Tuesday, October 05, 2004


[This article came from Matt Michel of the Service Roundtable, a marketing specialist firm that brilliantly focuses on the HVAC industry.  He makes a strong push for community centered marketing, which includes community telephone directories.]
One of the blessings and curses of an in-home service company vis-à-vis 
a fixed retail location is the ability to go to the customer instead of 
waiting for the customer to come to you.  It’s a blessing because it 
offers a degree of flexibility the retailers envy.  It’s a curse because 
without discipline, the flexibility leads to an unfocused, inefficient 
service and marketing effort.
Retail operations like McDonald’s and Starbucks seem to be opening on 
every corner.  They’re ubiquitous because they understand the 
opportunity that exists in a relatively small geographical area.  Even big boxes, 
like Home Depot locate 10 to 15 miles apart.  If a Home Depot can 
survive on a five to eight radius, why do you travel more than 30 miles 
between calls?
Gotta Make Those Yellow Pages Pay
Here’s the problem.  Take out a big ad in a yellow pages directory 
serving a 2500 square mile territories and you feel obligated to take every 
call that comes your way no matter where it originates from because 
you’re spending a small fortune on the ad.  Stop!
Does 30 Miles Between Calls Make Sense?
Windshield time, the time spent driving between calls, is the bane of 
service efficiency.  There’s no profit in it.  It’s lost time.  
Windshield time represents fully burdened costs without revenue.  In metro 
areas especially, it makes little sense to drive 30 miles between calls.  
In metro areas a 30 mile travel distance can easily translate into a 90 
minute travel time if the traffic is heavy.  For example, a couple of 
weeks ago I spent 2-1/2 hours to cover 20 miles in our nation’s capitol.  
There are marathon runners who can cover this distance faster on foot.  
A couple of days ago, I drove 35 miles to a meeting paced the entire 
way by an air conditioning service truck.  When I finally exited, the 
Sprinter van kept going.  Unless the tech was taking a trip in the company 
truck, it’s hard to see how this is profitable.
Not Just Distance, But Travel Time
Travel time matters more than distance.  I live in a Dallas suburb 
that’s fairly inaccessible.  It’s bordered by lakes to the south and north.  
The roads into the town reach around the lake or pass through heavily 
congested surface streets.  While the demographics of my town are 
attractive, its inaccessibility gives it a travel time that’s double a 
comparable distance on the other side of the lake.  Nevertheless, I 
continually see trucks from companies located 30 and 40 miles away.
Define a Service Territory
My guess is that unless you operate in a rural market, within a five 
mile radius of your shop is more business than you could possibly handle.  
You fly by it rushing from call to call.  Maybe you’re in a position 
where you feel it’s necessary to accept all calls that come your way.  If 
so, set *some* limit.  Define some radius and stick to it.  
Exchange Calls
Contact competitors outside your defined service territory and work out 
an arrangement where you will refer calls to them that are outside of 
your territory, but within theirs if they will do the same.  You will 
still have overlaps where you compete, but outside of these areas, you 
aren’t competing.
A Core Territory
Next, define your core territory.  This is the territory where you want 
to focus your marketing efforts.  It might be as small as a single zip 
code.  It may be a five mile radius.  It might be a 20 minute drive 
time radius.  
Concentrate all of your discretionary marketing in your core territory.  
Even if you take calls from the next time zone, why spend money 
marketing to distant areas that cost more to serve than your surrounding 
Pound your core territory over and over and over again with outdoor, 
direct mail, door hangers, cable (and yes, you can target zip codes with 
some cable companies), and other marketing.  Keep at it until you’re 
close to a household word in the area, until the referral machine kicks 
in, until you have a measurable share of the households in the area on 
your customer list.  What’s measurable?  Try two to five percent of all 
households or four to ten percent of owner-occupied households.
Units of Common Interest 
Frankly, I recommend focusing down to individual subdivisions.  Find 
units of common interest where homeowners talk with each other.  This 
could be an area served by a single elementary school.  It could be 
subdivisions with a homeowners association.  In short, find an area where you 
can afford to become the dominant marketer for a period of time.  
Become the neighborhood specialist.
Once you’ve attained a level of recognition, you can back off slightly 
and deploy your resources to the next area.  Marketing is like pushing 
a car.  It takes a lot of effort to start it rolling and less to keep 
it moving.  Once your marketing has momentum, you can devote resources 
to the next area, so long has you don’t let the momentum stop.
Minimize Windshield Time
What every service company should strive for, but will probably never 
achieve, is a situation where your customers are so concentrated that 
you can run maintenance all day and never travel more than a block 
between calls.  Think about it.  What would happen to your applied time if 
you were able to attain this level of concentration?  Could you pay your 
techs more and still drop more to the bottom line?  Would your 
marketing costs fall as referrals pick up because more and more neighbors use 
and recommend your company?
Windshield time may be a fact of life.  There’s still no profit in it, 
so do what you can to minimize it.
© 2004 Matt Michel
Ruth King has written a book called Entrepreneurial Terror.  I haven’t 
read it yet because it hasn’t been released.  I have started listening 
to the audio CDs.  Help your blood pressure by doing more than rail at 
talk radio.  If you’re stuck behind the wheel, pop in a CD and learn 
something.  Check the audio version of Entrepreneurial Terror out at 
www.entrepreneurialterror.com or call 800.511.6844.
Ruth’s sort of inspired me.  We’re considering offering audio CD 
versions of some of the best of Comanche Marketing.  This is especially 
suitable for me because I’ve got a face suited for audio.  Is this a good 
idea or not?  Let me know by emailing me at 
Since you’re going to do it anyway, you’ve got permission to reprint 
this and pass it along. You may copy and reprint any of the marketing 
ideas you find here on web sites, newsletters, or in magazine articles, 
provided you send the me an e-mail with the location of electronic 
publications (matt.michel@serviceroundtable.com) or a copy of a printed 
publication (Matt Michel, Service Roundtable, P.O. Box 270842, Flower Mound, 
TX 75027-0842, USA). You must include the following citation:
Source: Comanche Marketing. Reprinted by permission.
Free subscriptions are available at:
www.serviceroundtable.com -- click on the Comanche Marketing tab
Copyright © 2004 Matt Michel
Comanche Marketing is hosted by the Service Roundtable™. The Service 
Roundtable is an organization of contractors, by contractors, and for 
contractors. The Service Roundtable is dedicated to financial and business 
performance improvement of service contractors and provides a wealth of 
business tools and content for a very affordable monthly subscription. 
Visit the Service Roundtable at www.serviceroundtable.com.



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