Ken Jacobs combines custom innovation and targeted advertising strategies to generate sales.
By Sigrid Tornquist
“That’s always the challenge—keeping the phones ringing and customers coming in the door,” says Ken Jacobs, owner of Raymond Brothers Ltd. in London, Ontario, Canada. “We get repeat business but it’s not weekly or yearly—it’s years down the road.” Like many custom specialty fabrics providers, finding the most effective way of generating new business is a priority for Jacobs’ company, which specializes in tent and party rental, awnings and industrial fabrics.
Jacobs’ educational background is in funeral directing, and although he and his wife attempted to purchase a funeral home over a several-year period (after graduation), that didn’t pan out. After a while they began to entertain other options. “I’m the type of person who enjoys learning,” Jacobs says. “It could have been any type of business. Whether [the products] are awnings, tents or anything else—business is business.”
Focus on custom
In 1998, Jacobs and his wife bought Raymond Bros., which had been in business since 1903. After acclimating to the awning and tent rental market, Jacobs applied his ability to make connections with people, assess their needs and find ways to meet those needs, to his new company.
He began by focusing on the benefits that are specific to custom products, and utilizing a variety of methods to increase the company’s visibility and generate interest. “There’s not a lot of custom anything out there, so it’s a breath of fresh air for customers when they find they can bring us a problem and we can solve it,” he says.
And what is the most obvious, ongoing benefit of customization? Made to order for one—applicable to many. Take the customer who approached Jacobs asking him to provide a reasonably priced, large tent for an annual weekend event. The client needed a 30,000-square-foot tent for an antique car show each year that could be installed quickly, dismantled quickly and be cost effective. Jacobs wanted to fill that need but knew that manufacturing a tent that was large enough, met code requirements and wasn’t cost prohibitive would be a challenge. “We considered the different structures—frame tents, clearspan structures—but they were $60 to $70 thousand and there was just no way we could recoup that money in just a weekend,” Jacobs says. “Then we started playing with the pole tent idea and got engineers involved—and we started building.”
It keeps going … and going
Jacobs and his team created a 300-by-100-foot pole tent that met the needs of that particular client but could also be marketed to other clients. The result was that Jacobs and his crew have manufactured what is the largest pole tent in Canada. It can be installed in a day; it can be dismantled in a day; and it can seat a lot of people for a reasonable cost.
He markets the tent (beyond the original client) through local event promoters. “[Our community] has a population of just over 300,000,” he says. “We market to all the promoters and when different events come to town, they think of us.” As it is, the tent is booked once a month. The tent, manufactured in 2005, is now paid for and will probably have a lifespan of at least ten more years.
So how else does he get the word out about the biggest tent in Canada and the rest of his tents, event rental and awnings? Besides the event promoters, Jacobs markets his business, of course, via the company website and the yellow pages. But perhaps the strategy that creates the most recognition for his company in the local market is—the radio.
On the air
Advertising on the radio is hardly a new concept—but for Jacobs, taking advantage of all marketing opportunities and positioning each marketing endeavor in a way that is identifiable has paid off. “Radio is the best form of advertising we’ve found,” he says. “I do all the voicing myself and feel like I can portray the business in the way I want it to be portrayed.” Jacobs is able to track consumer recognition by virtue of the ad phrasing. The company’s radio segments always end with the same jingle—“Raymond Brothers Tent and Awnings: The shadiest guys in town.”
“It’s funny,” Jacobs says. “People come up to my workers and say ‘Oh, you’re the shadiest guys in town.’ And right away we know where they heard about us, because we only use that slogan on the radio.” Jacobs routinely redirects the ads, depending on a combination of what the seasonal needs of the clients may be and what he knows the company has to offer. “We try to plant seeds regarding ways in which clients can use our services [awnings and tents],” he says. “We use the ads to address complaints as well as compliments.”
The marketing strategy’s bottom line, however, has much to do with the weather. “We’ve found that the weather really drives our business more than any other element out there,” Jacobs says. “If it’s cold and wet it’s a different story than if it’s hot and dry. We advertise to say that awnings [and tents] are good in the rain as well as the sun.”
Internet, print, radio—it’s the combination of advertising that Jacobs relies upon to let customers know that his company has what they need. And the common thread running between the types of media is that the customer receives—and believes—the message. “I want the customer’s feedback.” Jacobs says. “I want them to be happy. I want the customer to be the sales person when the job is done.”