[Radio] reinforces your other marketing; it's more of a branding thingRoss Marzarella, vice president, All County Exteriors
[Radio] reinforces your other marketing; it's more of a branding thingRoss Marzarella, vice president, All County Exteriors

This June, on one of the company's regular radio spots, Ohio replacement contractor Weathertite Windows made its first mention of the roofing products recently added to its offerings. Within a week of running the 60-second ad, “we got six leads and sold one,” says Merv Hollander, Weathertite Windows' president and owner.

Radio is the company's most important medium for generating leads, Hollander says, accounting for more than 20% of lead flow. In April, Weathertite Windows did its first live radio promotion from its new warehouse and showroom in Youngstown, “and we did some pretty significant numbers from that,” Hollander says.

MIXED RESULTS Radio marketing continues to be a reliable source of solid leads and a mass-market avenue that supports other media, especially Web sites and print, in many companies' marketing programs. But, taken as a whole, the home improvement industry is far from sold on the merits of the medium. In 2005, for instance, radio accounted for just 3% of lead volume of the companies listed in the Replacement 100, this magazine's annual ranking of the industry's top-volume producers. That research showed that TV accounted for 9% of lead volume, versus 25% from repeat customers and referrals.

K-Designers, in Calif., hasn't used radio in a decade, says marketing director Kim Renstrom, and was “underwhelmed” by the leads it drew back then. Management at Omaha Door and Window in Omaha, Neb., grew less enamored of radio after MarketSharp lead-tracking software revealed that the medium wasn't producing anywhere near the 8% of leads that the contractor thought it was drawing. Marketing manager Jim Murnan now places ads with just one AM station, versus the five stations he placed ads with in previous years.

Still, it's hard to dismiss a medium that reaches more than 230 million listeners a week over more than 12,000 stations, according to the Radio Advertising Bureau, which says that radio can reach 93% of the U.S. population and last year generated just under $22 billion in advertising revenue. Contractors who use radio regularly say that competitors who don't are missing the boat because not only are radio leads easier to close, when they buy they generally spend more money.

“As a direct lead generator, radio isn't very good, but it has residual benefits,” says Guy Golliver, marketing director for State Roofing in Monroe, Wash., whose salespeople regularly tell him that 50% to 60% of the customers they call on have heard about State Roofing through its radio ads.

“It gives us unquantifiable access to certain customers,” says Ross Marzarella, vice president of Lakewood, N.J.-based All County Exteriors; about a year ago, the company started marketing its products on three local radio stations to homeowners in two counties. Marzarella acknowledges that radio is not his company's primary lead source — it generates less than 5% — but “it reinforces your other marketing; it's more of a branding thing.”

ALL TALK, ALL THE TIME Jancewicz & Son, in Bellows Falls, Vt., found this out four years ago when the company used radio for the first time for a month in January to recruit roofers for the upcoming spring season. Not only did the ads do the trick, but they also attracted attention to the company. Sales manager John Dunbar recalls customers coming up to him on the street saying they'd heard the company's ads. When he informed them that those ads were strictly for recruitment, customers replied, “that must mean you're busy.” Two years later, Jancewicz & Son is running a full-year radio schedule that accounts for between 10% and 15% of leads.

Jancewicz & Son places radio ads on two FM stations and runs them with rock, oldies, country-Western, and talk programming. There's some debate, though, among contractors about which format resonates best with the appropriate audience for their products. State Roofing, for one, “took a couple of big swings” at music listeners a few years ago, Golliver says, but its ads failed to produce much business. State Roofing also dipped its toe into sports programming, he says, but for the most part the company sticks with talk and has on-air personalities read its copy.

The cost of using a station's talent varies wildly by market. Omaha Door and Window spends about $1,600 per month for its radio ads, plus $200 for the talk show host who reads its ad copy, Murnan says. American Vision Windows in Simi Valley, Calif., which gets 27% of its leads from radio, spends $25,000 per month to have John Kobyit, the co-host of the popular “John and Ken” talk program on KFI-AM (640) in Los Angeles, read each of its 60-second spots. “We've had a relationship with John for more than six years, but we had to win him over at first because he doesn't like contractors,” says Bill Herren, American Vision Windows' owner.