A-Max Hardwood Floors owner Allan Jerman took a little different route to the wood flooring business than most. Prior to buying A-Max, he owned a company that created Facebook apps and used AdSense and AdWords to market more than 100 websites.
When Facebook changed its policies in 2013, Jerman’s business was no longer viable, so he started looking for a new challenge. He found A-Max through an online search, bought it, and moved with his wife and 3-month-old son to Boise, Idaho.
Jerman wasn’t a newcomer to the building trades. He grew up working in his dad’s contracting business in San Diego. Now Jerman’s dad works with him at A-Max, along with the employees who worked for A-Max’s previous owner.
Phasing into marketing
Based on his experience, Jerman had plenty of ideas for building A-Max’s business, but initially, he didn’t advertise at all. “I really wanted to get a baseline for sales and then build from there. That was phase one,” explains Jerman.
Next, he started using Google AdWords to drive website traffic. Google AdWords helps companies place their website listings near the top of search engine results pages. Google AdSense places users’ ads on relevant websites and blogs and pays the owners of those websites per click or impression.
“We wrote a lot of articles about cleaning, refinishing, different types of wood. And they weren’t spammy; it was good content like FAQs or an explanation of a process we used on a project – what we did, how we did it, and what product we used. We even created posts that were searchable by city and type of wood. So if someone wanted to see red oak in Boise, they could find it and go look at it,” shared Jerman. That was phase two.
During phase three, Jerman kept his online advertising and added traditional print tactics like flyers and door hangers. Door hangers were too expensive and hard to track. And after a homeowner chased down one of his employees, berating him for hanging “trash” on his doorknob, they stopped.
On to phase four – radio. For A-Max, radio was about branding and credibility. “It did generate some leads, but mostly, it was good for awareness,” explained Jerman. “It showed that we were not just some small company and that we would be here. We wouldn’t just do a job and disappear.”
Phase five was a total rebranding with new colors, a new website, and eventually, vehicle wraps.
Throughout each phase, Jerman tracked his expenditures and results on a spreadsheet, calculating his advertising cost on a per-job basis. The more Jerman spent, the higher his percentage of advertising was for each job. But as he put it, “The more you spend, the more referrals you’ll get. I will never stop advertising. People move on; they come and go.” That’s why he recommends an ongoing marketing program.
But where do you start? Jerman suggests hiring someone you’re comfortable with, not a national brand, but someone local. “If you hire someone who doesn’t know the area or the industry, you’re already one or two steps behind the game. You need someone who knows what’s going on. Find someone local with good references, or someone in the industry.”
But that’s only part of Jerman’s story. He’s an entrepreneur with an eye for opportunities as well. After developing a digital marketing system for A-Max, he saw a need in the industry that he could address.
Seizing an opportunity
About two years after buying A-Max, Jerman started thinking about how he could build another business by sharing his plan and process with other wood flooring companies. Thus, BizMilk, a search engine optimization and content marketing company, was born.
Jerman handles the back-end including operations, website and content development, and search engine optimization (SEO); his partner, Rich Carden, handles sales. Jerman recalled the start of their business relationship.
“Rich used to sell me radio advertising and had asked about internet advertising. I told him I was thinking about starting a business and he said he wanted to be involved. I said, ‘OK, you do sales, and I’ll do the back-end.’ Then one day he called and said, ‘I quit my job. I’m ready to go full time into SEO.’ We only had one client, but Rich got to work, and within six months we had enough clients to pay him and me.”
Although much of what they do is about maximizing SEO, BizMilk doesn’t really market it as a service. “People don’t understand SEO, but they get content creation and content marketing. But they don’t have the time or resources to create the content they need on their websites to drive traffic,” explains Jerman.
According to Jerman, website content drives SEO. “Everything is pointing toward getting content on companies’ websites. And it’s not just about the content itself, but about how it’s organized. You have to put it in an order that makes sense to the user and to Google. We focus our efforts on explaining that to people.”
“Right now, our niche is hardwood. We know the market, so there’s little research involved. We can hit the ground running. For example, we work with an Indianapolis company that went from getting no calls with HomeAdvisor, to getting daily calls with us. They were pretty excited. Recently, we set them up with a website and collateral – logo, business cards, handouts – plus a plan of what to do and how to do it. I gave them the spreadsheet we use for A-Max, which tracks marketing cost by job. Now they have the full business marketing package – content, website, collateral, and tracking.”
While Jerman and Carden enjoy working with non-competing hardwood flooring companies, they recognize a need for BizMilk’s services in other industries and are actively looking to expand their business. “We can create a system for any industry, then scale it in the market so everyone can use it. We already know it’s going to work.”
Katrina Olson is a freelance writer and Principal of Katrina Olson Strategic Communications. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.