Hunting for Contractor Good Will

January 25, 2010
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(left to right) Gary Bower, secretary/treasurer; Tom Frank, sales manager; and Bob Frank, president of American Distributing Inc., stand with a food collection box that will be delivered to area contractors requesting one.

Contractors need attention. Professionals would probably call it public relations or PR, but regardless of the term you use, it’s really very simple. The more name recognition you have in your sphere of business, the easier it will be to close a sale. A potential customer will be more at ease with someone who has a presence.

As an HVAC distributor that serves a tri-state area - Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey - we have often wrestled with the issue of how to draw more attention to our contractors.

Most of them market on the fly. They might have a Yellow Page ad as a passive marketing approach and crank up a small marketing effort via a sales letter or newsletter, when they aren’t busy dealing with their customers. Some look to self-appointed marketing gurus, and others even turn to their distributors. We welcome that responsibility, and it was in this spirit that we saw how a contractor’s participation in a new program we started might help contractors everywhere.

COMMUNITY OUTREACH

At a recent management meeting, and possibly with the realization that American Air Distributing had hit the 15-year mark in business, we concluded that our distributorship should participate more fully in its community.

As we searched for a cause that matched our company’s culture, and with which we could reasonably expect some success, we decided on participating in the Salvation Army food drive. We also concluded that our participation could result in a boost to contractor visibility, wrapped around a significant contribution to the community.

The food drive held particular appeal for us. We live in a skeptical age. We’ve faced a cool summer and a sagging economy. Simply asking for a financial donation often leads to the inevitable question of how much of the money actually reaches the intended recipients.

With a food drive, the gift is tangible. American Air and its contractors could rest assured that someone would eat meals from the items collected.

We invited our contractors to participate. In a letter to them, we put it this way:

“What makes this approach particularly effective is that, unlike a financial donation, you don’t have to wonder whether the intended recipients actually receive your gesture of goodwill. Members of the community will create a meal from what you and other local members of your community give.”

RECOGNIZED INVOLVEMENT

Our approach was two-fold: to involve our contractors and to help them receive recognition for their efforts for participating in the Salvation Army Food Drive 2009.

We placed a barrel for contributions at our offices and distribution center in West Chester, Pa. About 20 percent of our customers actually come by to pick up supplies, but we serve the majority of our customers by delivering product directly to their jobsite. For those contractors, we promised to deliver a barrel for the food drive to whatever location they specified, and further promised to pick up the barrels at the end of the food drive.

All the contractors had to do was promote, offer, and suggest or ask customers, coworkers, other contractors, and other community members to participate with cans for the food drive. We took responsibility for everything else. We wanted to remove virtually any effort or logistics issues that would impede a contractor from participating.

Because most contractors only have a hazy notion of how to publicize this positive participation, we offered to write a press release for all the participants and to send it to their local newspapers. We couldn’t promise that any news outlet, whether in the consumer or trade press, would actually use the copy, however, we felt that a press release and possibly a photo would at least place the contractor and his contribution in the news mix and create the possibility of some well-deserved coverage.

BETTER RELATIONSHIPS

It’s inevitable that contractors, when thinking of their distributors, ask the question: What have you done for me lately? Believe it or not, we really think about that usually unasked question and we try to formulate a response that works.

In today’s business world, the cliché win-win is dreadfully overused, but in this instance, it’s true. Our contractors can have a direct effect on the lives of those in the communities they serve. Politicians always talk about public service, but they receive a salary for their efforts. We view this as private service to the public on behalf of our contractors and ourselves.

If, as a contractor, you’ve been thinking about how to make a contribution to your community, you might want to talk to your distributor and suggest a similar model if it fits local conditions. The first step is a simple question the next time you chat with your distributor: What can we do together to help those who need help in our community?

Publication date: 01/25/2010

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