By Mike Wilson

Zongkers Custom Furniture Inc. brands its company as a source of fun and education to keep customers returning to the shop.

Above is a screenshot of the front page of one of Zongkers bi-monthly newsletters.

Woodworking crossword puzzles, awe-inspiring project pictures and articles detailing techniques keep Zongkers Custom Furniture Inc. at the forefront of customers’ minds. The company has used all of the above content, and even a recipe for chicken cordon bleu casserole in its bi-monthly “Workshop News” e-newsletters to establish a brand and following for its business.

“We decided to start sending the newsletters about four years ago,” says Dan Zongker, co-owner of the Omaha, NE-based company. “We didn’t want to design it to sell, we wanted to make it more of an informative package. There’s no 10 percent off coupon, or messages to act now, we just include interesting stuff.”

Zongkers Custom Furniture has about 3,000 subscribers to its e-newsletter, and the list continues to grow. The company creates a PDF and sends the attachment to its entire subscriber base every other month, Zongkers says. (Click here to look at archived newsletter issues ). The strategy to focus on branding instead of sales in its e-newsletters has paid long-term benefits to the company, as former customers often interact after reading and sometimes even end up asking about new projects.

“We send the newsletters to stay in front of customers. You can’t let them forget about you, it’s out of sight, out of mind kind of stuff,” Zongkers says. “They also can end-up picking us up new clients. As it gets forwarded on, it can open new doors.”

When Zongkers started the e-newsletter marketing program about four years ago, the company decided to make each newsletter three pages, with the first page dedicated to the company’s latest projects, the second page dedicated to education or history, and the final page dedicated to fun facts and recipes. The subscriber list keeps growing through word of mouth between customers and the company features a subscription page prominently on its Web site, www.zongkers.com.

“I was getting so many newsletters coming to me that were boring, but we keep ours fun,” Zongkers says. “We try to keep ours fun to keep our customers coming back. The best customers are repeat customers.”

Promoting interaction with subscribers is one strategy that keeps former Zongkers Custom Furniture clients opening the newsletters, Zongkers says.

“No one wants to read a textbook, so we like to lighten the load. We like to include pictures, contests and all kinds of different things,” he says. “We built our own crossword puzzle with woodworking terms, furniture terms and other words you would use in our industry.”

Zongkers offered free marquetry artwork to the winner of the contest and received between 300 and 400 replies from clients who completed the puzzle. Customers have enjoyed the e-newsletters so much that the company gets emails every other month from subscribers asking when they’ll be receiving it, Zongkers says.

“We want to keep everything fun for the clients,” he says. “They came to us for custom work, and we want the process to be fun throughout. We start out having fun while working with them, and keep having fun through these newsletters. We don’t want any part of the process to feel like work for them.”

Another element of the company’s online branding strategy is co-owner Dennis Zongker’s use of blogging and social networking to keep customers and fellow woodworkers in the loop.

“Blogging is a big part of our marketing strategy,” Zongers says. “Dennis writes about things like how to design a piece of furniture, and he gets on and talks about projects he’s working on.”

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