You didn't get the inquiries you were expecting from this year's home show. Too many competitors? That might be a reason. Then again, it might be, as Clark Adams, of Clark Adams Co., a window replacement contractor in Redondo Beach, Calif., notes, that home shows don't draw like they once did. Which is why Adams is on the lookout for nontraditional events where he can get people interested in and maybe even excited about his company's windows.

HOME SHOWS BY DEFAULT Home improvement company owners and marketers point out that events offer advantages that home shows don't. Cost, for instance. “The home shows charge a lot more than these small festivals,” Adams notes.

Gino Marotta, owner of P&C Replacement Windows, in Pittsburgh, suggests that “event leads are going to be the least expensive lead, if you do it right.” The reason, he says, is that small venues like boat shows, rifle shows, rib cookouts, and community-type festivals, such as street fairs, typically charge relatively little. “They're so inexpensive. If you get two or three sales, it costs you nothing,” he says.

Two keys to making event marketing successful, say owners, are finding venues and selecting events that match your company's demographic.

Last year Tri-State Home Improvement, in Branford, Conn., did 166 events, an average of more than three a week. “We do home shows by default,” says owner Brad Pompilli. “Events work best.” The company has one person dedicated to finding and booking events. “We call every Chamber of Commerce, and we contact”

What is especially productive is if you can manage to be the first, or only, home improvement company there. Five years ago, for instance, Tri-State Home Improvement asked to set up a booth at the annual Naugatuck Duck Day, in Naugatuck, Conn., where there was no commercial presence. The company did six figures worth of business from that. Five years later, Pompilli says, there are 40 booths there.

WHAT'S GOOD, WHAT ISN'T Adams says that his company has experimented with events of all sorts, from the Concours d'Elegance — for expensive-car enthusiasts — to the Redondo Beach Lobster Festival. The trick to making them productive is threefold: select for demographic, assert your presence, and give things away. “You have to be more aggressive at an event,” Adams says. “At a home show, they're there to check you out.” At an event, be prepared to explain your presence, which is an excellent opportunity to start a conversation.

Pompilli says that his company uses the same booth for all events. Fairs and festivals work best, and he advises avoiding concerts and sporting events, where attendees are not exactly thinking about home improvement.