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Do Promotions Work?


The promotional offers show up every year and I always wonder whether they work? I suppose some do because the manufacturers repeat them. Buy a bunch of boilers, get a winter coat. Or work boots, or whatever. But does that really motivate the contractors to buy that particular brand?

I recall an association trade show where the convention committee decided to have a sports theme for the whole shebang. Hey, who doesn’t like sports? Can’t miss it, right? They suggested to the manufacturers who were taking booths at the show that they should get into the spirit and have promotional giveaways with a sports theme. Their customers would love them because they’d all be on the team. Yea!

So a burner manufacturer decided to give away real baseballs. Who doesn’t like free baseballs? Take it home and give it to the kids. You’ll be a hero! And baseballs should make the contractors want to buy lots of burners, right? Can’t miss.

And since this burner manufacturer had as their OEM customer a particular boiler manufacturer, they called them and suggested they get on the same team by giving away something baseballish.

Well, the boiler people thought this was a perfect marriage, so they're stepped up to the plate with a baseball bat giveaway. And these were real-deal bats. They couldn’t give them away fast enough.

The local trade schools bussed in bunches of kids (which tells you how old this story is) and set them loose on the manufacturers’ booths. The kids were mainly interested in getting big plastic- or better still, canvas bags for free into which they could stuff as much free swag as they could grab. And then, with bags filled with baseballs, and hearts filled with juvenile merriment, they all headed out to the parking lot to bang the free baseballs high and fast with the free baseball bats.

It was a great day for the auto-glass folks.

The following year’s theme for that show had nothing to do with anything lethal, which shows that no matter your age, you can always learn a lesson if you’re paying attention.

A different boiler manufacturer once decided to offer work boots as a promotion. Each boot had their company name molded into the sole in reverse. Buy a few boilers, get some free boots!

The result of this brilliant promotion was that the manufacturer’s name, printed in mud, appeared on countless American floors, much to the customers’ displeasure at both the contractors and the hapless manufacturer.

Another lesson learned.

But here we are now, and I wondered how sharp contractors who buy lots of stuff felt about promotions, so I asked on The Wall at because the Wallies are not shy when it comes to telling you what they would like you to know.

“I don't like the idea of tying a promotion directly to a sale,” one Wallie said. “You don't want your dealers to push the wrong solution. Clothing and mugs and such are fine. That’s advertising; and advertising is more about asking you to consider their product for its features and benefits. They’re not encouraging you to buy their product to win some reward.”

So give ‘em a hat. When I worked for a rep I did a lot of in-house seminars. I asked all the companies in the area to send me one of their hats for free. I hung those hats from the ceiling of our training room. It made the room more interesting and more inclusive. The students loved it. Some even gave up their own hats. One wholesaler sent me a yarmulke instead of a cap. He included a note that read, “It ain’t a hat, but it can’t hurt to have.”


A Wallie from California said, “The only kind of perk I ever liked was when the company offered training and then offered, at a reduced price, specialty tools used for that work. I like tools!”

A retired contractor who worked in Alaska added, “Give me hands-on training. Offer your specialty tools that only work on your product at cost, and not at a grossly inflated price. If I can afford the tools, I’ll buy more of your product. A radiant-tube manufacturer offered their exclusive stapler for $1,000 when it first came out. I thought it was worth maybe $300. I didn’t buy it.”

That makes sense to me. How about you?

But not all promotions make sense. Listen to this Wallie:

“It seems you have to offer something the contractor really wants. Around here, contractors want the jacket as a gift. They sell the product so they think they should at least get a jacket out of the deal.

“The most successful promo we had was when, right at the start of the heating season, a boiler manufacturer offered up an electric bike with fat tires in a camo print. We had three salesmen and they all wanted that bike, so they competed heavily for it. The manufacturer told me afterward that the promo was a flop in every market except ours.”

I suppose that’s one way to find out.

How about trying something different - like being outstanding? Listen to this Wallie:

“I definitely lean towards trusted suppliers that are knowledgeable and have stock. If they convinced me that Item-B is also good and comes with some trinket, then I'll probably bite, but the main thing is that I’m biting because I trust that supplier. The trinket is just a bonus, not the thing that closes the deal.”

A Wallie who works in New York City had this to say:

"I have T-shirts, sweatshirts, and hats from supply houses and boiler manufacturers. You know what they’re good for? Getting my guys to wear something other than our company shirts and hats, for which I spend hundreds of dollars on, seasonally.

“You want to do something for me? Send me training videos. Pick up the phone when I call instead of having me on hold for 20 minutes. Honor my client's warranty even though it's been 54 weeks since the installation date.

"I've already got clothes. Make me feel a little special, wouldja?”

Spoken like a native New Yorker.

Agreeing with him, another Wallie said, “Yes, yes, yes on the training. I've spent literally millions of dollars at supply houses over the years and I have never received anything more than a notepad from them in exchange. If another boiler manufacturer was offering a buy-one, get-one-free deal on boilers, I would still buy the boiler I’m using now. I don't care about getting free stuff; I just want quality and support. Sure, a hoodie every now and then would be nice, but it isn't going to make me buy something I don't like.”


A New Jersey Wallie shared this:

“We have been given the boots, received the shirts, and worn the hats. I appreciate the gifts and gladly accept them. To be honest, the ‘handouts’ rarely change my opinions of the product, or influence my buying decisions. That being said, it seems like whenever we do a bunch of installations in a row, they start the promotions immediately afterwards. I also dislike having to fill out submissions for a product we just purchased and installed. Wouldn't it be great if the wholesaler (who already has the serial number and model number in their system) could just submit the forms for us?

“In my experience, some of the best gifts we ever received from manufacturers or the manufacturers’ representatives and wholesalers were simply because they appreciated our business. They gave me (and often my men) something like a nice meal, a trip to their training- and/or manufacturing facility (sometimes out of state, sometimes out of the country), a night out at Top Golf, etc. The best ones always had some sort of formal training.

“I am 55 years old. As such, I still appreciate hands-on training, as do most of my younger employees. For old-school me, it's hard to replace an in-person question and answer session with a YouTube video. I miss the days of in-person seminars with Holohan, Hot Rod, Siggy, and many others. On most occasions I appreciated the company that offered the training much more after having had that learning experience. In my opinion, this is the best kind of promotion, and we can all use it. The more we know about a product, whether it be a boiler, burner, pump, hydro-separator, zone valve, or whatever, the more we will likely install it.”

Let’s end with a bit of bluntness from another insightful Wallie:

"I spent thousands of dollars with XYZ Company, and all I have to show for it is this lousy tee shirt."

Yep. That’s what they’re thinking. I hope it helps you decide.


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