Distributor Marketing Programs

How three GAWDA members get the word out

One of the largest obstacles for small businesses, including many Gases and Welding Distributors Association members, is getting the word out into the gases and welding marketplace about the company. Cold calling, trade shows and printed fliers have long been standard ways such businesses have used to achieve their goals. But often, such methods aren’t enough to really differentiate oneself from the crowd. What else can be done?

Some GAWDA members are using creative ways to let the general public know about their companies. Whether it’s improved Web sites, athletic sponsorships, involvement with trade organizations or billboard advertising, these GAWDA Distributors are making their limited marketing budgets count. Here are just a few examples from these innovative GAWDA members.

O2 Plus Adds Web Platform

At O2 Plus (Carrollton, GA), word-of-mouth advertising has long been the standard way of marketing the company. “Carrollton has a small town feel,” says President Shane Miles, whose grandfather founded the company after serving as the local pharmacist for 30 years. “Everyone knows him,” Miles adds.

In recent years, though, more new business has come in along with commuters to Atlanta. “Now there are a lot of people in our hometown who don’t even know we’re here, and we’ve been here for 10 years,” Miles says. “We need to be a little more aggressive getting our name out there.”

In addition to the hiring last year of a new salesperson for aggressive cold calling and traditional Yellow Pages advertising, O2 Plus supports local schools with ads for calendars, stadium scoreboards and arena signage, as well as sponsoring tournaments and other events. In all, Miles has tripled his marketing spending in 2008 in hopes of generating 10 percent business growth.

The biggest chunk of that budget is going toward the development of a Web site and e-commerce platform. Miles has spent the last nine months—and more than $10,000—crafting the site from scratch with the help of a subcontractor from IBM.

Miles believes the new site will be a boon to his company, which currently relies on its eight-person staff to cover a market area that stretches across 100 miles. “We want to target the local area as well as outside of it. We hope to sell to whoever gets onto our page.”

Highlights of the site will include Flash animation, product inventory and company information, focusing on the fact that O2 Plus is family-owned and local. “Most important, it will be personable with pictures of our people on it rather than things for sale, so that Web visitors will feel like they know us and be able to put a face on with whom they’re doing business,” says Miles.

Miles hopes to have the site functional by the end of March. “It’s a big expenditure, so I’ve just been doing it a little bit at a time when I have some extra money, rather than doing it all at once.” The final step will be adding the Web site address, www.o2plusinc.com, to the sides of delivery trucks. “I always try to put my name out there every chance I get,” Miles says.

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AWESCO uses this billboard to bolster its name recognition in the Albany, New York, area. That’s company president Dave Mahoney in the spotlight.

When the deal was struck, AWESCO didn’t have a billboard ad campaign in mind. But Sector worked with an outside contractor to get an ad together. It’s worked out really well for us, Sector says. Another part of our agreement says that when they have billboards that aren’t in use, they’ll put up our advertisement so they don’t have a blank billboard. That actually works out well because it tends to jump all over the Albany area. Although it’s difficult to measure the effectiveness of the billboard campaign, Sector says anecdotal evidence suggests people are seeing it. It’s more of an initiative just to keep our name out in the public eye, he says. We hope people have a certain amount of name familiarity already if they’ve seen the billboard and its humorous message. He says the company has received numerous positive comments and feedback, indicating that the billboard has been effective in serving its purpose. Another marketing strategy utilized by AWESCO is involvement with local and regional economic organizations. Albany is an emerging specialty gas market with lots of high-tech nanotechnology projects going on, says Sector. We have been instrumental in organizations that cater to that development. For example, AWESCO is a member of the Center for Economic Growth, a group that promotes the Hudson Valley as a high-tech area. We’ve been an active member of that association, participating in the various trade shows they’ve held. Sector says the effectiveness of this strategy will pay off in the future.

Lampton Lights the Lamp

Sometimes, marketing opportunities come from unexpected places. Such is the case for Lampton Welding Supply (Wichita, KS), whose logo appears on hockey pucks at home games for the Wichita Thunder, a minor league professional ice hockey team that competes in the Central Hockey League.

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Putting its logo on hockey pucks for the Wichita Thunder allows Lampton Welding Supply to keep its name in the ice rink and out in the community.

Vice President Doug Lampton, an avid hockey fan, found out about potential sponsorship opportunities three years ago and suggested putting the company logo on hockey pucks. Luckily, says Lampton President Guy Marlin, some of the pucks get passed out as souvenirs, so “you don’t have to get hit in the head with one to get one!” In return for its sponsorship, Lampton Welding Supply receives group tickets for two home games per season. “It’s nice for our customers and team members to bring their families, watch a game and relax. We have a good time,” Marlin says. “To us, our customers are more than customers; they’re a part of the family. So we share fun experiences with our family.”

Along with its sponsorship of the hockey pucks, Lampton Welding Supply also lends its name to the squad’s dance team, “Lampton Lightning.” This group of 16 ladies performs during intermissions. “It’s amazing how many people have heard of us because of the Lampton Lightning,” Marlin says.

Though the sponsorships cost several thousand dollars per year, Marlin believes they provide a decent enough return to continue. “I can’t attribute a single sale to it directly,” Marlin says, “but I know that people have fun with it. Hockey fans are pretty loyal, so I think we get a certain amount of business from people who see our name at the games.”

Marlin also points out employee involvement on scholarship boards at Wichita State University. “We figure that if we stay involved with local things, then we’re giving back to our community. Many people send their money someplace else, but we prefer to keep ours in the areas where we’re located.”

Gases and Welding Distributors Association