RADIO advertising has been around since 1922, when the Queensboro Corporation, a New York developer, paid $50 to station WEAF for a 10-minute spot.
There is nothing particularly innovative about using the medium of radio to advertise.
Unless you're a truck-equipment distributor.
In 2001, Joe Recker, a former copier salesman, bought Kalida Truck Equipment Inc in Kalida, Ohio. The recession was in full force. And then the aftermath of 9/11 served as an even sharper dagger. Recker and his two partners sat in their office and asked themselves, “What are we going to do?”
“The business had no Web site and did little advertising,” Recker told attendees of “Increase Sales Through Innovative Marketing Approaches,” a Sunday afternoon session. “The company really didn't market themselves at all, but yet if you looked at their financials before we got there, it was a very successful company. We thought if we did some aggressive marketing things, we could be successful.”
Recker and his partners analyzed a 30-county territory in northwest Ohio and southern Michigan, breaking down the customer base into sections. They decided that with the demographics — primarily males between the ages of 35 and 55 — radio advertising would be most effective on country and western stations.
The first commercials were designed around the company and tied to a Heil dump body or Western snowplow. Recker recorded them in his office, using his own resonant, radio-friendly voice.
Subsequent commercials were built around the snow-driven nature of northwest Ohio. Recker asked himself, “What kind of extra service can we give our customers so they remember us and come back?” After meeting with his sales people and customers, he decided to record another commercial centered around extended service hours, and arrange to have that commercial aired when there was a threat of snow or when flakes actually had started to fall.
He bought time with seven large radio stations, and when the conditions were optimum, all he had to do was call one person at the station, give him the commercial's code and it would be immediately inserted into the station's commercial rotation.
It went like this:
Attention snowplow and spreader owners: Kalida Truck Equipment will be available for parts and service extended hours during snow, sleet, and freezing rain. When there's inclement weather and your plow or spreader breaks down, call us: In Kalida, 800-686-1617; in Toledo, 800-824-8102. Do you realize that when your plow or spreader is down, it costs you money? Kalida Truck Equipment will be available longer hours to provide parts and service you need to get back on the job quickly. Count on us at Kalida Truck Equipment. We've been serving northwest Ohio since 1976. Visit us on the World Wide Web at kalidatruck.com.
Combining that with a flyer that was mailed to all customers and handed out by sales people when they made calls, Recker saw significant results over a period of months.
“Obviously, we've had more snow this year than last year, but our parts department is 10 times busier,” he said. “If you're looking for instant impact, it's not radio. But radio will get people talking about your company. Don't expect your sales to increase 20% in a month. Look at it as a long-term thing. You need to stay consistent. If you're on radio, we believe you need to be on all year long doing different products. In the spring, we'll do dump bodies, service bodies or landscape bodies. In the fall, we run a lot of snowplow ads.”
Recker also hired some “top-notch” sales people and assigned each one a territory, while training his less experienced people both in-house and at schools such as Knapheide's. The territory was divided into four, with two sales people in Kalida and two in Toledo. Each one was assigned a minimum of $75,000 in sales each month.
A sales manager was inserted at each location to analyze quotes, ride with the rep and train him in product knowledge and sales skills. Each sales manager was assigned some of the largest accounts and was paid off their production, as well as a percentage of the bottom line. All sales people were paid a percentage of the gross profit.
“It's amazing what that does,” Recker said. “Our gross profit went up 4% in one year. For our little company, that was a big number.”
Recker also held a monthly sales meeting, along with contests in which each person was assigned a quota based on ability, territory and accounts, allowing them to make extra money if they achieved a certain percentage over their quota.
Kalida also has done a lot of spiffing to reduce stale inventory.
“When we walked into that company, we really didn't know what our inventory value was until we were at it awhile,” he said. “We realized that stale inventory cost us a lot of money, so we've put $100 or $200 on stuff that was sitting around for two or three years. It's amazing how that sales person will focus on that piece of equipment if there's money that goes into his or her pocket. We've taken our inventory down 45%. We're not where we want to be, but we've lowered it considerably.”
Other programs: direct mail to advertise certain specials; an open house for all vendors; and a territory blitz in which the owners, general manager, sales managers, and all sales people go into one location and “blitz the heck out of it” for two days by meeting hundreds of people and distributing a line sheet showing every product Kalida services or distributes.
“Our open sales orders increased about 45% — and that's in a down economy,” Recker said. “We've had some help from Mother Nature, but a lot of it has been with our sales reps making things happen.
“We talked to our customers and they said it was taking too long to get equipment. We've added manpower and we're basically guaranteeing customers, when we've had to, that they will have a full-blown truck in 30 days. We'll put it in writing and penalize ourselves if we don't get it done. It has grabbed some attention. Some of my competitors don't like me very much right now. But competition makes everyone better. Some of these aggressive marketing approaches do work.”
Another panel member, Steven Sill, a third-generation owner of Aspen Equipment Co in Bloomington, Minnesota — which has moved from large trucks with long lead times to light trucks with short lead times — said the company decided a few years ago that it was proficient at sales but not at marketing.
“When people think about the products they buy, do they think about you?” he said. “Because if they don't think about you first or second, you may not even get a swing at it. So, how do you create an image of your company in your customer's mind?”
He said he decided that the company was not branded. It had a name and a logo, but wasn't doing anything to promote itself other than slapping a logo on things.
“We were selling Adrian van interiors through truck dealerships,” he said. “A guy would go into a truck dealership and buy a van, specify the package, it'd come to us, we'd put the interior in, ship it back to the dealer, and the dealer would deliver it. Other than a little sticker applied to the van interior in the back, they wouldn't know where it came from, what we did, or who we were. We decided to brand our company. If a guy is buying a van, he's probably buying other trucks.”
So Aspen produced a high-quality piece of literature and started hanging it from the crank knob of the window of every van it delivered. Then Aspen started mailing them out. Then it did the same thing, but focused the literature only on the service department, figuring that since it was dealing with cranes and aerial devices, the department was very important.
“We found out that 50% of the equipment that comes through our service department is not a brand we represent,” Sill said. “That's good and bad. The bad is that we should've sold them the stuff we represent. The good part is that all sorts of people wouldn't be our customers were it not for our service department. We're taking in competitive products and working with people, and that gives us the opportunity to quote them. Our service department has sold an awful lot of equipment for us. Branding our service department has been very valuable.”
Sill ditched his half-page ad in the Minneapolis telephone book — saving $35,000 a year — because he concluded that the people Aspen wants to attract are not so much the end users for light trucks, but the dealerships.
“We like end users, but we're not going to spend a lot of money to bring them in,” he said. “We're going to go to the people who are bringing them in — and that's the dealerships.”
Sill said Aspen, in a bid to boost its direct-mail campaign, is working with some “creative, clever people” to design caricatures of “fantasy-type vehicles” that someone's business might want.
“I figured if it's going to get me to look at it, it probably will get someone else,” he said. “Direct mail has to get opened and noticed.”
Ads and ‘Road Show’
The third panelist, Jerry Vint, branch manager of Dealers Truck Equipment in Little Rock, Arkansas, said the company's primary focus is bailment pools for GM, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler. At the same time, the company understands there are big opportunities in the market beyond the dealerships — particularly end users and municipalities.
So the company has scaled back its Yellow Pages advertising and re-directed some of that money into spot newspaper and magazine ads.
The company also has started a “Road Show” at its location in Fayetteville, North Carolina. They take a selection of a half-dozen upfitted trucks, along with a catering truck, to a dealership for a day. The dealerships invited customers to eat lunch and then spend the afternoon asking questions, talking about the trucks, and getting an up-close inspection of the features.
“It's good quality time to spend with the user and with our people and the body company people,” Vint said. “We're looking for big things from this, and we think we'll move it on to other locations.”