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Direct Sales Should Be as Direct as Possible

November 29, 2000|KAREN E. KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Q: I recently started a commercial roofing business and am having trouble attracting customers. I have tried e-mail marketing, cold calling and distributing brochures. What else can I do?

--Kevin Snow, Tustin

A: There are a few things to keep in mind in trying to sell your commercial roofing services. First, are your brochures, e-mails and other marketing materials being read by decision-makers? For instance, your marketing materials are much more likely to result in a sale when in the hands of an operations person or a company owner, versus a salesperson.

Second, you should be concentrating on in-person sales. Even in a digital world, human relationships are what make business transactions happen. Meeting prospective clients face to face and explaining your services is invaluable.

On the other hand, these direct sales will take a lot of your time and they will only be worthwhile if they are highly targeted: For instance, you should make presentations to building owners, managers and landlords who are responsible for managing many commercial buildings. When the tenants of these buildings call their landlords with roofing concerns, you may be referred.

Third, think about the timing of your marketing efforts. How often does a company need commercial roofing services? If you are marketing to companies who just redid their roofs, you will not get any sales regardless of the value you provide.

In an ideal world, companies will learn about you just before or just at the start of their roofing problem. The question is, how do you find companies at the right moment? The traditional way is to put a big advertisement under "roofing" in the yellow pages.

You should also make sure you get listed on the popular Internet search engines and try popular service sites, such as NextDoor.com, that provide customer leads for projects from plumbing to roofing.

--Dave Lavinsky, president,

Growthink, entrepreneurial

services, Venice

New Product Needs Lift

Q: I've invented and patented a new shopping cart called the Ergolift that helps elderly people and those with back problems lift their groceries out of the cart. How can I get this product introduced into the California market?

--Robert Flores, South El Monte

A: Today's market is prime for health-related equipment and devices for the elderly, especially considering that the baby boom generation now has parents who are senior citizens. Since you already have a patent and product available, I would recommend that you contact some medical supply/equipment retail businesses and obtain their opinions on the merits of your invention. Since these retailers deal directly with end-users, they'll tend to know what the market likes and what they would like to see in new products.

While visiting these medical "home-care services" businesses, you can collect the names of medical equipment manufacturers for future contact. Before revealing any proprietary information about your product invention to a manufacturer or distributor, be certain to have the prospect sign a non-disclosure agreement.

If your product invention is cost-competitive and ergonomically friendly, you should have no problem generating interest from a manufacturer, especially if they will not have to do any engineering or spend money on research before manufacturing the product.

If you already have a means of manufacturing the product, then securing a qualified distributor could even be easier.

Product distributors are always eager to represent a new product line--as long as you can show them the market is ready and eager for your product. This is where collective market research from the medical retail sector and medical practitioner field would be wise.

Another suggestion would be to secure some endorsements from the following professionals: orthopedists, chiropractors and physical therapists. If they believe your product has merit, then it will be much easier to secure the interest of medical equipment distributors.

Please keep in mind, if a manufacturer or distributor believes your product has potential, they will most likely want to enter into a licensing agreement with you. This avenue is very much worth considering, however, you should consult with an attorney before you render any decisions on such an agreement.

--Gerard Lehman, president, New Product Marketing,

Huntington Beach

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Send questions to: Karen E. Klein, Los Angeles Times, 1333 S. Mayflower Ave., Suite 100, Monrovia, CA 91016, or e-mail it to kklein6349@aol.com. Include your name, address and telephone number. This column is designed to answer questions of general interest. It should not be construed as legal advice.

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