May 15, 2007

How to Grow a Business

By Paul Bieber

It’s easy…you plant a seed, water it, and as my wife says, “Call Paul, as he is the best fertilizer spreader around.”

Or, read the rest of this blog and you’ll learn how to grow your business yourself.

It is more important for long-term growth of any business to increase profits, not just sales. Increasing sales and controlling the increase in expenses will lead you down the profit path.

There are two ways to grow sales. One, increase your customer base, and two, sell more to your current customers. Today we will discuss increasing your customer base within your current geographic service area.

The single best source of new customers is a positive referral from current customers. With every job you do, leave a simple questionnaire for the customer asking:

1.Was our work finished correctly?

2.Was our staff polite?

3.Did our staff clean the work area to your satisfaction?

4.If you answered yes to the above questions, can we give you an estimate on other work?

5.May we list you among our references?

6.Is there someone you would like us to contact to prepare an estimate?

That’s it. If questions 1, 2 and 3 are yes, you will get good answers on 4, 5, and 6. If they are not yes, you should personally get on the phone and discuss what the customer sees as shortcomings. Listen and don’t try to defend your company. Even if your are right, if the customer doesn’t see it, you are wrong. Learn from this. Teach your staff what they have to do to get a ‘yes’ from each customer.

A glass shop customer doesn’t care if the setting block is the wrong size. That is up to your professional quality standards to handle. They only know if the job looks right, if they were treated respectfully, and if the work area is clean.

Follow up in three months and again in six months, asking if you can give an estimate on any other work. You will pick up additional business.

Some people believe in new customer specials. Banks and car dealers love this type of sales incentive. Personally, I feel this type of special upsets current customers who hear or see your promotion.

Another way to increase market penetration is a public relations campaign. Have you done a newsworthy job? Do you have good pictures? Send them to your local paper. An editorial picture is worth a hundred times more than a paid ad. Go to a local school, look around for any glass work needed, and then offer to do it for free. Do the same thing with a girls or boys club, a church or synagogue or a local museum. Most organizations have a newsletter, just ask them to include a mention about your work. Send your news about your working to the paper. When you’ve done work at a church, send this to the religion editor and the business editor. Plan a spring clean-up of the glass work at your town hall. Fixing a few windows or replacing a bathroom mirror is worth its weight in gold when it is posted on a town website.

Sponsor a local high school shop class to visit your store and have each student cut and seam a small mirror. Have the local community college bring their car repair or body shop classes to watch you put in a windshield.

Give that wrong size piece of tempered in the back of your shop to the physics class and explain about the break pattern. The teacher can talk about potential energy, and then break the glass. Do the same thing with a piece of lami, and you are now a professor of glass. Be sure to have someone take a picture, and send this one to the PTA for their newsletter.

Donate a case of glass cleaner, worth about $25, to the Boy Scouts for a clean up they’re doing. They are always doing one some place or another. Again, the picture of you handing the case over is worth a thousand words.

When an organization comes in your store asking for a donation, and you feel it is a good cause, donate a gift certificate to your store rather than cash. Give a couple of your tee shirts with your name on it. Cash is easily forgotten and only the person with the largest donation gets the round of applause.

If you want to go the paid advertising route, spend the money required to create a sharp ad. A poorly designed ad sends the message that you don’t care about details. Repetition is more important than size. A smaller ad every week will gain better results than a large ad done just once. (By the way, the same is true in US Glass Magazine–repetition trumps the big ad)

Think of your trucks as your best advertisement. Go to a truck painting firm and have them create your trucks as mobile billboards. Show your name, phone number and a list of the types of work you do. People are great billboards too! Give your employees a good tee-shirt or golf-type shirt to wear at the job as part of their job requirements. A good quality, printed tee shirt will run under ten dollars. Give them to your customers when you complete a job and they will become your human billboards.

Make sure all of your communications look professional…business cards, estimate forms, invoices, statements, advertising, trucks…all need to carry a color and wording theme that is consistent. This is more important than advertising in the TV section of the paper.

You can’t compete with the large chains on advertising budget. I’ve found the best advertising for a glass shop is the Yellow Pages. Don’t be the biggest ad, but be the one that shows professionalism. Be in every book that covers your target market. Be in the glass heading, the window one; there is usually one on shower doors, and storm windows. See if there is a separate one for mirrors and one for showcases. A great looking one-color ad is more valuable than a poorly designed multi-color ad. Spend with a good graphic designer or ad agency and save by sticking to the one color ad.

We’ll have more on gaining new customers next week.

By the way, my two teams, the Mets and the Red Sox are in first place in their divisions. It doesn’t get much better than this.