Graphics and Uniforms Come Together to Help Company’s Growth

Plumbing firm uses fictional Minnesota icon to build giant brand recognition.

Graphics and Uniforms Come Together to Help Company’s Growth

Paul Bunyan Plumbing & Drains master plumber Tim Hammack holds a pipe wrench as he stands next to one of the company’s vans featuring the signature Paul Bunyan logo and advertising. The company went with the Paul Bunyan theme as a high-impact and memorable marketing program. (Photo courtesy Paul Bunyan Plumbing & Drains)

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When the investors in a drain-cleaning franchise in Minnesota decided to leave the fold and form their own plumbing company, they needed a high-impact and memorable marketing program that could quickly create a strong brand identity.

Enter Paul Bunyan Plumbing & Drains, which completely embraced the beloved Minnesota legend on every level of an integrated marketing plan, from vinyl vehicle wraps, technicians’ uniforms and invoices to direct-mail campaigns, a website, and radio and television commercials.

Established in October 2019 in New Hope, a northwestern suburb of Minneapolis, the company had to quickly make a significant branding statement. Why? It effectively was starting from scratch, given that franchise regulations barred it from telling potential customers it used to be another plumbing company, says Tom Gehle, general manager.

“It definitely handicapped us because we couldn’t say what company we used to be,” says Gehle, who also manages two other companies under the same ownership: Blue Ox Heating & Air Conditioning and Lumberjack Electric. “But we did get to keep all the phone numbers, which helped.”

Did the branding campaign work as quickly as desired? Absolutely, says Gehle, noting that the company earned nearly as much revenue in its first full year — nearly $15 million — as it did the prior year as a franchise.

The firm employs about 55 people and runs 26 plumbing service trucks and six drain-cleaning trucks, all Ford E-350s with box bodies built mostly by Hackney. Its primary focus is residential service and repair work and drain cleaning, he says.

ALL OR NOTHING

Ownership invested around $1 million in the rebranding/marketing efforts. While that’s a significant investment, Gehle says a campaign like this can’t be done half-heartedly, especially under the circumstances. “You have to go all-in,” he says.

“We developed an integrated marketing campaign that uses as many avenues as possible to reach as many people as possible,” he adds. “We decided we had to be well-rounded because some people stream TV shows and don’t watch local television channels and some people don’t listen to local radio, for example.

“That’s where direct mail and vinyl wraps on the trucks come in,” he says.

The vinyl wraps and technician uniforms are the in-the-field linchpins of the branding effort, with the trucks serving as rolling billboards while the uniforms project professionalism. The company pays for the uniforms, which are provided by and laundered by Cintas, he says.

“I believe that uniforms promote professionalism, you dress for success,” Gehle says. “I’m not saying that you’re a bad person if you don’t wear a uniform and you’re not clean-cut. But like the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

NAME WAS A NATURAL

Blue Ox Heating & Air Conditioning had already been established, so the ownership group thought Paul Bunyan was a no-brainer selection for a company name, Gehle explains.

“The goal was to build a strong name — something people could relate to and that represented Minnesota,” he notes. “We wanted to say, ‘Hey, we’re local and we’re here to take care of you when you need us.’”

Furthermore, from a marketing standpoint, well-known and popular fictional characters like Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox allow the companies to tell a story. As such, the company’s website features a casual and whimsical tone that puts people at ease, he adds.

The company’s first direct-mail program tied into the lumberjack theme as naturally as a pipe cap threads onto a pipe stub: roughly 6-inch-tall pine tree seedlings accompanied by a short introductory welcome note.

“We sent out 30,000 seedlings wrapped in Bubble Wrap and mailed in 8-1/2-by-11-inch envelopes,” Gehle explains.

BRANDED TRAINING, TOO

The Paul Bunyan theme even carries over into the company’s technician training program, developed internally. It’s called Building a Legend training, with Legend serving as an acronym for:

Look (technicians need to check to make sure they’re totally prepared for a service call).

Engage (build long-term relationships with customers).

Gather (collect information to make correct diagnosis and develop solutions)

Educate (provide clients with solutions and let them choose what’s right for them).

Nail it (do legendary work that fully meets customers’ needs).

Deliver (provide five-star service to homeowner in every situation).

The program — taught over seven one-hour sessions — gives technicians a template for company expectations in terms of customer service, Gehle says.

Technicians fully embrace the training, Gehle says, pointing out that employees typically respond when they know what companies expect from them.

“They know where we’re coming from and what we expect them to do when they show up at customers’ homes,” he notes. “They know what type of service we want them to deliver on every service call.”

Of course, it’s essential to monitor marketing efforts to see what does and doesn’t work. “Without that, you’re just throwing darts at a board,” he says.

To monitor the effectiveness of its marketing efforts, all the phone numbers the company uses — hundreds in all — are linked to a code number tied to where it appeared, such as a radio spot, a television ad, a direct-mail piece, on a truck and so forth.

When a customer calls in, the code number linked to that particular phone number pops up on the computers manned by customer service representatives. They then cut and paste the phone and code numbers into the company’s Success customer database-management system, he explains.

Management, in turn, then can tell how many phone calls are generated by specific marketing efforts. “We’re constantly using this to evaluate the returns on our marketing investments,” he says.  



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