Some sneaky publicity

I was driving the other day, when a small sign in front of a car dealership caught my eye.  The dealership was offering a special price on an oil change if the local hockey won its game the night before.

Very interesting.

Having spent over a decade working for two companies that were licensees of the major sports leagues, I know how expensive it is to become a sponsor. By this company figured out a way to salute our local hockey team and create interest in their services — without paying for a sponsorship. Genius!

Of course, the local team’s lawyers might eventually come knocking on his door and make him take the signs down. But in the meantime, he gained some valuable publicity (and hopefully customers) with this campaign.

The signage:

  • – promoted a service many people probably didn’t know they offered
  • – had a tie-in to an event. So, if you were thinking about getting an oil change, you may just wait till the local team gets a win so you get a discounted price.

All of which made it memorable. And some good publicity.


Your parking lot as a publicity source? Of course!

When it comes to getting publicity for your business, don’t be afraid to think outside the four walls of your office. In fact, a very easy way for your company to get publicity is to use your parking lot — or more precisely, let others use your parking lot.

Not sure how this works? Consider the following items found in recent newspaper ads and Facebook postings…

“The tours will begin at (business name here), where visitors are invited to park for free.”

“I’ll be with the Girl Scouts this weekend. We’re selling cookies outside of (local supermarket).”

“Don’t forget to stop by (large retailer) on Sunday. Her soccer team will be having a coin drop. Last year they made over $600!”

“We’ll be collecting clothing for the tsunami victims in the parking lot of (local church) on Saturday, from 8 till 2.”

These ar just some examples how you can utilize a whole lot of asphalt to get publicity for your business. As you can see in the above examples, the company has merely let a group use their lot as a meeting place or gathering point. They did nothing — NOTHING! — but still were able to get publicity for their business.

Some other examples are hosting flea markets, community events like barbecues or carnivals, or a departure point for bus trips.

So don’t just think of it as a parking lot; think of it as a starting point — for publicity!


The value of a broker

Many people are understandably hesitant about using a print broker. It’s not usually just one reason they may have for their lack of confidence, but a few that — when taken individually — don’t seem to make a lot of sense. I don’t say this to be disrespectful of anyone, but rather just to point out some of the inconsistencies of their argument.

For instance:

– “A broker doesn’t work for the print house.” I guess the argument is that since we not an employee of the company, the company probably won’t do as good as job. In fact, the opposite is true. The print shop will probably want to work harder to keep us. We’re an unpaid employee, a free salesman. The better job they do, the more work we will probably bring them, as well as telling other brokers about the shop.

– “There is no direct contact with the print house.” While it’s true we won’t be able to go in the back of the shop and physically check on a job (although we could get proofs sent to us), most print houses don’t WANT salespeople around the actual jobs. It’s dirty, noisy and can be dangerous, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing (like most salespeople…ha, ha, ha).

– “A distributor will select a shop based solely on price.” Sometimes this is true, especially if price is what the end customer is ultimately concerned with also. But other factors are also a concern — quality, timeliness, responsiveness to issues — all things the end user often times doesn’t fully consider.

That said, let me point out some of the benefits of using a print broker. First, getting the job done on time. If I worked for a print shop and the press broke, that would stall everything. However, if getting the job done on deadline is a concern, a broker can simply move the job to another shop — and the customer will never know.

We do the price shopping for you, Rather than having you make 4-5 (or more!) calls to find the best deal, we’ll farm the job out for you to find someone that we can trust with your work, who will do the job on time, and also will do the job at the best possible price. Here’s a quick example of a job we job we just completed.

A customer was looking for a custom print job. We had 2 shops that came highly recommended for this particular job.  One came back at a price of $2.30 per unit. The second was at $1.75 per unit. So, if we had went just with one call, it would have been expensive for the customer. The second one saved 55 cents per piece, compared to the first (and for a 5000-piece order, that’s over $2750 we were able to save.)

However, we made a few more calls. The third vendor came in a $1.30 per unit — another 45 cents per unit saved and a full $1 less than our first call — total savings of $5000!

However, on the recommendation of another broker, we made one more call. This vendor would do the job at 85 cents each — yet another 45 cents saved. So, by making a few extra phone calls, we managed to save this customer $1.45 per unit — over $7000 off the original number we had!

Now, how did that happen? Obviously the first vendor — while highly recommended for their work — wasn’t properly equipped to handle this job. The second vendor was better equipped. For the third and fourth, this item was their speciality — they were properly set up and equipped to do the job in a very cost-effective manner.

For my customer, he may have ended up spending $11,500 if we had used the first vendor. By using the fourth vendor, the total cost was $4250.

If you do the math, you can see how a broker sometimes is your best option.


Time..the great stealer?

Had one of those interesting “do you remember” conversations the other day after my daughter saw a picture of an old-style phone. She thought it was cool that the phone had a rotary dial and a cord attached to it (fo course, just the fact that I called it “old style” and grew up with one of those phones in my house shows my age). Anyway, we started to talk about technology and items that have been introduced in my lifetime, and things that many of today’s “teens and tweens” have never known life without.

For instance, my daughter has never known life with a DVR. I still remember the introduction of Beta and VHS tapes.

She’s never known life without a microwave oven. I remember when my family got our first — and all the challenges that it presented. (It was so bad that my parents will not use one to this day!).

She’s never known a world without cell phones. Just the other day, I was talking to someone about the huge “car units” that introduced many of my generation to mobile telephones.

She’s never known life without space travel. I remember my parents waking me to watch Neil Armstrong take the first steps on the moon.

She thinks “Ringo” is a funny name.

She’s never known life without MTV, or Disney Channel or anything else on cable TV. I remember when they actually had music videos on MTV.

She’s never known life without ATMs or debit cards.

To her, music has always been available on CDs or downloads. She’s never used a record player (much less an 8-track!), but she thinks “scratching” is cool.

She can’t understand why anyone needs a typewriter.

It’s amazing to think of all the fantastic changes that have occurred in our lifetimes, much less that of our parents.

So, what does this have to do with what we do for a living? Imagine if you wanted to be the person who thought they could make a lot of money selling 8-tracks, or typewriter ribbons, or huge mobile telephones. Chances are, you would have gone out of business a long time ago.

As times and technology changes, distributors have to change with them. Some of the items that vendors showed us at the Proforma convention were staggering — and probably weren’t even being thought of 7 years ago when I first entered this industry — much less being offered to the public!

So, for those people who want a product that’s “new and different”, be ready for some for incredibly far-reaching items and ideas. Just hope that you’re not spending your marketing dollars on the next 8-track player.


Lessons learned in Vegas

I just got back from a whirlwind three-plus days in Vegas at the annual Proforma convention. In addition to the normal networking activities that go on at the convention, the days are jam-packed with classes and other educational opportunities.

One of the highlights of the convention is the Tuesday evening Awards Dinner. The night starts with the parade of the 134 members of Proforma’s Million Club and Multi-Million Dollar Club. When you think of it, those numbers are staggering. With about 750 Proforma offices across the country and Canada, almost 20 percent of them bill $1 million or more.

The night was a real eye-opener for me. I watched those men and women walk into the room and remembered my previous billings — and I’m nowhere near $1 million. As they walked in, it struck me — they weren’t necessarily better-looking than me, I don’t think may has as good a personality as me,, and some of them may not even have more customers than me.

So, what did they have? Good business sense, excellent sales technique and great customers. All Proforma owners have the opportunity to offer the same goods and services to their customers, so the difference between me and those folks in the Blue Blazers was basically that they “get it.” They do business smartly. They value their time and their customers’ time.

I want one of those jackets (and not cause they’re so good-looking — they’re not). I want what that jacket represents. Great sales, great customers, and great opportunities.

Look out, world.


A “fun in the sun” quiz

OK, things are a bit slow this week — maybe it’s the heat, maybe it’s the humidity, maybe it’s because it’s so close to the July 4th holiday — so we figured we’d take a break from our usual “stuff”, and have a little bit of fun with a trivia contest.

Since I’ll be giving the answers at the end of the column, there won’t be any prizes if you get everything right, but some smug satisfaction of knowing that you know a lot of little-known facts. Test yourself out..some of these are a bit tricky, and like most trivia tests some are just, well, trivial.

Here goes…

1. Name the one sport in which neither the spectators nor the participants know the score or the leader until the contest ends.

2. What famous North American landmark is constantly moving backward?

3. Of all vegetables (yuck!), only two can live to produce on their own for several growing seasons. All other vegetables must be replanted every year. What are the only two perennial vegetables?

4. What fruit has its seeds on the outside?

5. In many liquors stores, you can buy pear brandy, with a real pear inside the bottle. How did the pear get in the bottle?

6. Only three words in standard English begin with the letters ‘dw’ and they are all common words. Name two of them.

7. There are 14 punctuation marks in English grammar. Can you name at least half of them?

8. Name the only vegetable (more vegetables???) or fruit that is never sold frozen, canned, processed, cooked, or in any other form except fresh.

9. Name 6 or more things that you can wear on your feet, that begin with the letter ‘s’.

1. Boxing
2. Niagara Falls
3. Asparagus and rhubarb
4. Strawberry
5. It grew inside the bottle. The bottles are placed over pear buds when they are small.
6. Dwarf, dwell and dwindle
7. Period, comma, colon, semicolon, dash, hyphen, apostrophe, question mark, exclamation point, quotation marks, brackets, parenthesis, braces and ellipses.
8. Lettuce
9. Shoes, socks, sandals, sneakers, slippers, skis, skates, snowshoes, stockings, stilts.

How’d you do? E-mail me the number of correct answers at Rich.Bradley@proforma.com or post your score in the comments section. For the record, I got four right…but at least I know the names of the two actors who played Darren on “Bewitched.” So there!!


You never know who they may know..

I had an interesting discussion the other day regarding turning down business. Yeah, you read that right.

You’re probably thinking, “Rich, in this crazy economic climate, why would anyone turn down business?” And, in a lot of ways, you’re right — you probably shouldn’t. But, now more than ever, it makes sense to turn down business.

Before you’re thinking that Proforma really should introduce some stricter drug-testing procedures, let me explain.

First, most companies (including ours) are set up to do business with a certain type of customer. Another way to phrase that is, we’re set up to sell a certain way. For instance, you don’t go to a supermarket to buy one Cheerio. You have to buy it by the box. There are lots of different size boxes, but chances are pretty good that you can’t buy just one Cheerio.

Same with most businesses. Items are packaged to make the sale more convenient — sometimes it’s more convenient for the customer, sometimes it’s more convenient for the retailer.

Sliding to our businesses, sometimes in an effort to please everyone we’ll quickly accept any order — whether it fits our business model or not. And that’s just wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Why? Because while we’re doing something that honestly doesn’t work for us, we’re taking time away from doing something that might work for us — calling customers, meeting with vendors, prospecting, marketing, etc.

The one common refrain I hear when I tell people about not accepting jobs is “well, you never know who they might now.” Of course, everyone knows LOTS of people (if you don’t think that’s true, remember the guest list at your wedding). However, just because they know someone doesn’t mean they’re going to refer you to anyone. And even if they do refer you to someone, there are two additional challenges — first, getting that person to buy from you and second, you hope the second person doesn’t also have a small order.

The point about “you never know who they know” was brought to light recently by someone using the game “six degrees of separation.” This person said that if we bought into that rule, he’s only 6 people away from knowing Kevin Bacon.

Of course.

We all are.

The point is, when doing business we need to do smart business. Most people will appreciate it if you honestly say “no, we’re really not equipped to do that job properly.” They’ll probably appreciate it even more if you can refer them to someone who can.

And for the record, I know someone whose friend works at a restaurant where Kevin Bacon’s sister is the manager. So I’m only 3 people away from meeting him now…


Are 4 t-shirts really worth $4,000?

We had a small problem with an order the other day (not happy about that, but it happens from time to time, unfortunately). When I was telling some peers about how we fixed the problem, I got reactions ranging from “you’re crazy” to ” too much trouble” to “you did what??”

A bit of background. We printed shirts and programs for a local dance school for their recital. There were 96 shirts in the order. On four of the shirts — the four child’s small shirts — the printing on the back was accidentally omitted. Of course, the back listed the names of all of the students in the recital.

The school owner notified me of this problem just before 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night. She was in a bit of a panic, since the recital was the next evening. I was having a tough time hearing her, since she called me on my cell phone when I was at the Flyers playoff game. Yes, she called me about 10 minutes before the opening faceoff.

I told her where I was, asked if she had the shirts and asked her to text me her address. I told her I would pick up the shirts after the game, get them reprinted and have them back to her the next day.

Due to some problems with my GPS unit, I ended up having to text and call the owner up to help me find her house — at 12:20 in the morning (the Flyers game went overtime, and traffic was horrendous, as you might imagine).

We picked up the shirts, and left them at our printing facility. I left our production manager a voice mail shortly after the school owner had called, so I was hoping it was the first message our manager heard, and the shirts could be done quickly. I finally returned to my house at about 1:30 in the morning.

I called my production manager at about 8:30, and was told the shirts would be ready by 11. When I called the studio owner, she was thrilled. She thanked me and surprised me by telling me that I “get it. That service is important.”

I stopped to think — what were my options?

I guess I could have said, “sorry, I’m at the Flyers game and there’s no way we can do the shirts.” I could have said “how about if I just give you a credit, or don’t charge you for the shirts?”

In my opinion, they weren’t options. I did some quick math on my drive home and estimated that those four shirts could be worth about $4000 to the school owner. Sort of changes everything, doesn’t it?

How did I get that number? I figured each student takes lessons for 10 months to be in the recital. I estimated lessons at $100 per month — or $1000 for the year. Since there are four students, that’s $4,000.

Sure, the owner could have offered the parents of those students the money back for the t-shirts that weren’t printed correctly. But don’t you think that  might affect their decision to re-enroll their children next year?

And don’t you think that would have played into the owner’s mind when it came time to find a vendor for next year’s t-shirts and programs?

So…what would you have done? Go the extra miles (literally)? Offer a discount? And would you feel guilty about it afterward?

I’d welcome your comments…


Wearing t-shirts for fun and profit

When most people think about getting paid to wear to wear clothes, the immediate thought is a professional model. Even then, we’re talking about wearing some really, really expensive clothing and jewelry.

Most people wouldn’t be thinking about getting paid to wear the good, old-fashioned t-shirt. But Jason Sandler isn’t like most people.

A few years ago, Sandler had his “a-ha” moment. The idea was simple. He would charge people to wear a t-shirt promoting their brand. He refined and defined his idea to the point that now it’s his job — to the tune of over $60,000 a year.

Sandler sells himself to sponsors based on the day of the year — Jan. 1 will cost a company $1, December 31st goes for $365. During the course of the day, Sandler will wear a sponsor’s shirt, take pictures of him in the shirt, do a one-hour webcast of himself talking about the sponsor, and tweet, youtube, Facebook and use any other social media tools at hsi disposal to alert his followers about his sponsor for the day.

He has a website called www.iwearyourshirt.com where you can get more details.

Sandler was a guest on our radio show last week (www.blogtalkradio.com/get-more-businessin case you’re interested), and he talked about his business, its growth, and what he and his business partner, Evan White,  can offer small businesses for their 24 hours of fame.  Yes, I said partner. After working solo for 2009, Sandler added his partner (and doubled his fees!) for 2010. He’s looking to add two or three more people next year as well.

Seems like his idea has caught the attention of small companies — but he’s also working with some bigger companies later this year (as of this writing, he only has 19 days still available for 2010).

Sandler’s idea — and his execution of the idea — is one of those silly little “why not me?” ideas that has turned into a business. Despite his estimation that he puts in 10-12 hours a day on behalf of his sponsor, most people would do almost anything to have a similar job description.

Sandler’s story was very inspirational, and is one of those stories you hear occasionally that makes you think just about anything is possible.

So, if you’re got an idea you’ve been toying with for a while, go for it!! And if you have a few extra dollars floating around, I know a guy that will help you promote it on a t-shirt!


A new way of doing business?

We had a few incidents come up recently that are making me wonder if the rules of doing business have changed and I missed the memo.

Like many businesses, we offer terms to our customers. Our terms are spelled out on our invoices, and most times I will also let our customers know about our terms when they’re getting ready to place an order. Terms are pretty standard in our industry, although I’m real close to rethinking it.

Twice in the past two weeks, we’ve had customers question an invoice — and both times the invoice was more than 60 days old! Think about that — you order an item, you receive the item, you receive the invoice, you receive a statement at the beginning of the next month — then wait another 30 days to voice a complaint? I mean, it’s not like we’re selling fresh fruit here — there are very few items that will “go bad” in 30 days.

Just curious how the mind works on something like that — and do these people pull similar stunts with other vendors. I can hardly imagine them saying to their mechanic, “Hey Joe, that oil change you did for me two months ago — not good. I don’t think I’m paying for it.”

Anyway, these recent incidents have us considering switching over to an all credit-card payment method. The reality is, is so many other businesses, you pay when you receive your goods, whether you use card, credit or debit cards. As I type this, I’m having a hard time thinking coming up with another example of a business that delivers goods or services and doesn’t get payment at that time.

Anyone? Class? Class? Bueller?

Let me know if you think of other businesses that work on terms, or if you know of other businesses changing their payment methods.