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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Great marketing is a multi-faceted process

Robert and Ken Merkley at Merkley Supply Ltd. in Ottawa understand and apply construction marketing at its highest and most effective levels.

Recently, I invited our current and former clients to receive a free one hour consultation on Construction Marketing. This is simply part of our own marketing and follow-up service strategy: When clients do business with our company, even for a one-time support advertisement, they can receive free guidance on the entire marketing package. (This blog traces its roots to an effort to provide our existing clients with something more than an invitation to spend more money. It has taken on a life of its own.)

Intriguingly, I only received a handful of responses, and every one who accepted my offer is in the top rank for effective and consistent marketing performance. In other words, the clients who accepted my consulting offer could more accurately provide me with consulting services.

Consider, for example, the story of Merkley Supply in Ottawa, a building materials supplier focusing on masonry and stone products. The company is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Its location, in an old industrial area, is hardly fancy or luxurious. Nevertheless, the business has thrived, even in the era of business consolidation and big-box retailers.

Ken and Robert Merkley know how to leverage marketing and supply chain relationships effectively. Their annual MSL Show has become the main "Construction Show" in Ottawa. Suppliers pay for booths at the event in March, and Merkely in turn turns out the crowd, with free food, refreshments, and incredible networking and lead building opportunities. The company especially focuses on architects and major developers. Merkley's suppliers get the opportunity to talk with people they would otherwise have great difficulty meeting.

But this isn't an elitist event. Merkley's trade contractor clients are also invited. So you have an eclectic and effective mix of blue and white collar visitors -- approximately 1,200 attended the March event.

Robert Merkley said that one of the keys to the show's success is that it is an invitation-only event. You won't be turned away if you come with an invited guest, but he doesn't want it open to the general public (a good idea, because with the free food, drinks and goodies, the place would otherwise be mobbed with unqualified freeloaders!) But Merkley pulls out the stops to bring the people who he wants to be there -- if you qualify to attend and don't respond to the invitation, he and his staff will phone you personally.

This is fine, but can Merkley improve? I reported to them that some clients find the showroom and order desk environment at MSL less than perfect and the experience not quite what they want. Merkley made it clear they are working on improving the service and then he also noted something I didn't know -- special, supplementary invitations and programs for the truly important clients. Aha. If you are among Merkley's best clients, you receive a higher level of individualized and personalized service. Makes sense.

There is another aspect to the story, one which I am growing to appreciate. Merkley connects to the community. At one point in the early 90s recession, he served as the Chair on the boards of both the mixed and residential construction building associations in Ottawa (Ottawa Construction Association and Greater Ottawa Home Builders' Association). He continues this level of involvement, along with charitable and public service contributions. This is helpful both to the community and to his own business relationships (I know of few better networking environments when you are working together with your clients on committees and boards of community service organizations).

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