Promoting Business Can Take Many Different Forms

From company name to website and other networking options, plumbers need to devote some time to marketing

Promoting Business Can Take Many Different Forms

Hugh McLaughlin, owner of 88 Drain in Tucson, Arizona, uses his marketing background to promote his business to make sure customers know who he is and what he does. He has grown his company into a well-recognized and well-respected brand in Arizona. (Photography by Mark Henle)

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Inspiration sometimes comes from the most unlikely places. Plumbing contractor Hugh McLaughlin was waiting in line at the DMV when he struck up a conversation with one of his customers. His customer suggested incorporating the words “clog” or “drain” in the company’s phone number. McLaughlin immediately recognized the wisdom of this advice; Quality Drain Service became known as 88 Drain.

“We moved to that number, and that became my sole marketing vehicle,” McLaughlin says.

Now, more than 30 years later, 88 Drain is a well-recognized and well-respected brand in Tucson, Arizona. By moving to a single-word company name, he created a catchy and memorable brand for his plumbing company.

McLaughlin studied marketing and business in college and continues to seek out the best ways to generate leads in a crowded and competitive Arizona market. Knowing where to spend money on marketing can be complicated.

“Marketing, unfortunately, is one of the biggest places people misappropriate their money,” he says.

Contractors will get excited about a marketing campaign, but when it doesn’t yield the results they expect, their excitement turns to disappointment and regret. Are they just throwing money away? Succeeding in marketing begins with creating a strong brand, McLaughlin says. Startups should develop a straightforward name, simple jingle and easily recognizable logo.

“Spending the money on branding and logo design is well worth it, but then you need to stick with it,” McLaughlin says. “You can’t change every six months.”

CUSTOMER SERVICE

One of the most important forms of marketing is offering excellent customer service.

“What are you doing that makes your company stand above the others?” McLaughlin asks. “What will make it a better customer experience?”

He tells his technicians to focus on the little things that don’t cost a lot of money, like rolling up a hose after using it, cleaning up after themselves and wearing booties inside the house. “Anybody can come and do plumbing at their house. You want your service to be a little bit better than ‘They were OK,’” he says.

88 Drain asks customers to leave online reviews to share their experiences. Technicians hand out cards asking customers to post a review on the 88 Drain website. About one in 20 take the time to write a review.

“I reward my guys who get positive reviews,” McLaughlin says. But what about negative reviews? McLaughlin views them as an opportunity to retrain his staff. It’s also an opportunity to respond to the customer in a positive way. Reviews are valuable to people looking for plumbers in the area, but reviews also serve another purpose.

“When someone gives you a review on your website, it helps you with position placement in how you rank on Google,” McLaughlin says. Reviews are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to building an online presence.

IMPROVING INTERNET PRESENCE

Search engine optimization is another critical piece that helps generate plumbing leads.

“Companies call and say they’ll get you at the top of the list on Google,” McLaughlin says. These companies might achieve that ranking for three to four seconds at 2 a.m. when no one is on the internet, but not 24/7. Instead of falling victim to an SEO scam, look for a legitimate SEO company. Many are associated with reliable website designers using ethical techniques to improve a website’s ranking.

When developing a website, the landing page should quickly answer the questions customers ask first: Are you open? What do you charge? What’s your service area? What’s your phone number?

“These should be right up front,” McLaughlin says. “The inside pages should include more than just a couple of photos and a few paragraphs. Find seven to 10 keywords for plumbing and use them in your content, but you can’t just blast the keywords all over, you have to be responsible with it.”

Computer bots indexing the web look for keywords that link up to the industry, so keywords should be optimized in prime locations like photo captions, headings and alt tags.

Additionally, McLaughlin recommends changing content on a website monthly or quarterly. Rotate photos, change the FAQs page or move things around. When a website is constantly evolving and fresh, it ranks higher in online searches, he says.

“If you have the skill set, go homemade. Otherwise, go with a website designer,” he says. Plumbing contractors can save money by learning how to manage and monitor their websites themselves. By reviewing website analytics, they can track how visitors get to a site, what they view, how long they stay and other metrics.

OTHER NETWORKING OPPORTUNITIES

A website that is fast, mobile responsive and easy to navigate helps connect plumbers with the people who need their service. However, connecting with people personally — “eyeball to eyeball,” as McLaughlin puts it — should not be overlooked. He suggests looking for networking opportunities in the community, such as breakfast clubs and business organizations.

“There are always seasoned business people willing to mentor the new members and guide them away from the pitfalls,” he says. Networking with other plumbers and local contractors can generate leads and help identify effective marketing strategies.

“The biggest thing is talking to people in the industry and asking, ‘What is working?’” McLaughlin says.

In a service industry like commercial plumbing, it makes sense to go door to door to property management companies, apartment complexes, restaurants and other businesses. Plumbers should introduce themselves to the managers and leave behind a business card and single-page handout describing their business. They should dress as if they’re going to a job interview because essentially they are. They might offer their first service free, just to get a foot in the door.

THINK OF YOURSELF

While branding and marketing may seem like a complex set of strategies, McLaughlin says much of it is instinctive.

“Review how you respond to marketing yourself,” he says. “Do you recognize it or tune it out?”

By analyzing their own response to marketing messages, plumbing contractors can identify ways to get more than a brief glance from prospective customers.



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