Without any preamble, here are the two dozen ideas that you can implement fairly easily:
If no one promotes extended hours in your market, you can jump on the claim first. Because it is relatively easy to copy, you must have the funds to advertise the hours heavily to associate the position strongly with your company in the public consciousness. Whoever claims a position first and loudest, typically owns it.
Warranties are similar to extended hours. They are easy to copy. However, if no one in your market has made loud, public claims about extended warranties you can use them to define your business, provided you have the marketing funds to effectively put out the word.
If you are the first in your market to proclaim an unconditional, no questions asked, money back guarantee, you may be able to build a distinctive position based on it. Domino’s Pizza was built on a guaranteed 30 minute delivery, which they defended against everyone but the trial attorneys (Domino’s dropped the guarantee after the company lost several lawsuits over accidents caused by company delivery drivers).
Do you drive white trucks like almost everyone else? Tiger Plumbing Heating & Air Conditioning in Southern Illinois features trucks wrapped in tiger stripes. The truck wrap reinforces the name and stands out. Tiger’s tagline is “We earn our stripes every day!”
A-ABC Appliance and Air Conditioning in Dallas was positioned by Ahron Katz as “the company with the little red trucks.” Because Katz advertised heavily, he was able to successfully associate A-ABC with the color red and used to promote special savings for consumers who saw one of his trucks and called the shop with its location and time. Red was so associated with A-ABC that consumers called the company about copycat competitive trucks and red trucks from other industries.
Oakland A’s owner, Charlie Finley once paid his players $300 to grow mustaches during the playoffs. While I wouldn’t recommend it, you could easily become distinctive by encouraging technicians to grow long hair and beards, while renaming your company Duct Dynasty.
5. Ease of Doing Business
Beyond extended hours, can you make it easier to do business with your company? My wife used to have a favorite appliance repair company. She raved about their service, the shoe covers, the trucks, and the clean-cut friendly technicians. One day she stopped using them, switching to a company she loathed. When I asked why, she responded, “They let me schedule service online.”
6. Peace of Mind
Contracting Business Hall of Fame member, Larry Taylor differentiated his company by offering nervous consumers peace of mind about the people who would show up at their homes. Larry not only performed background checks, drug tests, and used photo ID badges, but he posted all of the information about each technician on the company website so that homeowners could check out the technician who was dispatched to their homes.
While there is no evidence that the majority of our communities are more dangerous than the past, our society has become hyper-alert to risk. People are paranoid and peace of mind can be a powerful form of distinction.
7. Charitable Support
The Cotton Patch Café supports a number of charities, including the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, and others. The restaurant stands out from the crowd with its customers because of the charitable activity. People think of the chain as a restaurant that gives back.
Are there charities that you can visibly support in your market? Ben Stark painted a truck pink and donated a percentage of the profits from that truck to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. For the breast cancer survivor “sorority” in Stark’s service area, Stark Air became the company to call. After Ben shared the story at a Service Roundtable meeting, a number of contractors across the country emulated Ben.
The pink truck with the Komen logo is brilliant because it shouts the affiliation. Many contractors support local charities, but seem reluctant to communicate it. Letting people know you support a charity does not diminish the contribution. In fact, it might increase if this causes consumers to select your company over the competition.
You can become distinctive among consumers who care about the environment by becoming a “green” company. However, this can quickly work against you if it’s little more than lip service, or “green washing.”
Hobaica Services, a Contracting Business Contractor of the Year Recipient, plants trees in a national forest every time the company installs an air conditioner. The company recycles more than refrigerant, offers solar, and generally makes a sincere effort to reduce the business’ environmental impact. Accordingly, they have attained “green cred” and distinctiveness.
Roto-Rooter Plumbing and Drain Service built their business on the strength of a jingle. The previously mentioned Hobaica Services also used a jingle very successfully (“You’ll like-a Hobaica”).
Jingles can get inside the head of a consumer and stick. However, they will only work if you can support them with sufficient advertising on broadcast media.
10 Geographic Specialty
Rigidly defining your service area to focus on a specific community can be a source of differentiation if promoted well. If no other contractor has grabbed the community name as a company name, that’s a great way to identify your company as the community expert.
Specialization of any kind tends to result in more effective marketing because the specialization forces you to focus your marketing. Just remember that identifying yourself as the expert for Community A means you will have a more difficult time soliciting business from Community B.
11. Technical Expertise
You can distinguish your company by technical expertise. For example, you could become the specialist for manufacturing housing air conditioning. Or, you could become the mini-split specialist.
Like geographic specialization, a technical specialty will result in focused marketing and becoming the go-to company for the area of specialization. However, it will cost business outside of the area of specialization.
Jerry Kelly Air Conditioning, another Contracting Business Contractor of the Year, consistently won a local “best of” award. Steve Miles used this to set the company apart, promoting Jerry Kelly as the #1 contractor in his market.
It is important to enter contests and other competitions for your company (e.g., Contracting Business’ Quality Home Comfort Awards). Once you win an award, it sets you apart. Once you win, you will forever more be “an award winning company.”
Are you the largest company in your area? If so, this can set you apart and allow you to take advantage of the wisdom of crowds. If you’re the biggest, you’re also the safest, and probably the best.
Is your company the oldest contracting business in your area? If so, that is a point of distinction. It shows that you must be doing something right to last that long. Huntsville, Alabama’s H.C. Blake stands apart by stressing their founding in 1884, noting that they are “the trusted choice for plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical expertise in northern Alabama for over 125 years.”
Can you offer the consumer a unique experience that becomes associated with your brand and company? One of the best experiential marketers in the HVAC industry is John Price with Aloha Aire in Texarkana, Texas.
Returning from Hawaii, John and his wife, Marilyn wondered if it was possible to bring Hawaii back with them. This sparked the end of the Price Service Company and the start of Aloha Aire. The trucks are distinctively branded with a Hawaiian theme. Hawaiian music plays on hold. Technicians wear logoed Hawaiian shirts.
If a pleasant island theme is not your thing, you can try offering a different type of experience. Dick’s Last Resort is a café noted for rudeness. Visit Dick’s and the waiters are likely to insult you. Of course, what may be fun in a café is not fun from a service company, though many achieve it by accident.
Celebrity endorsements is another way to stand part. Few products are more of a commodity than bricks. Nevertheless, Acme Brick managed to distinguish itself from other brick manufacturers by gaining the endorsement of former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman.
The relationship between Acme and Aikman started simple enough. Acme donated the bricks to build Aikman’s home in return for a little promotional tie-in. Since then, the relationship has grown with Acme making charitable donations to the Troy Aikman Foundation.
Acme has expanded their celebrity work with Texas Ranger Juan Gonzalez, donating bricks for a Habitat for Humanity program sponsored by Gonzalez.
Can you donate your service to a celebrity and/or support a celebrity’s favored charity in return for a endorsement? If so, it gives you a chance to stand apart from the crowd.
The use of humor can make your company distinctive, though it must be done carefully. Pest control company, Truly Nolan does an excellent job by outfitting vehicles with mouse ears and tails, stating that the company is “ears and tails above the rest.” Some vehicles proclaim that the company is “licensed to kill.”
Do you have a heritage of contracting in your family? John’s Refrigeration in Mesa, Arizona has transitioned from father to sons. Both Andrew and Stephen helped their father growing up. Pictures showing all three stresses this heritage and helps the company stand apart.
Is there something unique about your personnel? Are 100% of your technicians NATE certified? Is everyone a veteran? Is there something you can use to stand apart?
Remember, the differentiation must be sustainable. If you promote 100% NATE certified technicians, this will restrict your hiring to technicians already NATE certified.
One way to stand apart is to bundle another product or service with your products or services. For example, you might give away a flat screen TV with every full system. In the past, contractors have offered short resort stays with change outs. The resort packages are bought in bulk from vacation bundlers.
In Iowa, Byron Thelander got together with an independent cinema to give away pairs of movie passes on service calls. The theater owner bills Byron at reduced rates for the passes that are turned in. If his customers fail to use the passes, Byron pays nothing.
Almost all airlines sell blocks of miles for businesses to give away. It is surprisingly affordable. In cities with lots of frequent flyers and a dominant airline, giving miles away can differentiate your company from the competition.
22. Demographic Specialization
Women are the decision makers for HVAC. They decide who to call and are often stuck with the job of waiting for a technician. Yet, many contractors appear to market to men. Why not specialize as the company who serves women? Or, specialize as the company who serves seniors?
I know one contractor who goes out of his way to solicit business from the gay community by advertising in local gay publications, advertising in the pink pages, and so on. As he explained, the gay community is networked, has lots of disposable income, and values great service.
Have you written a book? If not, could you? If you aren’t a writer, could you hire a ghost writer to write it in your name?
Robert Wade Brown wrote six books on foundation repair. His company, Brown Foundation Repair, stands apart from the competition by stating that “we wrote the book on foundation repair.” Brown Foundation Repair is automatically credited with possessing greater expertise than other companies.
You can differentiate based on price, either high or low. In a service industry, it’s difficult to become the low cost provider when there are so many contractors who seem willing to subsidize the customer. However, you can price and promote certain items or repairs that are lower than anyone else in an attempt to position as an affordable company. This is the strategy used by many retailers. People assume that you must offer a low price on everything if you offer a low price on some things.
Conversely, you can boldly proclaim to be the highest priced company and claim you are worth every cent. Curtis Mathes televisions successfully deployed this strategy for years, stating that their television sets were the most expensive in American and “darn well worth it.”
For more ways to differentiate your company through branding, call the Service Roundtable at 877.262.3341 and ask about the Retail Contractor Coalition. Or, visit www.ContractorCoalition.com.