups. That is our biggest marketing effort. Our biggest selling point is the local aspect; we are one of the last independent technology dealers in the state.”
What have you heard from people today at the expo?
“We had several people come who are opening new offices and looking for equipment, so people are actually buying and expanding. A lot of businesses are doing fine; it’s just a matter of connecting with the ones that are in the market right now.”
Kyle White – marketing consultant at Valpak of Central Virginia:
Do you find your clients are being more aggressive in their promotions?
“Our current customer base is investing more in the program and trying to take market share. People are making more aggressive offers. The more aggressive the offer, the better redemption they are going to get.”
Mike Short, business relationship coach and founder of Professionals Referral Organization:
What have you noticed about your clients in the past year?
“What I’ve seen is a willingness of people to step outside the box and do things in a different way than they’ve done, whether it’s be more efficient or marketing themselves in a different manner.”
What is your best piece of advice for business owners?
“Network, meet people, and don’t think ‘what’s in it for me,’ but think about how you can help that person connect with someone that will be beneficial to them. What goes around comes around.”
Al Harris is a BizSense reporter. Please send news tips to [email protected]