Every year, during the Executive Forum and Fly-In, a delegation of member executives from Plumbing Manufacturers Intl. (PMI) travels to Washington...
With an ever increasingly competitive market, many water treatment industry suppliers and dealers are investing more into promoting their names and seeking the trust of the community and customers. What are some of the ways companies are doing this today?
Kinetico, Inc., has found the perfect way. In 1996, the company hired Dean Johnson and Robin Hartl, co-hosts of public television’s Hometime program, to be its spokespeople. The well-known duo make regular appearances at Kinetico’s home shows and in television commercials that the company’s dealers run locally. They appear on published advertisements and throughout the company’s website.
"They’re very recognizable with a good number of consumers and dealers," says Allen Pfenninger, director of marketing communications. "They signed autographs at our booth [at various home shows] and drew a crowd."
When looking for a way to promote your company, it’s important to check out your customer base, finding the most effective means of reaching them and shedding a positive light on the company’s image. For Kinetico, that has proved to be a successful method.
"We did a search to find the personality that the greatest number of people could identify with and who had an understanding of home improvement," says Dave Krupinski, product manager at Kinetico. "Dean and Robin have a fantastic national audience of 7 million, and they are regarded as experts in the field. They have attracted more people to take a look at Kinetico and landed a lot of credibility for us."
Efficient promotion means understanding customers’ likes and dislikes. Market research or a demographic study can show you where your audience turns its attention.
For five years, Goulds Pumps has been the associate sponsor of an auto race team that competes in the Grand National Division of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) Busch series. Driver Mike "Magic Shoes" McLaughlin and his brightly colored No. 48 Chevrolet Monte Carlo with "Goulds Pumps" stretched across its hood is a familiar sight to Goulds’ dealers and customers.
Before the company began sponsoring the car in 1995, a demographic study by a marketing group had found that many NASCAR enthusiasts also were Goulds customers, says Jerry Abbott, manager of sales promotions. After looking at race locations and profiles of typical NASCAR fans, the company decided that sponsoring a stock car would get the name out to even more dealers and end-users. "NASCAR is the fastest growing sport in the United States right now, and NASCAR fans are the most loyal fans to a sport," Abbott says.
As an incentive, Goulds even offered to take its 6,000 dealers to the races. "They had to make a certain amount of sales to earn the tickets," Abbott explains.
Now sponsoring Team 48 for the third running two-year contract, the strategy definitely has proved worthwhile. "Like most other promotions, we don’t get exact returns on this investment," Abbott says, "but we do have testimonials where we’ve won competition dealers over because of it. This (sponsorship) is where we get the most bang for our bucks."
Ceramic Filters Co., which distributes Doulton water products in North America, also took to the race tracks this year and began sponsoring a stock car, according to company president David Webb. In return for a year-long sponsorship, the hood of the car prominently displays the name "Doulton Water."
Webb sees this marketing strategy as continuous advertising, a way to get the name out. "On a good day, there would be 130,000 people watching the race live. ESPN also covers it, so 30 million people would see the name, both during the pre-race trials and during the race itself."
Since 1998, Culligan International has had a unique alignment with the American Red Cross to provide water in the event of a national disaster.
"Whenever the Red Cross declares a national disaster, we are there with water," says Dermid Eagen, director of marketing communications. After the Red Cross specifies the needs of the disaster area, the company dispatches water from the nearest dealer in one- or five-gallon bottles and has them delivered to the Red Cross’ distribution warehouse.
During the disruptive hurricane season in 1999 that left many communities on the East Coast in devastation, Culligan dispatched water to Rocky Mount, N.C., hurricane victims and a Wilmington, Del.-area hospital. Similar disaster-relief commitments include providing water during the Del Rio, Texas, floodings in 1998 and forest fire rampages in Florida and New Mexico earlier this summer.
USFilter also lent a hand to several Central American countries when they were hit by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. In Nicaragua, the company worked with the Red Cross and numerous Catholic charities to filter and chlorinate 100,000 gallons of drinking water a day. As for neighboring countries, USFilter supplied Costa Rica with chlorination tablets for one million gallons of water and shipped more than 9,000 gallons of bottled water to Honduras.
As much as providing disaster relief puts the company in the national limelight, helping out in the community on a local scale is not something to be neglected either.
Kinetico is deeply involved with its community in Newbury, Ohio. A large employer in the area, Kinetico encourages its corporate employees to take a day off once a year to work with a local charity in the company’s name. Employees choose the charity at which they wish to volunteer and write a brief description of what they did. The company then compensates them for the day.
"Kinetico takes its role as a corporate citizen very seriously," Pfenninger says. Dealers nationwide also are encouraged to participate in their local charities.
This year, Kinetico is pitching in $2 million for a swimming pool to be built in the future Geauga YMCA at Heather Hill near its corporate headquarters. The YMCA, which begins construction next year, will house a six-lane, 25-meter lap pool with a deep pool area, shallow play area, slide, whirlpool and sauna collectively named the Kinetico Aquatic Center.
On a local level, Culligan dealers also are expected to be involved in community programs such as Rotary Club or Boy Scout events. "We have 800 dealerships touching every zip code across the country, and each dealer has a localized identity," Eagen says. "They are the fabric of the local community."
Without the backing of resources large suppliers and dealers have, what can independent dealers do to promote themselves? According to two dealers, it is precisely the localized nature of smaller businesses that can earn them the reputation of caring for their communities.
D.J. "Duke" Shannahan, president of Sharp Water since 1990–a dealer of EcoWater Systems in Salisbury, Md.–works closely with the local school district and its teachers, regularly hosting presentations in junior and senior high schools about water quality and environmental concerns. The 27-year-old company also helps out with local charities, provides free bottled water at cancer walk-a-thons and hosts a kiosk at local fairs.
Shannahan believes that community involvement is the key to how his business works. "It is the dues you pay for the joys you have in this life," he says. "That’s been the philosophy of this company as long as I’ve owned it."
And he means what he says. Earlier, when a prospect arose to take over a similar business in Florida, Shannahan cut the deal short when he realized that the owner of that company did not share in Sharp Water’s vision. "He was doing a fine business, but he didn’t have a culture of caring for the community," he says. "I knew that it wouldn’t fit with our company even if the dollars were right."
Sharp Water’s involvement in the community has won it the reputation it deserves. The company’s value has quadrupled in the past decade–from being a $500,000 to a $2 million company–and it merged with Chesapeake Utilities Authority in 1998. The company also has won a small business of the year award from the Salisbury Chamber of Commerce.
"We have absolutely grown in business in areas we didn’t expect," Shannahan says. Another unexpected reward came earlier this year. As a result of a Salisbury teacher’s recommendation, a local television station asked him to host an educational program about water quality. The year-long program began airing in September, and Shannahan more than welcomed this opportunity for free publicity. "You’d have to pay big bucks for that kind of advertisement," he says.
Another small company owner, Carl Kizer of C&M Water Systems in Yuma, Ariz., found that the most effective promotion strategy is getting up-close and personal by knocking on doors to educate local residents about water quality. "I’ve been doing it for the last 15 years, and I’m still doing it," Kizer says. "A lot of people don’t know how bad the water really is. Clean water down here in Yuma is badly needed." By telling the public about real concerns–for example, that the water hardness level in the city is 25 to 100 ppm, higher than the standard 15–Kizer and his company have generated a solid base plus a steady stream of new customers.
There is no set recipe for promoting company image, although the companies that were featured did employ a few simple rules that took them off the ground: choosing the medium that reached most of their potential customers, being actively involved in their communities and making use of available resources to contribute to public concerns.
A company can be more than a business when it is customer-oriented. As Shannahan puts it, "When people know there’s someone caring for them, they want to buy the products no matter what the cost is."