The subject of advertising is fresh on my mind because we are in the process of preparing some new advertising messages.

I’m certainly not an expert in advertising, but I can give you an idea of what’s been successful for us — and what hasn’t. I encourage you to send me details of your successes and failures.

The first step you need to take in preparing an advertising program is to determine who your customers are and who you want them to be. Then decide what media will most likely reach your potential customers. Remember, in advertising you typically pay based on the number of people who will see your ads.

The key is to make sure that a high percentage of those people are, in fact, people you want as customers. For example, an affluent community in St. Louis where we have a lot of customers, and want more, has a weekly newspaper. This paper has pictures of charity functions, parties, etc., and the people of the community read it — they’re mainly looking for their own pictures — but they’ll see our ad as well.


Some contractors have used direct mail very successfully. We haven’t had any success with direct mail, despite trying several different pieces.

More than likely you will be asked by your equipment suppliers to participate in their standard dealer programs. While it is usually necessary to participate in the programs to some degree to maintain your relationship with the manufacturers, remember that their advertising is designed to provide awareness of their name and product, not your company name. While I recommend participating in their programs at some level, I strongly recommend preparing your own message and inserting the manufacturer’s name.

In our area, we have found cable advertising to be the most efficient and effective method of getting our message out to our customers. Our metropolitan area is divided into seven zones by the cable company. Two of these zones directly coincide with the main areas where we are interested in attracting business. We run our spots in only those two zones. This results in a very low “cost per spot,” yet we know we are targeting our potential customers.

Although it may cost a little more, I feel it’s important to develop your own commercial. Make a list of things that differentiate you from your competitors — reasons why a consumer would want to choose your company. Shoot footage of your building, people, trucks, whatever sets you apart from your competitors. Be sure to mention the manufacturer in order to take advantage of co-op advertising, but make your company the focal point — not the equipment or the manufacturer. We make both a heating and cooling version and don’t “date” them so they can be used for two to three years.

When discussing advertising in our industry, the subject of Yellow Pages invariably becomes a subject for debate. I know a lot of contractors are spending a lot of money on Yellow Pages advertising. But is it working?

In our area, even the display ads are inserted alphabetically, and we know we’ll be near the end of the list. Our sales personnel feel that leads from the Yellow Pages usually are price shoppers, and we aren’t and don’t want to be the cheapest. As a result, we have a bare minimum of Yellow Pages listings — just name and phone numbers in the appropriate locations.

We also do a little bit of radio and television advertising, but in most cases find we are paying for a lot of readers/listeners who are not really our desired customers.

In general, our advertising typically promotes our company and why, hopefully, the consumer should remember us when they are in need. Our goal is to make sure our name is known in the community. The majority of our leads come from referrals, but we feel the referral is much stronger when the company being referred is a known name.

Guest columnist Butch Welsch operates Welsch Heating & Cooling in St. Louis, MO. The company does residential replacement, service, and new construction work. Welsch is happy to receive feedback or suggestions by e-mail at

Publication date: 11/04/2002