Problem solver: 'I'm self-employed but I'm not sure how to increase awareness of my business'
Businessman Feargal Quinn answers your questions
Q: You have always been very smart at marketing. I am self-employed as a plumber, but am not quite sure how to increase the awareness of my business in the market place; can you give me some advice?
Before you communicate with anyone, you need to be clear in your own mind why you are different from all other plumbers.
Do you specialise in a particular area like heating, fitting stoves, fitting solar panels or simply repairing faulty taps and pipes? It is very important that you are clear in your own mind what business you are in, as the word plumber can mean so many things to so many people.
Then be clear in your own mind what is different about the service you are offering. Do you have more expertise than others? Are you cheaper than your competitors? Is your expertise greater or have you won some awards?
The reason I am asking all of these questions is that many businesses rush out to market their offer without putting any thought into clarifying what they stand for.
Once that is clear in your mind, then you can start to use any number of communication channels to chat with your consumers.
While some consumers will have a plumber they know, many consumers probably only think about a plumber when there is a crisis, so you need to think about where these consumers might look for your services, like a website, Facebook, Golden Pages, etc.
It might also help for you to be proactive and make sure all the plumbing centres and hardware shops within your catchment area know you exist, as they may often get queries from consumers about a local plumber. I see several plumbers with strong branding on their vehicles that are seen by thousands of people as they drive around.
While I know the building industry isn't very busy at the moment, I do know there has been an increase in the number of households building extensions, so you need to ensure that part of the awareness you create is with builders who might be building these extensions, but who will need the services of a plumber.
I was talking with a tradesman recently who told me that for every house he did repairs, he handed leaflets in to neighbours on two doors either side that stated he was working for their neighbour. Nice idea! There is also a whole raft of traditional marketing tools that you can use from formal print media advertising to notices on the notice board in your local supermarket, and you will have to explore each of these and see which work and which don't for you.
The singular message I would like to give to you is that marketing never stops and you must continuously have activity and vary the type of activity on a regular basis.
Q: From your time in Superquinn, which supplier brands stood out for you as being different?
In answering this question, there is a big danger that I might upset a number of people who have done some exceptional work in the fast-moving consumer goods sector. Here goes!
Back in 1985, I recall a young man called Geoff Read approaching us to see if we would sell Ballygowan bottled water. The idea to Irish consumers was totally alien, and while we did stock a number of French mineral waters, they seemed to have very little potential, but we gave it a try. What a mistake it would have been not to have supported them, because they went on to pioneer a category that has now almost become mainstream.
Edward Twomey from Clonakilty Pudding also stands out in my mind. In an era where black and white pudding had become somewhat mass market with a smooth pudding, Edward challenged the market with his distinctively flavoured, coarse black and white pudding, which caught the imagination of consumers very quickly.
The brand quickly went from unknown to being a serious player within the breakfast category. Sadly Edward passed away, but the business continues to thrive under the management of his wife Colette and family.
My next choice, Ray Coyle of Largo Foods, has to be applauded for his sheer determination in entering the crowded snack food category many years ago and he literally shook up the whole category.
He brought us Hunky Dorys, bought over the Tayto brand and re-energised it and, more recently, opened the innovative Tayto Theme Park in Ashbourne – and now I see he has just launched a new Tayto chocolate bar that contains crisps!
I have chosen these from a very long possible list simply because of their sheer determination to create success in what could be deemed to be crowded categories. I applaud these and the many other hundreds of food entrepreneurs, big and small.