Winning Business

As expected, the traffic to the warehouse sale has dropped off over the last six weeks. Two weeks ago, I asked our advertising sales rep at Fairfax Community Newspapers to radically change the look of our ads. We really liked the first design they produced for us, but it was time for a change.

We did consider using an advertising agency in the beginning but thought we’d give Fairfax a go first.

Sadly, Fairfax acted as if they were a one trick pony. We got variations on a theme. The same font, the same photo style, the same copy. Then we told Fairfax the same thing. They asked us to produce some ideas. Now these were the guys who said they were the professionals and had designed all these ads they showed us! Call me naive, but I got the sense that now they’d won the business they wanted to do as little work as possible.

Eventually one of our staff sat down at with a publishing program and knocked up a brand new layout in 10 minutes using a clip-art Santa and default fonts. We emailed and faxed it to Fairfax with radical change!!! on it.

Fairfax used a different clip-art Santa (more traditional in my opinion), redimensioned the ad to fit the space. They used almost the exact same colour scheme. I now have one extremely annoyed staffer, “they’re supposed to be the experts?” she cries.

So this week sales are up 45% week on week. The weather is a factor – the rain stopped bucketing down. Christmas is factor: second last weekend before Christmas – early shoppers are finished, late shoppers haven’t started so some make the trek out to a warehouse sale instead of a mall. That this is our seventh weekend open lead to strong repeat business. But mainly I put it down to the changed ad. We saw a lot of new customers.

I believe the original ad design drew one subset of customers. It couldn’t draw people who didn’t notice it. Playing with subtle design changes could not attract customers who skimmed over it the first 4 times.

I discuss this with our Fairfax rep, reminding him that they claimed to be experts and had done all these designs. He offered that it was a busy time of year and the design team didn’t have the time for it. Not the answer I was looking for.

Anyway I talked to a supervisor at Fairfax. She said that sending a layout is often interpreted by the designers as an instruction. Fairfax are preparing 5 new layouts this weekend for our 2004 sale. We’ll pick the 3 best and roll them through changing every 3 weeks.

The cynic in me says Fairfax want to do as little as possible to keep the business. After all they won it in the first place without a lot of effort. Realistically I think it is another case of finding how to communicate with another business. We know our business, they know theirs. Once we both understand how we do things it will go smoother.

So I’m going to spend time educating Fairfax on what we do value and what don’t care about. But I think I’ll only give them one more chance before I take my business elsewhere.

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