Shell Lumber has been serving contractors in Miami since 1928, but that hasn’t stopped the company from hearing, “Wow, I didn’t know you guys were here.”

That statement—plus wanting to get the word out about changes at the executive level—motivated Shell to make an online video last fall, says general manager John Ruark.

Fortunately, one of the company’s salesmen had experience in video production. After being moved over to the marketing department, he used his digital camera and tripod, plus a boom that he built, to create, “An Afternoon With Shell Lumber.”

Shell had done similar projects with (, Ruark says, but the videos only offered a quick tour of the store with a voice-over. “We wanted to make it more personal,” he says.

“We want everyone to know that we’re more than just a lumberyard with hardware SKUs and delivery trucks,” Ruark says. “We have a small-town feel, even though we’re within Miami’s city limits.”

That is exactly the kind of message recommended by Heather Crunchie, a principal at C Squared, a marketing and advertising agency based in Seattle. “Videos can be used to build relationships with key target audiences. Customers are looking for credible suppliers who will bring value to the relationship,” she says. “It goes back to the marketing principle that says it’s not about how great we are but what can we do for the customer.”

Videos are a quick and easy way to download information, Crunchie says. “Companies are seizing on to the tactic because it’s cool, but they don’t necessarily have a good strategy.”

Despite advertising on TV, Jay-K Lumber, in New Hartford, N.Y., hadn’t planned on making videos. About five years ago, the dealer was approached by a home improvement TV show and a de-clutter coach about partnering on videos, says vice president Jonas Kelly. From that experience, Jay-K learned about the long shelf life of content on YouTube.

Now the dealer works with an ad agency to make videos. One key message is to communicate—“tactfully,” Kelly points out—the difference between a drive-through lumberyard and a big box. “We highlight the ease of the drive-through,” he says, a message that might be hard to make work in print but can easily be shown in a video.

“Contractors are great storytellers, and they share so much by telling and sharing their stories,” says Bernie Freytag, creative director at Romanelli Communications (Jay-K’s ad agency), in Clinton, N.Y. “So we focus on telling stories about the store, the owners, and the people they’ve worked with over the years. We choose topics that tie into contractors’ biggest priorities: personal attention and service; and how to save time, money, and effort on a job.”

Providing information of value to customers is the kind of educational marketing that Crunchie sees as effective. She suggests that dealers ask themselves, “How can I help my customers solve their problems? What knowledge do I have that they would benefit from?” Videos could cover everything from jobsite tips and business strategies to design trends and other creative endeavors. It’s important to avoid being self-promotional.

It’s fine, on the other hand, to appear in the videos. “We like being the talent,” Kelly says, “because people recognize me or [paint manager] Sam Rudolph. They’ll say, ‘Hey, I saw you on TV or a video.’ We like having that kind of association rather than having paid talent.”

In fact, when Jay-K went with paid talent for ads over the summer, Kelly’s wife told him that people wanted to see him, not some “no-name” person.