Most FDMC readers may not be old enough to remember the classic 1960s Wonder Bread slogan, “Helps build strong bodies 12 ways,” but here are some tips to apply the same kind of thinking in the 21st century to boosting your sales efforts. A recovering economy means lots of opportunity, but you can’t just sit back and wait for new business. Here are a dozen tactics culled from a wide cross-section of successful shops to help you boost your market share in the new economy.

1. Diversify. 

The more products you have the more opportunities for sales. If you currently build only residential cabinetry, look into commercial work, architectural millwork, institutional customers and even custom furniture. Beyond shop-based woodworking, a number of shops have expanded into general contracting and finish carpentry. Diversification may also mean exploring more geographic areas.
2. Upsell.
Making more off of every sale is one of the fastest methods to increase sales. Look for every opportunity to upgrade a project with profitable options. Convince a kitchen cabinet customer to upgrade from standard hardware to soft-closing hinges and slides. Similar options also exist in home office, entertainment center and commercial applications, involving specialty hardware, lighting and utility features. The entire closet industry is an example of upselling through utility features.
3. Go up market or down.
Shops under lots of mid-range to low-end price pressure often find relief by seeking out more upscale customers. One big high-end project is usually more profitable than two lesser-priced jobs, saving in both time and overhead. Working with higher-end customers usually means getting involved with architects and designers. That may complicate a project, but also it may provide opportunities for additional work and referrals.
On the flip side of this coin, some shops specializing in affuent customers increase sales by offering lower range projects. For example, the previously all-custom shop begins to offer a line of stock cabinets. That helps you keep a customer who has price objections and allows you to compete with shops that may be low-balling just to get work.
4. Hire a salesman.
Few woodworkers are natural salesmen. Even if they are reasonably successful at sales, it’s usually not their favorite part of the job. A dedicated professional sales person can dramatically increase sales. Of course, it will come at a cost. Some shops put sales people on salary and even train them in design to produce customer presentations and even shop drawings using computer software. Other shops hire outside sales people and pay commissions that typically range up to 15 percent. Outside sales staff can introduce the shop’s work to entirely new categories of clients.
5. Open a showroom.
If you are slow in the shop, getting your staff working to build showroom displays can be cost effective. Showrooms are powerful marketing tools, helping customers visualize what they are buying. By showing the options, a showroom is also a great upselling tool. You don’t need to have room for full working kitchen displays; you can start small with door and drawer samples, hardware and moulding selections, and a few cabinet mockups. Share the showroom with contractors to get more bang for your buck. Don’t have room for a showroom at your shop? What about building a display for the local appliance store? Appliance stores often welcome the chance to upgrade their sales displays with the current styles.
6. Get online.
Online opportunities abound to market your work. Besides your own website (does it need an update?) there are Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, Twitter, and blogs. Shops have successfully used all of these sites as sort of an online portfolio or showroom. Online marketing cost is relatively low, and you can do most social networking marketing yourself. But if you aren’t Web savvy, you’ll want to hire help, particularly in the case of creating a professional website. Professional photography also makes a huge difference.
7. Remind old customers.
Your best sources of new leads are people you’ve already done work for. Remind your old clientele that you are still around by sending out a simple letter. It doesn’t have to be fancy; one page will do. Enclose a brochure and a few business cards to make referrals easier.
8. Develop new leads.
Now is the time to pound the pavement. Pay a visit to every designer, interior decorator, architect and gallery in your service area. Do lunch or have a cup of coffee with builders and GC’s. Find out who’s got work and see if you can get a piece of the action.
9. Track building permits.
Check out the building permit filings in your local towns and county government offices. These are public records that you can access for free, sometimes online or are available from services in some regions. The permit filings will tell you where there is building going on and who is doing it. While it may be too late to get onto a job after a permit is issued, it may provide a lead for future work or even expanding an existing project to include your contribution.
10. Recruit Realtors.
As the real estate market starts to come back, it’s getting more competitive; real estate people are looking for any edge. That includes doing work on homes to prepare them for sale and new home owners wanting to make immediate changes. Referrals from real estate agencies can get you into both of these markets. Get to know local agents and home inspectors, both are good lead sources.
11. Offer remote services.
Clients today are frequently too busy to drive around shopping for cabinets. Come to them. Outfit a truck or van as a rolling display. Or take a tablet or laptop packed with plenty of pictures and design software and bring it to the potential client’s work or home on their schedule. Some shops use Web-based software such as GoToMeeting (www.gotomeeting.com) to conduct entire design and sales sessions remotely with the shop owner or sales person at a computer in the shop and the clients at their computer at home or in their office. That makes it particularly easy to get husband and wife together at the same time to sign off on project design issues.
12. Network.
Trade associations such as the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association, the Cabinet Makers Association, and the Architectural Woodworking Institute provide great industry networking opportunities. But don’t overlook what’s in your own back yard. Service organizations such as Rotary and Lions, the Chamber of Commerce, local builders associations, and even religious organizations all provide chances to meet people who can help your business or become customers. People like to do business with people they know and like. Make friends; do business.

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