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Even the best service, technology, skills and pricing are meaningless if a business can’t reach its target market. In the field of plumbing, first determine which market is most desirable and best fits your organization’s structure. "Find a way to differentiate your plumbing advertising and business from every other plumber," says John Jantsch, founder of Kansas City-based Duct Tape Marketing.

Appeal to the Masses

Paul Abrams, public relations manager for Cincinnati-based Roto-Rooter Services Co., explains that plumbing professionals whose interest is in attracting the residential population must realize most opportunities are a direct result of emergency situations. "People don't know when their plumbing will fail or when their sewer line will back up. Generally, people are not going to call a plumber until they need one," Abrams says. "For that reason, the fastest path to help is usually the Yellow Pages, which allows your company to convey its experience and availability while also detailing the specific kinds of jobs your staff can handle."

Abrams also acknowledged that it’s routinely effective to reach the masses through direct mail coupons, refrigerator magnets or other items that people are likely to keep. "The key is always to make it as easy as possible for people to find you when they need you most," Abrams says.

A direct-mail strategy requires fine-tuning so you reach the specific market you desire. Then you can send out periodic mailers to the same group to detail work you’ve done, are doing and can do in their area. You can also contact your past customers by mail within days of the job, thanking them for their business. This provides you with an acceptable way to ask for referrals.

Reach the General Contractor

The contractor presents an interesting opportunity in new homes and business, but this execution requires differing marketing tactics. For instance, the greatest opportunities in this arena require effective networking and partnering with other businesses. This typically means attending various business networking functions, being active in industry-specific associations and hosting mini-open houses to increase contractor awareness.

"Any plumber who desires work within the contracting business can and should have a readymade list of related service providers, such as electricians, HVAC, etc., that they can form marketing and referral alliances with," Jantsch says. "Having a referral network is usually the marketing backbone when your focus is within the general contracting arena."

Fine-Tune the Process

Regardless of which avenue you decide to take, effective marketing requires direction and scope. "It’s a mistake to rely on one type of advertising, such as the Yellow Pages, and not setting up multiple forms of marketing, such as referral systems or strategic partnerships," Jantsch says.

Find a comfort level that’s most appropriate for your business. "Avoid over-extending your business through extremely fast growth and a willingness to cover vast geographic areas for an extra job," Abrams says. "At the same time, you don’t want your focus to be too narrow whereas only one section of town ever calls."

Also, when creating an advertisement, direct-mail piece or developing a networking plan, remember the importance of technology awareness, explains Abrams. "Staying on top of advances and offering them to your customers is a great way to stay ahead of the competition," he says. "Plumbers today have skills and equipment that were unimaginable just a few decades ago."

However, even advanced skills and technology are no substitute for top-notch customer service, professional demeanor and a clean, well-groomed appearance. "Customers pay a lot of money for a good plumber, and they ought to at least feel that they had a good experience and got their money’s worth," Abrams says.

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