Larry Small is the director of research for the Yellow Pages Association in Berkeley Heights, N.J.

REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR: How many times a year does a person use the Yellow Pages?

Larry Small: In 2004 there were 14.8 billion references to the Yellow Pages. That translates to every adult in the United States using the Yellow Pages 1.3 times per week.

RC: Why are the Yellow Pages valuable to a roofing contractor?

LS: Every year, there are 70 million references to “Roofing Contractor” in the Yellow Pages. When you look at the people who reference that heading, 62% are new customers.

RC: Who are these new customers?

LS: Yellow Pages references are driven by emergencies or by lifestyle changes. So it could be a scenario where there's a hailstorm and damage to the roof, and your insurance company is going to ask you for several bids. The Yellow Pages is the perfect place to look. In the Yellow Pages, buyers are seeking sellers.

RC: Many contractors think of Yellow Pages leads as low-quality leads.

LS: The perception is that Yellow Pages consumers are price shoppers and will always go for the lowest price. Actually, the opposite is true. If they're looking for a roofer, and they go to the Yellow Pages, and it's an emergency, they're more likely to spend more. It's coupon people who are likely to spend less because they're the ones trying to get a deal.

RC: But many roofers and other home improvement contractors don't want to be the fifth or sixth company bidding on a job.

LS: In most headings, the number of ads the consumer looks at is five. So he'll call five companies. But the key to getting that contract has nothing to do with the Yellow Pages. The job of the Yellow Pages is to get your phone to ring. It's up to you to make the sale.

RC: How do contractors succeed or fail with these leads?

LS: If you answer in a timely manner, are priced right, and have good service; if the people who answer are friendly and knowledgeable, then you have a chance of getting that business. If you don't return calls, it doesn't work.

RC: Is the Yellow Pages losing ground to Internet marketing?

LS: We're finding that to be the case in some headings, such as travel, airlines, and hotels. But it's not the case with roofing contractors. For example, in 2003 there were 62.8 million references to the “Roofing Contractor” heading in the Yellow Pages. In 2004, it was 70.4 million. The difference between 62 million and 70 million isn't really statistically significant. However, it's not going down.