John was a well-qualified, substantial lead. He walked through our door the fi rst thing Friday morning, and I became very upset about it.

Tad Troilo He was developing an eight-home tract close to our showroom. The houses were a good size and in a good neighborhood, so John was looking for high-end products. He was interested in our cabinets, closet material, and millwork.

All that was great. But when I asked John how he heard about our company, his answer made my blood boil.

"I saw your ad," John told me, mentioning an upscale publication we advertise in.

Confound it! We had been reviewing our costs of doing business over the last few months. Many changes already were implemented, all designed to lower our overhead or improve services, preferably both. We found a new cell phone plan that lowered our costs. We switched to a few vendors that provided the same products with superior service. We reviewed our truck and car fl eets, striving to make our vehicles as effi cient as possible amid rising gas prices. We even chose not to replace a departing employee after carefully considering the work load left behind. Those were our easy belt-tightening decisions.

Then, this week, we came to the black hole of a company's balance sheet: advertising. Money is thrown into the spiraling vortex of the advertising entry, and you never know where in the fabric of the space/time continuum it will come out. All you can do is hope that place is somewhere near your store.

You run an ad here, send out a circular there, maybe try a radio spot now and then. Does it drive more traffi c? Did the advertising sell more products? Most importantly, does it benefi t the bottom line? It is diffi cult to know the precise impact of the expenditure.

The last time business slowed and we did a similar cost review, we resolved to ask all new leads how they heard about us. That way, we would have some empirical data on the various media outlets we used to advertise. So this time, as we stared into the darkness of our advertising expenditures, we thought we had a handle on things.

"The local newspaper?" I asked.

"Sixteen leads in three months," our bookkeeper answered. She had taken the data collection a step further and analyzed the results of the leads. "Nine orders, three still open, the rest duds."

"Excellent," I said. With the confi - dence of hard numbers behind me, I easily told her that the newspaper stayed in our advertising plan. We progressed in this fashion, quickly making decisions. She would circle advertising that made the cut with a black pen and cross out those that didn't with a red pen.

"What about this upscale magazine?" I asked with a certain amount of disdain, because "upscale" often means "expensive."

"Zero," she answered in a low growl.

"Zero," I whispered, a maniacal grin crossing my face. Here I was, ready to slash the most expensive part of my advertising, and I could do so with out hesitation. In fact, I could do it with relish. Zero leads. Not one. The nerve of this publication to take our hard-earned advertising budget.

"Cut it!" I declared. And she did, with a very sharp jab of her very red pen. It was a great feeling to be in total command of our advertising future.

And then John ended the joy.

"I saw your ad in the magazine a few months ago," he said, "and I was so glad to fi nd it again, now that we are ready to move forward."

John couldn't know the agony he caused me. While he represented just one lead, his job was signifi cant enough to easily pay for the ads. And what was worse, the way John described his reaction to the ad--he had seen it for a while but never did anything and is now responding to it--meant one thing: The black hole was back.

We certainly knew more about our advertising, but we were still a long way from knowing everything.

Tad Troilo is a manager for Cranmer's Kitchens by Design in Yardley, Pa.