When I travel, one of the first things I do as I settle into a hotel room is pull out the Yellow Pages and look at the air conditioning and heating contractor categories.

I am quick to admit that I'm not too proud to copy someone else's good ideas, and so one of my purposes is to check out to see what different promotions and sales ideas others are using. It is always an interesting exercise. I am continually amazed at the amount of money contractors spend on Yellow Pages advertising.

Not A Big Fan

I have never been a big fan of the Yellow Pages - mainly because the ads are placed alphabetically. In our area, even the display ads are placed by size and then alphabetically. So if I have, say, a 1/8-page ad and there are 11 other 1/8-page ads, I am placed after all of those whose company names are higher in the alphabet than Welsch. And, of course, the directory portion itself, exclusive of the display ads, is alphabetical.

There are about 700 heating and air conditioning contractors in the St. Louis area. Do I even want the call by the time a consumer gets to Welsch?

We have found that a high percentage of Yellow Pages shoppers are "price shoppers." Going to the Yellow Pages, they certainly have a large number of contractors from whom to check prices. We know we are not going to be the cheapest contractor. We can't provide top quality, top service, be the cheapest, and stay in business. We choose to provide top quality and service, and we have not found that to be a good match with Yellow Pages shoppers.

Another problem is there is such a clutter of ads that we don't feel it is possible to properly differentiate ourselves. I am amazed, also, that any contractor would say in his other advertising, "Find us in the Yellow Pages." That's inviting potential customers to check out the competition. While a good shopper will probably check out the competition anyway, I don't want to encourage them to talk to dozens of other contractors.

Muddying The Waters

Here are some other factors to consider when placing your Yellow Pages ads. There are a great number of other directory services available out there. Almost all of us have been faced with the problem of competing telephone directories and now, of course, the Internet has become a new directory source, which is expanding by the moment. In addition, successful contractors will tell you that referrals and word of mouth are their best source of leads.

Now, here is a new factor that I just encountered last week. An employee of ours is renting temporarily and using just a cell phone. Did you know that even if you are living in a residence (own or rent), if you don't have a permanent land line, you are not delivered a Yellow Pages? Nevertheless, our employee needs the Yellow Pages.

He tried to pick one up. You can't. He tried to call and order one - five calls and 45 minutes later, he thought he had ordered one. Three weeks later, he still can't get one. I didn't believe it, so I tried myself to pick up one or order one. I had no luck either. So here is an advertising medium in which they want us to spend thousands of dollars and it's hard to obtain one of the books that contain the advertising.

I hope that those of you who advertise heavily in the Yellow Pages find it successful. I would really be interested in hearing about your successes and how you've done it. Please e-mail me at the address below. If you want me to share your successes with our other readers, let me know. I am sure everyone questions their own decisions regarding the Yellow Pages.

Guest columnist Butch Welsch operates Welsch Heating & Cooling in St. Louis. He can be reached by e-mail at Welsch1@primary.net.

Publication date: 11/08/2004