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Friday, March 28, 2008

Marketing success is a long-term thing

Merkley Supply Ltd. received the first Ottawa Construction News Readers Choice Award for construction industry suppliers. He started his annual show just a couple of years after we started the newspaper. We presented the award at the show. In an early morning email, Robert Merkley helped me with the caption for this photo:

Good morning Mark,

I thought I was the only one that worked ‘til the wee hours of the morning!

The article is great! I was hoping that the group photo would recognize my team:

From left to right:
- Johnny Raponi – Sales Manager
- Your writer – Daniel Smith
- Myself – Robert Merkley
- Ken Merkley – Marketing Manager
- Lorne Hartley CA – Controller
- Paul Mutter – Purchasing Manager

It would really great if you could recognize my team

As always, you have treated us very well.

Best regards,

Robert Merkley

Yesterday, I joined about 1,200 people for the annual Merkley Supply Ltd. trade show. The local brick dealer will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next year (and is the successor to a much longer-established business which adapted from manufacturing to selling bricks and masonry products after its original site was expropriated for a freeway construction project in the late 1950s.)
The show has operated for 18 years. It survived two competing commercial construction trade shows in the local market, and many businesses which have come and gone over the past couple of decades.

Robert Merkley purchased an ad in the first issue of Ottawa Construction News, established in 1989, a little more than a year after I started my publishing business in 1988. His company has advertised in every issue since then. But Merkley has always followed his own path -- and seen his marketing as an integrated process. We can learn and observe from his experiences.
  • Merkley's marketing is community-centric. He has made it his business to contribute voluntary time and effort to good causes and industry associations. At one point in the 1990s -- in the midst of truly challenging economic conditions, he served both as President of the Ottawa-Carleton Home Builders' Association (now the Greater Ottawa Home Builders' Association) and Chair of the Ottawa Construction Association. Recently, he chaired the construction and development industry's fund raising committee for the Ottawa Hospital Foundation.

  • His marketing is focused. While the general public can go to his store, he focuses his marketing within the trades. Certainly local masonry contractors know who he is. So do architects and spec writers.

  • Merkely fully uses the supply chain in his marketing. Merkely's trade show is largely funded by his company's vendors. They don't mind. The show's focused, high quality market matches their needs; and of course Merkley purchases much material from them.

  • Merkely's marketing is multi-faceted: The trade show, community leadership and involvement, advertising in our publications, and simple but respectful initiatives to build and maintain his brand are apparent everywhere throughout the year. The result: If you are within the construction industry in Ottawa, and are thinking about brick, masonry, and some ancillary flooring and building envelope products, you'll think Merkley Supply Ltd.
During my brief visit to the MSL show yesterday, a general contractor and an architect who knew me from my early years in business greeted me -- and I recalled how I started Ottawa Construction News. Back in 1998, someone had started a construction show for Ottawa -- and filled the local conference centre with row after row of booths. Wow, I thought. If the market could support a show this size, maybe it could support a local trade newspaper for the industry.

Merkley had a huge display at the first show. The next time around, he also had a large display, but he thought about a better way to do things -- and the third year, he commenced his own show. The original show (and a competing show) ultimately flamed out when exhibitors found they simply weren't receiving enough value for their money. Thankfully, we're still around. And so is Merkely Supply. Why do some businesses survive -- and thrive -- through decades of good times and challenging environments? The answer to your marketing questions may be found in their stories.

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