Sometimes you find out what you want to do with your life in the classroom. But Clint Allison, founder and CEO of Rainscapes in Maryville, Tenn., discovered his passion while working outside the classroom.
Allison worked with sprinkler systems while attending school and found that this wasn’t such a bad gig. In fact, it’s something he could see himself doing in the future. After graduating, he went to work as a designer and salesman for a company he would later buy out, and then took an irrigation manager position.
But it was in 1996, when he decided to start his own irrigation company that things really began to take shape for Allison’s future. It was the career path he knew he wanted, and the dream of owning his own business coming to fruition. But now it was his job to help it take off. A strong marketing effort has been the solution to his success.
The marketing game. Over the years, Allison has always put a focus on marketing. But it’s been in recent years that the effort has become a primary focus. In 2011 Rainscapes won the Irrigation Association’s Smart Marketing Contest for having one of the best Smart Irrigation Month campaigns in the country. Although Rainscapes is a smaller-sized firm with only 17 employees, they have a large customer base and they know the importance of reaching a lot of people. Rainscapes won the Smart Marketing Contest in the small business category with its campaign titled “Get Water Smart with Rainscapes,” which sought to educate customers on smart water usage. The campaign utilized multiple platforms including blog posts, direct mail, Facebook, and more. Allison believes strongly in this type of approach.
“Our focus is on multi-faceted marketing,” Allison says. “We try to hit things from a lot of different angles so that we’re sure we are reaching a wide range of people. One thing we have seen a big change in though is the increase in effectiveness of web-driven marketing. We have very little presence in the phonebook nowadays. And even though we still do it, direct mail doesn’t work as well as it used to. There’s definitely been a huge shift toward electronic communication so we’re trying to stay on top of that with blog posts and a social media presence.”
Still, Allison says he won’t give up on other outlets just yet. “There’s definitely a lot more customers using the computer than there used to be, but it’s not everyone. You can’t totally give up on direct mail or you risk losing some people,” he says.
The multi-outlet approach of Rainscape’s “Get Water Smart” campaign brought in 63 new customers, which is impressive for the small company that currently manages about 3,000 clients. While the campaign easily boosted interest in the busy season, the biggest challenge for the company, as it is for many others, is keeping that interest going during the winter lull. Allison says that he takes a strategic approach to the off season.
“There’s no question that irrigation is a seasonal business, but there are still things that can be handled in the off season,” Allison says. “We do a lot of our planning and our training for the upcoming year during that time. We’re able to get a lot of work done that we don’t have as much time for in the busy season. That includes really focusing on our marketing campaign.”
Allison says that the winter can be a great time to really ramp up the marketing plan. While he says that the marketing itself is scaled down during the off season (they measured the results of running the campaign and it just doesn’t do well in the winter), that’s the time when the company can plan to make the next season’s campaign even better. Still, it’s not to say that Rainscapes completely disappear come colder weather.
“We recognize that it’s still important to keep a presence, so even though we’re not going our full marketing effort, we are keeping up with Facebook and other simple ways to make sure we’re still out there,” Allison says. “We realize that irrigation is not at the top of everyone’s mind in the colder months. The spring weather is what makes people think of us so we want to be ready to go when that time comes.”
Ramping it up. While marketing has been important since the company’s inception, Allison says that the downturn in the economy was a major catalyst in ramping it up even more. That was the time when Rainscapes began to move away from commercial work. “We’ve really made a focus on shifting the company to a service style business,” Allison says. “We went from doing mostly install to mostly service-a complete flip flop-and that was a change forced on us by the economy.” Allison says that change made the marketing effort more important than ever.
“With the service side of it, you have to constantly be connecting with customers and also reaching new ones,” he says. “There are thousands of dollars in an install, but service tickets may only be a couple hundred a piece so you have to deal with a lot more customers. It’s also forced us to keep better track of our customers.” As part of its marketing effort, Rainscapes does quite a few incentives including discounts for new customers, Facebook specials, and other coupons and promotions. “We find that a combination of different incentives works best in reaching a variety of people and generating the interest of new customers,” Allison says.
Although Allison says that in the past he’s been guilty of trying to wear too many hats, he knew that with something as important as marketing, he needed some professional help. Rainscapes partnered with a marketing firm and leaned on them for a lot of support. “As much as I tend to want to do everything myself, I’m not a marketing guru or a website developer,” Allison says.
“We’re always preaching to customers that they should let a professional handle their irrigation work and I began to realize I needed to let a professional handle the marketing. I told them what direction I liked best and had a say in everything, but we let them do their job and have been really happy with the result. There’s no question that a strong marketing campaign can have a huge impact on your success.”