|Advertising & Marketing Your Sawmill Business
The "Do's and Don'ts" of finding new customers.
There are several ways to advertise your wood business and sell your products. Word of mouth is by far the most economical and widely used by many sawmill owners. While not the most reliable, word of mouth advertising typically returns good results and frequently good business. What if you decide word of mouth isn’t enough or is not turning enough new business to meet your business plan or income needs?
The next step is to advertise. Like anything in business, you need to research to understand when, where, and how to advertise, but most importantly who it is you want to reach.
Research: Know who you are trying to reach
Research is the first of the three keys to good advertising. It is easy to spend a great deal of money in advertising and get poor results if you have not researched and targeted your market.
There are basically two approaches:
1. the shotgun method of pointing in a general direction and see what happens
2. target shooting where you narrow your scope and target your products and services to specific individuals.
For example, advertising on radio or television would be a shotgun approach because you reach a large audience. With the target shooting method, you might choose to advertise in a woodworker’s association newsletter or directory in order to reach a specific audience.
To start your research, ask yourself, “Who are my customers?” Categorizing them will also help. Think about things like what did they buy, what services did they require and how did they hear about you. Always ask your customers how they found out about your business. Write it down and keep an accurate list because this will help you identify the best way to reach more people like them. You will also need to determine your limitations so you do not create an interest in something you cannot or do not want to offer.
Unique Selling Point
The second key is creating a Unique Selling Point (USP). To better understand what a USP is, let us look at Wood-Mizer. This website is an exceptional example of a successful USP. By providing successful, inspiring, and quality information to customers, Wood-Mizer builds confidence not only in an excellent product, but in the service they provide their customers to help their business succeed. We all know Wood-Mizer’s customer service is exceptional. They provide quality products, service, value-added opportunities and information. All of these elements combined set them apart. Take a hard look at your business. What makes you unique? Take those attributes and build around them.
Here are a few examples:
• We Buy Logs
• We Saw On-Site
• Kiln Drying Services
• We Grade What We Cut
• Custom Millwork Services
When it comes to a USP, it is important to note that you should not use cheap pricing. Pricing is a crutch and is only reliable until someone else does it cheaper, at which point, you have not sold your customers on what makes you unique, only the fact that you are willing to work for less money than anyone else around, which is a quick way to go out of business.
Your Advertising Message
The third key in developing good advertising is your message. Make your message memorable, simple and quick. Clean graphics, easy to read and creative. This doesn’t mean make your ad shout at people by having it bright neon colors, or lettering everything in Old English letter style. If you do a lot of on-site sawing, have a sign professionally made to advertise your business similar to a realtors sign, place it close to the road. At normal driving speeds, a driver only has 1.5 to 5 seconds to read, comprehend and remember your message. It must be clear and concise. Keep this in mind whether it is magnetic sign on your truck or signage by the road. Also, don’t use a lot of different fonts; it is too confusing to read. Make your company, phone number and what you do the three main items on your sign.
||Finding New Markets
1) Visit neighboring wood-working plants to see how they process wood.
2) Visit local plants that are not forest products oriented to see how they use or could use wood.
3) Look for opportunities to solve people’s problems.
4) On business trips, visit nurseries, industrial supply houses, toy manufacturers, poultry producers, pet stores, architects, and so on to find out who is their supplier of wood and why they deal with that company.
5) Ask sales people who are gluing wood in the local area, especially firms gluing small pieces of wood where the potential for value-added is often very high.
6) See if local companies need wood products for crating or packaging. Ascertain their quality needs for these products.
7) Contact the local small business development center for assistance. Contact the state natural resources people for a directory of wood-using firms in your own state and adjacent states.
8) Ask yourself how your product does (or can in the future) differentiate itself from your competitor’s product.
9) Visit the customer’s facility and learn what they like and don’t like about your product. Invite the customer to visit your facility to become more familiar with your operation.
10) Adopt a quality consciousness throughout your operation and make sure your products reflect this consciousness. Let the customer know of your quality efforts.
|Where to Advertise
When you are ready to put your message to the test, the first place most people think of advertising is the newspaper. Be prepared to spend large sums of money for a small ad in a large subscriber paper. Instead, consider taking out two or three ads in regional or small town papers that are in the area you want to service. Also, look around for specialty publications and newsletters such as farm groups, woodland owner associations, environmental groups and other special interest groups. Even some church bulletins will allow sponsored ads to offset the cost of printing. More ideas might include phone book covers or community benches. You could even offer the city council the lumber in trade for an ad on the bench.
When considering radio advertising, ask the sales representative for package deals. Make sure that the areas they reach are the same as your service areas. Also, don’t forget about show sponsorships. Many talk stations have “Sell and Swap” shows. Traffic or weather sponsorships in the morning can also be a good place for a 10 second radio ad because many people are tuned in for that information.
Other advertising to consider is buy/sell publications, flyers, handouts, your local chamber of commerce and one of my favorites, free public bulletin boards where you can post your service. Don’t forget a business card or flyer at local farm stores, hardware stores, lumber yards, gas stations, diners, county extension offices, soil conservation service, insurance agents, realtors, etc.
For only a few dollars, you can put your name, logo, and phone number on a truck magnet. Just driving around town could get you some calls, and familiarize people with your services.
In the age of computers and smartphones, you can be reaching a wider audience than was possible five or ten years ago. And online advertising can be very cost effective. Here are a few ways you can make sure that customers can find you online.
Have a website - Making your own website takes some know-how, but there are many companies that can set up a website for you. There are even online companies that will provide you with templates and all the tools you need to put together a great website yourself, even if you don't have a lot of techie knowledge. Here are a few that come with good ratings: www.1and1.com, www.namecheap.com, www.domain.com, and www.name.com. These site have services and support that will help you customize your own website.
Advertise your website on Google (and other search engines) - When you search for something online, you'll see ads that pop up above your search results and on the right. Do a search for 'portable sawmills' and you will see our Wood-Mizer google ad. You can start your own ad for your area very easily with Google Adwords. Google allows you to make an ad, set a daily budget, and only show that ad in the regions you select. This tool is very powerful, and there seem to be unlimited options and tools. But starting up a simple ad, tracking your clicks and effectiveness only takes a little while to get the hang of.
Advertise for free on Craigslist - Craigslist is a very popular website for listing things for sale. But they also allow businesses to list their services. You simply create an account, and post your services (with some photos) to the appropriate category. People looking on Craigslist for sawyers in your area can then find you easily. You have to update every couple of weeks (because the listings are sorted by date), and be sure and read their 'Avoiding Scams and Frauds' section.
Set up a Facebook business page - For ideas, check out the Wood-Mizer facebook page here. Setting up a separate page for your business allows clients and potential customers to learn about your business, see the products you make, and get to know you better. Facebook provides very simple ad programs, similar to Google Adwords but more simplified, for advertising your business to your local community.
Online Sawyer Forums - There are some great online forums available for sawyers to join and share information with other sawyers. These forums often have an area where you can list your business for free. Not only do these forums supply you with the combined experience of others in your industry, they also promote you!
If you do your research, emphasize your unique selling point and keep your message short, simple and easy to read, you are more likely to get noticed. When it is all said, your advertising should make the audience feel good about you.
Contributing Author: John Cotton
Mr. Cotton is the former Director of Value Added Woods for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. He is a custom woodworker and owner of Scribe Mark Woodworks. In addition, he is a consulting partner in Four Winds Forest Consultants, a forestry and industrial consulting firm.