Marketing with a $3 Wrench

Feb. 1, 2007
img src="/images/archive/45616megamktg01_00000021022.jpg" width="100" height="107" border="0" align="right"Consumers are bombarded. We see roughly 4,000
Consumers are bombarded. We see roughly 4,000 ad messages a day. Advertising has gotten so sneaky that paid product placement in movies isn't even good enough anymore.

Then there's the $3 wrench. Unbeatable in any way, shape, or form. Technology can't undo its power; it always gets the attention of customers; and it remains at the top of the influence heap, from now through eternity. It's an amazing tool. I saw it used not long ago.

We recently built a lake house fairly close to our "real" home. Since I can't do anything easy, instead of building a normal house, we chose instead to dismantle two turn-of-the century homes destined for the crusher. And I mean that other century, as in the 1890s.

So we hired a company to dismantle these Victorian era homes, full of 8-ft, five-panel heart pine doors (22 of them), hardware galore, five amazing mantles, and about 12,000 square feet of pine that was probably 100 years old when it was first milled. Board-by-board-by-board, we had it remilled to become a new home at the lake.

My builder was thrilled.

Actually, he retained much of his sanity during the process since he was only "skinning" our interior with the stuff. All the "new" walls, ceilings, floors, and doors came together in the ultimate recycling project. But, with that much wood, there were concerns.

Namely that a fully wood home — in the deep South — near a lake is only slightly less humid than the stateroom of the Titanic as it currently sits.

I was also a little concerned about termites. Especially when I saw tiny banners near the jobsite touting "The Famine Has Ended!" in little termite handwriting. So my wood was "baked" before it ever got installed. Yet before that step we realized . . .

With all the seams there are in boards versus sheetrock — plus my personal dislike of fiberglass insulation — cellulose fiber was my choice for insulation and noise control. However, since it's applied "wet" against all that wood, new challenges arose.

Did I mention my builder was thrilled?

With the changes to my indoor environment, he suggested I get with "The AC Man." That's what they're called around here, regardless of the month. Sure, it still gets cold here on occasion, but we're in denial.

So The AC Man's first question is, "You're not really putting in a tower, are you?"

"Yes" I contend, "the house is in the shape of a cross with the tower at the intersection". Not sure why I felt compelled to tell him what he could plainly see, but there was a significance there that he caught.

"You're going to need a third AC unit (even though they're package units, he's in furnace denial too) so I'll work you up a price," he says, as if performing a necessary amputation.

I respond, "I'd like them all in 14 SEER or higher, plus a dehumidifier." He looks at me like I'd just performed my own amputation.

Yes, I upsold myself, as I've been forced to do many times with contractors. All of you who are "scared" of over-selling, perhaps you should fear under-serving instead. If the word service is anywhere in your job description, I'd rethink this one.

After the house was completed, we had a party for all the builders and subs. We figured these guys never get to see the completed job, or even meet, except during punch lists, which aren't exactly social.

So as a marketer, I looked for a way to maximize attendance through clever copywriting. We had an 80% response rate.

This became our retention party. I wanted my builder to meet the boat lift dude and for him to meet the landscape dude and to exchange cards with the floor installer folks. They could network their non-competitive services and see each other's craft. Even though we paid for the party, the builder picked up two excellent subs and the stair-builder is busy for a year. My dismantler brought a display and some photos (probably should've charged him booth space).

However, The AC Man wasn't there. "Probably too busy" said my builder. "Works all the time." One thing's for sure though . . . He sure doesn't market all the time.

Interestingly, I've never heard from him, nor any of the subs with retail businesses again (I can reach them through the builder, but I shouldn't have to. Agree?) Oh wait — I did hear from one of them again. The electrician made a "happy call" to me. Then sent me a postcard a few weeks later asking if everything was okay. It wasn't. He came back out and I just happened to mention a few "while you're in there" things that totaled another $2,200. Perhaps his 40 cent postcard was worth it. I now get his newsletter. He's the only sub whose name I know.

Three words for you to remember from this so far: Upsell, network, follow up.

What's that Buzz?
A few weekends ago we went to the house and turned on the heater for the first time. Unit number two emits a loud buzzing noise. So I went outside in the rain with my shiny new "second home" tools to remove the screen above offending fan. I told my wife to turn it on, and immediately my highly-trained intuitive observation was summarized thusly: Buzzing noise is much louder when you're this close.

I scanned with the flashlight. I guess I was looking for something obvious like a huge limb, or the neighbor's Schnauzer caught in the fan. No such luck. Options now exhausted, it's time to call The AC Man.

Who? Even though we'd paid $14,600 for the systems — which worked flawlessly all summer — since we never heard back, he was now invisible to us. I wonder if he's noticed a lack of service, referrals, or maintenance agreement sales as a result? Probably too busy cutting down trees to sharpen his axe.

We had to wait until Monday to call the builder for his name. Absent any emotion, The AC Man says he thinks he knows what it is, and will be there Tuesday. We won't be of course. He says, "No problem. I can do the work from the outside."

I'm kinda lukewarm about the guy. No follow-up, and he's not too concerned about it either. Yet, since I'm dealing with a warranty, I've no other options. About a week later, we go to the house and flick on the furnace. Nothing. Well, except for pure heat, no buzzing noise. A miracle! This is the initial point of "competency" that consumers experience. It's generally "expected," but when the improvement or repair is instantly noticeable, it's highly welcomed and valued.

For the same reason I inspect my car for door dings when I pick it up from an oil change I go out to look at the formerly ill fan. Something shiny atop the unit catches my attention. It has paper wrapped around it.

It was my $3 wrench. I unwrap a hand-scrawled message: "Thought you might be looking for this."

I may question his marketing. I may question him being too busy to put "systems" in place that reduce stress and increase business. But I do not question his ethics. He's moved into a circle that you do not get by chance. He's trusted.

Whether he wanted the wrench is immaterial. What tech couldn't use a free combination wrench? Plus, he'd have been totally anonymous. But he turned a blind eye to a small temptation and probably would on a large one. Honesty usually is or isn't, as we've all learned the hard way at some point.

Until he undoes the flow, he will get all the repeat business and referrals from me he ever wants. I told the builder this story. The AC Man went from just one of three contractors, to one of one in this rare category.

Proven honesty puts you in a rarified realm, aspired to by many, equaled by few. It's one of society's most coveted traits, and singles you out accordingly. All done with a $3 wrench, the most valuable tool you'll ever use.

Credibility and Honesty revisited
Can you increase your credibility without bragging? Can you highlight honesty

without being the car dealer who says trust me? Yes, you can. Just remember these three steps.
1. Communication — If you disappear, you lose. The stream dries up. More encounters are more reasons to trust and be trusted. Customer retention should be your top goal. It does not just happen; you must focus and pursue.
2. Care and feeding — Testimonials, awards, affiliations, guarantees, and warranties are all credibility tools worth highlighting. These are third-party pronouncements which move you beyond a bragging chorus of Yellow Pages ads singing "TRUSTED SERVICE SINCE THE DAWN OF TIME." Prove it.
3. Community — A recent report in "Marketing Trends 2007" discusses increased value of "Citizenship" among the top 10 pursuits in modern marketing. Press releases, community service spots, community projects, and charitable support all add up to the kinds of credibility people like and are attracted to.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson Ink, a contractor marketing firm. To get his newsletter, the Contractor's Sales & Marketing Insider, fax your letterhead to 334/262-1115, call 800/489-9099, or visit