Attracting New Business: Contractors Share Tactics for Building a Customer Base

Bringing in new customers is the core business goal, and there are many ways to accomplish that. Here are a few examples of how some companies have done it.

Attracting New Business: Contractors Share Tactics for Building a Customer Base

Robert Christman (center), owner of Roto-Rooter in Bloomington, Indiana, talks to two restaurant owners.

Interested in Business?

Get Business articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Business + Get Alerts

When Robert Christman took over a Roto-Rooter business in Bloomington, Indiana, in 2003, he set out to significantly expand the company’s commercial clientele.

He was successful, growing the commercial end of the business from a mere 10 percent of total revenue to 40 percent. One way Christman did that was by embarking on a personal campaign to let people know about Roto-Rooter. He didn’t just call on restaurants and potential commercial customers. Instead, he took his family out to restaurants and made a point of speaking with the manager — commenting on the food service and asking for their business. Often the response was “I don’t really know why we don’t call Roto-Rooter, but we will consider doing so in the future.”

Christman found other ways of personally speaking with potential customers by using their services and then offering his own. He joined organizations and introduced himself and his company. He wanted to know why people were not calling his business. He discovered that many didn’t even realize Roto-Rooter pumped small grease traps. Over time, Christman says he could see that “light bulbs were going off. People began to realize that we had something to offer.”

Through these efforts, campgrounds — which are abundant in the Bloomington area — emerged as a valuable new source of business.

“When they have lift stations that are down, [the campgrounds] cannot function. They need working showers and facilities. This has become an important portion of our commercial business. Many of the people using these facilities also live in the area, and when they see the Roto-Rooter truck, it becomes another advertising tool for us.”   

Attracting new customers is a goal of any business. How exactly to achieve that can take many different forms, and it doesn’t have to be overly complicated. For Christman, a solution was simply making a point to get more face time with an untapped commercial customer base. Here are a couple more examples of the various ways contractors have brought in new business.

Getting Creative

As Kris Norris was trying to grow his business, NCM Hydro Vac Services in Ottawa, Ontario, in its early days, he tried to think creatively about the types of services he could provide and for whom. For example, roofing contractors.

There was a roofing contractor who worked with high-rise, flat-roof buildings that typically had a pea stone and tar roof. When in the process of re-roofing, the standard method was to use a shovel and a bucket to collect debris that was then craned down and put in a truck for hauling, a long procedure that could take up to three days. Norris offered an alternative — running a disposable plastic hose down the side of the building to a vacuum truck and sucking up all the debris on the roof into the truck.

“It’s all one simple procedure. This can be done in six hours,” Norris says.

From his experience with the one roofing contractor, he kept it open as an option for other roofing companies.

Kris Norris of NCM Hydro Vac Services
Kris Norris of NCM Hydro Vac Services

In another example, while working for a telecommunications company that used fish tape to push lines through an underground conduit, Norris stepped forward with a plan to move the lines that would reduce labor and time.

“I asked them, why not suck the wires through?” Norris says. “They tied a T-shirt to the end of the wire, and I put our hydrovac 500 feet down the street and sucked the wire all the way through the pipe. In a few minutes, it was done. I had successfully sucked the wire all through the pipe.”

Not only does such work prove NCM Hydro Vac Services’ service versatility, but anywhere Norris’ trucks are, he’s getting exposure to more potential customers.

“One of the most satisfying things for me is when we have a large job, with my trucks in full view of everyone. I know the publicity this provides me,” he says.

Finding Reliable Repeat Customers

Since its founding in 1976, Snowbridge Inc. in Breckenridge, Colorado, has used maintenance contracts as a key tool in building its customer base and often turning new customers into permanent customers. It comes from a solid understanding of its service area — a lot of upscale hotels, ski resorts and restaurants that stand to lose big financially if a clogged drain shuts down their business on a weekend during peak season.

“We concentrate on preventive maintenance — it’s our bread and butter,” says Chris Tatro, co-owner of the firm along with brother Bill Tatro. “We clean customers’ lines anywhere from once a month to once a year.”

Selling customers on the preventive maintenance concept has always been fairly easy, Chris Tatro says. And it’s particularly easy to convince customers about the merits of pre-emptive action after they endure a Friday night shutdown, for example. 

Snowbridge Inc. owners Chris and Bill Tatro
Snowbridge Inc. owners Chris and Bill Tatro

“A backup on, say, a Friday night is a major hit to a restaurant or resort’s bottom line,” Bill Tatro says. “Most businesses around here are seasonal. … Ski resorts and hotels have about 20 weekends a year from November through April to make a good chunk of their annual revenue. So every time we get an emergency call from a new customer, we fix their problem and then try to sell them on a maintenance contract. They usually see the value in it.”

Having so many maintenance contracts in place helps Snowbridge maintain steady cash flow, as well as helping the company position itself as a preferred contractor when emergency work does pop up.

“But we rarely receive emergency calls,” Chris Tatro says. “We make sure we do a thorough job every time we’re on a job site.”


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.