Metals company molds direct mail campaign

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Challenge: During the past 65 years, Chicago-based Accurate Perforating Co. has provided perforated metals for clients in nearly a dozen industries, including server cabinets for IBM and speaker grilles for JBL. But last year, the company set its sights on another market: architectural firms. “Most of our current clients were OEMs [original equipment manufacturers], so this was a very different marketplace for us,” said Mike Zarnott, Accurate's director of sales and marketing.

For Accurate, it was definitely worth exploring—while a good OEM customer might spend about $200,000 annually with Accurate, a single architecture project could be worth $750,000, Zarnott said. But to earn that big business, the company needed to project a bigger image. “We’re a fairly small company (revenue for 2005 was $26 million) … and this is not a business that has a lot of glitz to it,” Zarnott said. The company needed to demonstrate that perforated metal isn’t just functional, it’s also a design element. As Zarnott put it: “How do you take an unglamorous process and product, and create a little style to grab architects’ attention?”

Solution: To address those concerns, the company turned to Chicago-based Symmetri Marketing Group, which created a direct mail campaign consisting of three separate mailings spaced two weeks apart. The initial mailing was sent last May to 1,500 California-based firms with 25 or more architects on staff, and was compiled from the subscription lists of two industry publications: Architectural Record and Metal Architecture.

Each mail piece showed an image of a famous structure and asked how it might have changed if the designer had used Accurate Perforating. The first piece displayed the Eiffel Tower with the headline: “If only Gus knew where to find us,” referring to Gustave Eiffel. The other mailers focused on Cass Gilbert (who designed New York’s Woolworth Building), and Addison Mizner, known for his Spanish Revival architecture.

The mailers referred architects to a microsite where they could learn more about applications for Accurate’s products and see design samples. But Zarnott quickly learned that these potential customers needed more detailed information than OEM clients. So the company created a binder to send to architects who requested more information, which, along with photographs of interior and exterior architecture projects with perforated metal, included samples of the product with various hole sizes and finishes. It costs Accurate $25 to make each of those binders, but it’s worth it, Zarnott said. “It’s a cheap sales call, since I’m not flying out there to show them the product,” he said. “And these binders go into permanent libraries that architecture firms have, so even if they don’t have a project for us this year, they can refer back to our samples later.”

Initially, Accurate had planned to send mailings to 5,000 firms across the country. “I’m glad we didn’t do all of those mailings at once, and just started out with 1,500 firms instead,” he said. “It gave us a chance to react to things we hadn’t anticipated”–like the need to create binders—“without having a lot of people discouraged.”

Results: This was the first time in the company’s history that it did a direct mail campaign, and it won’t be the last. “I’m definitely happy with the amount of people who responded,” Zarnott said. Of the initial mailings to 1,500 firms, about 30 requested more information. The company has received about $1.7 million in requests for quotes. “We have $300,000 in actual jobs already, and there are other jobs we have a very good chance of getting,” Zarnott said.

The next round of mailings, slated for February, was supposed to target 3,500 firms in Illinois, Florida and the East Coast, but Zarnott says he’s thinking about increasing that number to 8,500.

“I think the mailings legitimized us for some clients,” he said. “It makes us look large … it puts a pretty good spin on our nuts-and-bolts type company.”

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