Like many independent business operators, Columbia, Mo.–based Boone County Lumber/Boone County Millwork president Greg Eiffert admits that getting a handle on the success of any marketing or customer service endeavor is tenuous at best. "Measurement is always hard. It's why I basically don't even like marketing," says Eiffert. But despite his disdain for the touchy-feely side of the business, Eiffert nonetheless has played a central role in rolling out a best-in-class program. Encompassing strategically placed radio and print ads, builder events, loyalty programs, and even hot air balloon launches, the marketing plan unleashed by Eiffert and the rest of the Boone County team has been stirring things up in central Missouri's Columbia market, putting the heat on the competition and keeping the Boone County name on the tip of every contractor and building product specifier's tongue.
Eiffert says that word of mouth, in particular, signifies to him that marketing investments are worthwhile, and following up on the buzz by qualifying leads is a key strategy for pinpointing where Boone's dollars are paying off. In essence, Boone County's marketing strategy is "to generate leads," Eiffert says. For every sale, Boone employees use QuickBooks software to record a lead source, be it from a referral, a showroom walk-in, or a radio or print ad. Qualifying non-typical—or, as Eiffert puts it, "not plugged in"—customers often reveals some marketing payback. "I have an architect customer who works alone in his basement and listens to classical music all day," Eiffert says. "He found out we were doing install, so the reaction is 'Whew, my advertising is working somewhere.' If he found out about it, everybody must have found out about it."
Boone County radio spots are not on the classical station but on KFRU-AM 1400, a talk and sports station based in Columbia that serves up local and national news and coverage of St. Louis Cardinals and University of Missouri Tigers games. That leads Eiffert to surmise his subterranean customer likely got wind of Boone County's jump into the install business from print ads in either Columbia Home or Inside Columbia, two high-end, glossy regional home magazines where Boone County places ads developed in partnership with IDP Group, a marketing agency in Columbia.
Boone County has ramped up radio and print ads (including recording eight new radio spots) over the past six months as the company unveils its installed sales division, led by longtime customers Terry Alfermann and Randy Minchew. They'll be working in an exclusive partnership with the dealer for the installation of exterior doors, replacement windows, replacement siding, and closet organization systems. The advertising push is typical of Boone, which despite operating in a relatively small market still elects to go hard when it comes to promoting the company brands, products, and services to the contractor community.
Full Channel Champions
Like many pro dealers, Boone County relies on vendor co-op support for much of the company's marketing might. But we're not talking about throwing some dollars at revamping in-store signage or expanding the company showroom by 100 square feet. Loftier ambitions have Boone embracing what Greg Eiffert's brother and company vice president Brad Eiffert calls a "higher standard" of cooperation between dealers and vendors. This standard eschews adversarial relationships that grind to a halt on price issues and instead pushes deeper capital and strategic investment among vendors and dealers on a variety of programs including marketing, customer service, new product launches, and sales.
Case in point: the Boone County Lumber/Boone County Millwork and Marvin Windows and Doors hot air balloon, which not only flies over Columbia during community fairs and events but also competes in the Show Me State Games, where it has won a gold and bronze medal for the Boone County/Marvin mantel. The idea, generated from a contractor customer who flew balloons for Pepsi, costs dealer and vendor about five grand a year apiece, Brad says, a small price to pay for a flying advertisement that over the past eight years increasingly "draws crowds and has become a local icon."
In addition to fly-bys, Boone and Marvin also donate balloon rides to local charities three or four times a year to auction off as a fund-raiser, and use the dirigible as a vehicle for building customer relationships. One of the balloon's most recent flights even saw a contractor customer offering a sky-high marriage proposal to his girlfriend (she said yes).
For the past eight years the balloon has been a great program and we have been really grateful to Marvin for their open-mindedness to try it," Brad says of the partnership. "Marvin is an example of a vendor that 'gets it' in a way I cannot even begin to explain, a cooperative approach of building business together that is much different than a vendor trying to beat you over the head with their own way of doing things."
Certainly, the benefits of the partnership for Marvin have been undeniable. Sales of Marvin products through Boone County operations increased from approximately $160,000 in 1998 to $960,000 in 2005 as the manufacturer outpaced its category peers in sales growth to become the top-selling door and window brand at Boone County. That's an achievement that suits the pro dealer just fine. "If vendors are not growing, we are not growing and our customers are not growing," Brad explains. "We are a broker of relationships, and our ultimate value is connecting the dots between the people with the resources that want to sell product and the people that need the resources to move the product and [build homes]. Our ultimate role is brokering that [transaction] to the best interest of everyone."