Metals distributor gets marketing help outside the family

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Challenge: Finding the time to make marketing a priority was difficult for Southern Aluminum Finishing Co., a metals distributor, aluminum finisher and metal fabricator based in Atlanta.

While advertising could increase sales leads, it was difficult for Penn McClatchey, VP at SAF, to focus on it, given all his other responsibilities in running the company.

“I didn’t have much help,” McClatchey said. And there was another issue: “As a manufacturing firm in a competitive market, SAF tries to minimize our overhead costs wherever possible,” McClatchey said.

For both these reasons, SAF turned to a third party marketing agency rather than follow its usual strategy of handling business matters internally.

Solution: In 2005, SAF hired EJW Associates, a marketing service agency, to help achieve its 2010 sales goal of $40 million. EJW enlisted the aid of trusted associates and members of OLI (Outside Looking In), a consulting group made up of EJW founder and president Emil Walcek and marketing consultants from other agencies who concentrate on three key marketing areas: strategy, tactics and creative. The group provides marketing consulting expertise to small or midsize businesses looking to reach new sales levels.

“Evolving companies all start the same way—running on gut feelings,” said Bruce Cotterman, the strategic specialist at OLI. “Third parties in the b-to-b arena can be immensely helped by the expertise that a professional marketing company provides,” said Walcek, although he admitted, “clients are sorely tempted to make do with inside resources when the dollars are tight.”

OLI held a half-day session to discuss SAF/s marketing challenges. This meeting helped make SAF comfortable using a third party, a challenge in itself since the family-owned business is extremely private.

“Both parties invested time to determine value,” Walcek said. “The session proved our group’s value and enabled them to more easily justify specific market research and an increased focus on customer relationship planning.”

From that first four-hour session, OLI determined that SAF needed to find out more about its own company base as well as increase its focus on customer resource management, Walcek said.

A customer survey provided new information on SAF’s most profitable customers about how they would like service from the company to be altered. From this feedback, SAF came up with new product ideas, new potential partners to team with and the most profitable places to expand the business. SAF shared these findings in internal groups to brainstorm new ideas, said Bob Scarange, OLI’s tactical specialist.

“Strategic, tactical and creative communications are the three legs of the stool that are necessary. and they are necessary in that order,” Scarange said.

OLI forced SAF to take a step back, look at appropriate marketing segments and generate a marketing plan to provide necessary direction.

“While EJW presents them with a marketing budget plan annually,” Walcek said, “the OLI experience caused them to step back and take a strategic overview.”

Results: “The big difference [in using a third party] is you just get more ideas,” McClatchey said.

Those ideas have paid off. SAF sales are up and right on track to reach the company’s 2010 goal. That $40 million goal represents two and a half times the company’s annual sales in 2000.

“We helped [SAF] go back and look at the big picture to help improve their decision-making,” Cotterman said.

McClatchey added SAF will continue working with OLI since “they helped clarify our strategic thinking.”

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