Fabricators face more competition than ever before, and if they do not have a marketing strategy in place, there is a good chance their customers will not notice them. In addition to local competition, many fabricators also have to compete against Big Box stores such as Home Depot, Lowes and IKEA. For these reasons, it is important for fabricators to promote their business and let potential customers know what services they can provide.

According to marketing specialist Marty Gould, homeowners tend to gravitate towards Big Box stores because there is such a high name recognition. If a fabricator is not affiliated with one of those stores, the odds are the job is going to someone else. “The other reason is the decision for a customer to remodel a kitchen or bathroom is a very long cycle,” explained Gould. “They take a very long time to make a decision. They don’t just wake up on a Wednesday and say, ‘Oh hey, let’s put in new countertops.’

“Also, when it comes to the kitchen, one of the things I think people don’t realize is you’re not just putting in countertops and lighting fixtures; you’re going to do the cabinets — your trigger point for when you are going to remodel a kitchen has a lot of factors,” Gould went on to say. “It’s a long buying cycle for a consumer, and the sooner the fabricator starts to engage with a customer, the more they can build an association with the fabricator and name recognition with them too. By the time the customer gets to a buying decision, they already know who the fabricator is, and more likely, will do business with them.”

Joey Marcella, co-founder and president of Mario & Son in Liberty Lake, WA, and president of the Stone Fabricator’s Alliance, brought up the point that if consumers don’t know you or the services you provide, how can they connect with you? “Even if you have so much work that you don’t advertise, you’re busy due to word-of-mouth, and that’s still marketing,” said Marcella. “That’s the best kind of marketing.”

Ways to market

Marcella said there are traditional options for a fabricator to take, such as TV, radio or print, but you have to be careful to track your performance to see your return on investment. “Stone work is a tactile thing,” said Marcella. “It is more appreciated when it can be touched and experienced, which is why many fabricators participate in local home improvement shows where they can meet the consumers face to face, and the beauty of stone can be experienced in real life, as opposed to pictures in a magazine.” Personally, Marcella has gone away from the home shows, or at least scaled back quite a bit. “What I’ve found in our marketing is that these shows will have many fabricators, and the consumers tend to lose track of who’s who after the fact,” said Marcella. “We have replaced them with sponsorship events where we’re not competing with other shops and are directly in the spotlight marketing our brand directly to the event attendees, who are usually perfectly suited as our financial demographic.”

One area for fabricators to start marketing is with a website. “Most fabricators have a website, although they are not always done very well,” said Gould. “The reason they are not done well is because they just focus on showing photographs of the beautiful countertops they installed. When a person is trying to make a buying decision, they need more information than that. The idea of converting your website into an information source, where they can get real information about how to make decisions about the type of materials to use and what goes into the process is very important.”

Over the years of working with fabricators, Gould has found many of their websites to be out-of-date and totally unresponsive — not enough text, not enough information — so the customer bypasses it. “They would have a better likelihood of getting information from Home Depot than a fabricator’s website,” said Gould. “One of the other things that I think is very important to take advantage of is YouTube. Being able to publish videos that show the manufacturing process and taking people in your shop are really helpful for the consumer. The same goes for short instructional videos.” According to Gould, there are more searches conducted on YouTube for products and services than Google, so having a proper social media presence today is also important.

Targeted direct mail is another very useful marketing technique, Gould says, as long as you’re a small fabricator, because you can control the costs and get right into the homes that are most likely to have remodeling possibilities. “The easiest way to identify a potential remodeler is to look at the age of the home,” said Gould. “You can buy targeted marketing lists where you can look at, and say, ‘OK, I only want to target households where the homes are occupied by the owner and are between certain age ranges.’ A house that was built over eight years ago, but less than 30, is a prime target for remodeling. There is also a target for people who bought new houses and are aging into remodeling. The houses that are six or seven years old now are getting ready to remodel or upgrade. The only thing we know about houses is they are getting older; they never get newer. If a house is built in 1985, we know how old it is. But most business owners don’t think about this because they think it is too complicated or too expensive. But you can target a subdivision, and most of these fabricators know who those subdivisions are. They will say, ‘That subdivision went in 10 years ago.’ That’s good; now is a great time to start marketing to households where the cabinetry and countertops are likely getting to the age where they need to be replaced. So that would be very good target marketing, and you can send out a card for 50 cents.”

Social media

Any one form of social media isn’t going to make or break a fabricator’s success, according to Marcella. “You have to have a well-rounded online presence that not only includes your website, but has many social media platforms that are suitable to promoting your product,” he said. “Consumers will find you with their preferred method of online activity, whether that is your website, Facebook, Pinterest, Houzz, etc.”

Marcella also believes that the selected forms of social activity should match the general “feel” of the platform. “For example, I’ve seen many shops that have a blog feature on their website, use it to just rehash information already contained on the website, and deliver it in a boring and clinical way,” said Marcella. “I believe people who generally read blogs want more of a personal view of the subject in question, which is why our company blog is a more personal, first-person approach to the entire industry seen through the eyes of someone who lives it every day. In addition, our Facebook page tends to be a little lighthearted and informal as well, as opposed to just trying to make a sale, which usually just turns people off.”

Social media continues to expand and redefine itself. It is no longer just Facebook or Twitter. “If fabricators are not using things like Instagram or Pinterest, they are missing a large portion of their potential market, and a lot of these guys don’t even know what that is,” said Gould.

Changes to Facebook

A few years back, the big fad was for businesses to build up their “likes” because when they would post a message, it would go to everyone who liked their page. Facebook has now realized, why should they be giving this away? They want businesses to pay to reach people. “So the bad news is, if you have a Facebook with a thousand ‘likes’ let’s say, as you post like crazy and you post pictures, less than 1% of the people who like your page are going to see your posts,” said Gould. “Facebook has reduced down and made the algorithm so you can reach only a limited amount of people. So building up huge amounts of “likes” to your page is out. You shouldn’t worry about that.

“The good news is Facebook has a wonderful system with being able to buy ads that look just like posts,” Gould went on to explain. “So you can buy these ads and reach beyond just the people who like your page. You can market out to certain groups of people. They have a very specific and very robust advertising placement engine. You can target by geographic area, by age, by income, and you can bring in other lists. For example, if you use an email list to market to your customers, you can import those lists to Facebook and then they will find an audience who matches those people and now you can market to those people as well. For five dollars a day with Facebook, you have a chance of getting your message out to thousands, or tens of thousands of people. Facebook costs generally are 60 cents per one thousand people.”

Time and money spent for marketing

As far as time, Gould says that he believes small business owners think they are going to have to take up a lot of time marketing that it isn’t going to be worth it because they have a business to run. “The antidote for that is to come up with a plan,” said Gould. “This time of year, businesses start to plan for next year’s marketing. So they plan a budget, they decide what they are going to do, they implement the schedule and everything, and put it all together, then it runs. What most small businesses do is avoid making a plan because they are afraid of spending the money, and that’s why they go running around like crazy saying that business is bad so we got to start marketing, and by then, it’s late and now it takes more time because they are doing it on the fly. Planning is crucial. Once you plan it all out, it takes very little time after that because you already decided what to do. The whole idea of measure twice cut once; it’s the same idea with marketing. If you have a plan for marketing, you will save time and money down the road.”

Marcella says you can never put too much time into marketing your shop, but you can certainly spend too much money. “If you are at capacity, and are not looking to grow, then only enough marketing to maintain that level is required,” said Marcella. “If you are looking to increase business, you must be very savvy about how you spend your marketing dollars. For the stone fabricator in general, most forms of marketing are more about brand awareness, than immediate sales, as most consumers do not need our product right this minute. It’s quite possible that a marketing connection made today will not result in a sale for many months or even years later. Just like any inventory, how long are you willing to sit on that advertising until you see a ROI?”

Most small businesses worry about the advertising cost, and what they really need to do is figure out what the cost is of acquiring the customer, according to Gould. “They have to set their mind to what they’re willing to pay to acquire a customer,” he said. “So it really comes down to what the cost of the job is and how much money is the customer going to spend. If the countertop is a $5,000 job, there must be a certain amount you can allocate to market. If I could bring you to a customer store where you can buy your customers, you should know how much you are willing to pay for them. So you have to know what your budget is because everyone’s number is different.”

Expectations to set

“Marketing for fabricators can be more about brand awareness than actual sales,” said Marcella. “Only you can determine what you’re willing to pay to develop your brand, knowing that those advertising dollars may never show a positive return, but if you feel that your brand is strong, and everyone seems to know about your company year after year, then those advertising dollars may be making the connection, and only just waiting for the consumer to need the service or refer a friend. In this regard, I can only say, ‘Go with your gut.’”

Gould informs fabricators that they have to think about the customer’s perspective and realize their view of it is a long one. “The buyer’s journey comes in phases,” said Gould. “They have to realize they need to make a remodeling choice, they have to educate themselves, then decide if they can financially do it. There are pain and pleasure points that customers have all the time. It’s exciting yet terrifying.

“I think marketing the product is challenging,” Gould went on to say. “If you’re dealing with natural stone, you’re dealing with a commodity. If you’re marketing the product, you’re marketing granite or natural stone. That’s not a brand. Anyone can have granite. Fabricators should focus on marketing themselves. They really have to focus on brand identification that shows what makes them unique. If not, they will get swallowed up in the sea of other businesses that don’t differentiate themselves.”