D+AS MAGAZINE

FEATURES — The Yellow Pages Bully And How to Fight Back

© 2003 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Summer 2003
Author: Tom Wadsworth
Pages 46-50

The Yellow Pages Bully
And How to Fight Back

By Tom Wadsworth

True Story #1:
At an advertising seminar at Expo 2003, a Texas door dealer reported that he was spending $720,000 a year for Yellow Pages ads.

Why? He felt forced to increase his Yellow Pages budget to compete with a less-reputable dealer who has adopted “Bad Bob’s Yellow Pages Scheme.” (See Spring 2003, pp. 44-45.)

The dealer revealed his Yellow Pages expense to Expo seminar presenter and advertising expert Herb Gross.

True Story #2:
Herb Gross himself was scammed by one of these less-reputable dealers.

The incident occurred about four years ago, before Gross became involved with the garage door industry. After moving to Charlotte, N.C., a spring broke on his garage door, and he couldn’t get out of the garage. Since he didn’t know too many people in town, can you guess where he immediately went?

That’s right. To the Yellow Pages.

“We had no idea that three or four of the door companies with big ads were all the same company,” reports Gross. “It looked like a local company, and the ads were well produced, so it looked legitimate.”

The dealer replaced the spring and the rollers. He charged Gross about $600 (for a $150 job).

The Budget-Eating Bully

According to a new Door & Access Systems survey, more than three-fourths of garage door dealers say that Yellow Pages ads take up the largest percentage of their advertising budget. The average dealer surveyed spends $43,000 per year to be in the Yellow Pages. (See related story on page 52.)

As dozens of less-reputable dealers nationwide shell out big bucks for big Yellow Pages ads, all their more-reputable competitors are feeling pressured to jack up their own Yellow Pages ads. The result: Ad budgets run amok.

Phil McGregor of Plano (Texas) Overhead Door expressed that pressure in our spring issue: “If you don’t put a big ad in the Yellow Pages, you will not stay in business. Our ad budget is $160,000 per year, and most of that goes to the Yellow Pages.” (See Spring 2003, p. 46.)

Yellow Reps Revealed

“I feel sorry for the dealers,” admits Herb Gross, who often specializes in television advertising.

“The Yellow Pages rep knows exactly what he’s doing. He uses fear to pressure dealers. He says, ‘If you reduce the size of your ad, you will lose your prime position. And if you lose your position, you can’t compete. The consumer won’t even get to your ad.’”

“The Yellow Pages reps know how to pit advertiser against advertiser in this environment,” adds Bob Scaife, VP/Marketing for Small Market Newspapers at the Newspaper Association of America. “As soon as one advertiser goes to a full page, the rep knows how to pressure competitors to do likewise.”

Scaife knows several former Yellow Pages reps who have revealed how their sales commissions are determined. “Their commissions are often based on add-on sales, not repeat sales,” says Scaife. “So if I’m the sales rep, my goal is to bump up the advertiser into bigger ads, more ads, more directories, and more color.”

“The Rip-Off Book”

“The Yellow Pages people have never been my favorite people,” admits Randy Oliver of HollywoodCrawford Door of San Antonio, Texas. Oliver is an IDEA-accredited dealer and member of the IDA (International Door Association) board of directors.

“Yellow Pages advertising has always frustrated me,” Oliver says. “To me, it’s a necessary evil.”

One of Oliver’s recent beefs is “the fact that companies seem to be able to say anything they want in their (Yellow Pages) ads,” he says. “In my opinion, the Yellow Pages people don’t do any kind of policing like they used to.”

Oliver says he has a competitor who is publishing false and misleading statements in Yellow Pages ads. Oliver complained to his Yellow Pages rep’s manager about it.

“I told him,” says Oliver, “‘in my opinion, if you don’t police the ads, you’ll be out of business in 10 years. You’ll eventually be known as the Rip-Off Book.’”

But the manager “laughed off my statement,” says Oliver. “He didn’t seem to be affected by my remark at all. I’d like to see someone do a Dateline investigation of the Yellow Pages industry.”

Part II
What’s a Dealer to Do?

Realizing the pickle that many dealers are in, we sought advice from three top advertising experts. One is from the newspaper advertising industry (Bob Scaife), one is from the television industry (Herb Gross), and one is from the radio industry (Dick Rakovan, the Radio Advertising Bureau’s Senior Vice President for Stations).

But before we hear their advice, take note of Randy Oliver’s new strategy. His new Yellow Pages ad has a 1-1/4-inch tall black banner across the top, with white text and this bold headline: “CONSUMERS BEWARE!” (See illustration at right.)

The text continues, “Some information and claims found in the Yellow Pages can be misleading and untrue. You can be ‘ripped off’ if you are not careful. Choose a company who gives free estimates; one you know has been in business for over 50 years, one who has a showroom, one that is IDEA accredited, and the one your friends and neighbors recommend.”

The banner concludes, “Choose wisely. Choose HollywoodCrawford!” The rest of the 2/3-page vertical ad is a polished professional ad that promotes the benefits of his 55-year-old company.

The Direct Approach

Our radio advertising expert recommended a similar strategy to Oliver’s novel idea. Dick Rakovan of the Radio Advertising Bureau says, “If I were a garage door guy, I’d talk about the scams on my radio ad.” (See sample script below.)

Our newspaper expert, Bob Scaife, tended to disagree with the direct approach, at least in print.

“If you say, ‘Watch out for the scams,’ it will reflect negatively on your whole industry,” he says. “I’d recommend that a dealer accentuate the positive in the ad. Spell out the benefits of your business; use words like ‘trust,’ ‘your hometown repair business,’ and mention your years in business.”

Unanimous Strategy #1

Even though our three experts disagreed on a few issues and naturally preferred their own medium, all three agreed on at least two key strategies for garage door dealers. They agreed that Yellow Pages advertising is helpful; no one suggested that dealers should pull out of the Yellow Pages.

“The ‘emergency’ type category is hot in the Yellow Pages,” explains Bob Scaife. “Most people in an emergency situation will not spend a lot of time shopping around. So, the Yellow Pages become a good vehicle to immediately find a selection of repair people for that particular emergency, such as a garage door that won’t open.”

Unanimous Strategy #2

More importantly, our three experts agreed that garage door dealers should, as Herb Gross puts it, “Create a demand and an awareness of who they are before the consumer gets to the Yellow Pages.”

“The question is,” adds Scaife, “How do people learn about you before the emergency happens?”

Herb Gross has worked extensively in the garage door industry, producing television commercials for dealers and manufacturers. In his Expo seminars, Gross repeatedly urges dealers to develop and commit to an advertising plan.

“Dealers get lulled into thinking that they just make one Yellow Pages decision for the whole year, and their advertising is done,” he says.

One-Hit Wonders?

Research shows that consumers don’t stop at the first ad in the Yellow Pages. Scaife cites a 1999 study by Statistical Research Inc. (SRI) that shows that 70 percent of Yellow Pages users refer to three or more ads before making a selection. According to that study, 19.5 percent of users check out 10 or more ads, while only 13.7 percent look at just one ad.

Since readers typically look beyond that first Yellow Pages ad, the task is to get your company’s name in the reader’s head before they open the phone book.

“I recommend that a dealer spend some money in good, creative advertising that builds name recognition,” says Scaife, the newspaper expert. “When an emergency comes, and the consumer goes to the Yellow Pages, they will look for a recognizable name.”

“The problem here in Charlotte, as in many cities,” adds Herb Gross, “is that no company is dominating the media before the consumer gets to the Yellow Pages.”

Part III
Getting Inside Their Heads

TV Power

Herb Gross says he is not exclusively a proponent of television advertising, but strives to recommend the best medium for each situation.

“I promote TV because it is the best medium for selling home improvement items,” he explains. “Garage doors sell better when the consumer can see a door’s unique colors and designs in the ad.”

TV, he says, also offers a dealer a more powerful impact in the consumer’s mind. “When people see you on TV,” he adds, “they think you’re a big successful company. But you don’t get that kind of instant credibility in the Yellow Pages, on radio, or in the newspaper.”

Bad Ads from Manufacturers

Television production is typically more expensive than producing ads in other media. Thus, many dealers rely on their manufacturer suppliers to produce good garage door ads for their dealers.

But on this point, Gross sees problems in the garage door industry. “One of the major problems is that manufacturers are not producing good TV ads for dealers. Ad agencies lead manufacturers to produce ads that are good for promoting the manufacturer’s brand, but that is not what the dealers need.”

“The TV ad should let the dealer promote their name first, and promote the brand name second,” he adds. Gross has produced TV campaigns for many dealers. He says these ads are written so that they qualify for co-op dollars from the manufacturer, yet work well for the dealers.

A Radio on Wheels

“Garage door shops are better off using radio than TV,” says Dick Rakovan, a veteran radio ad man. Radio production costs are a fraction of television, he says, and radio has unique appeal for homeowners with garage doors.

Here’s his reasoning: People with garage doors have garages. People with garages have cars. People with cars have radios.

“With radio,” he says, “you can target people who drive cars with radios and have garages. A car is a radio on wheels.”

Since the Yellow Pages scheme of less-reputable dealers is much more prominent in metro areas, he says radio makes even more sense for dealers in suburban areas.

“Suburban radio may even be more applicable to radio advertising because of longer commutes,” says Rakovan. He contends that radio ads aired during drive times have significant impact in suburban areas.

He disputes that television images are more powerful than radio. “You don’t need a TV picture to envision a broken garage door,” he says. “Radio can create that image in the mind’s eye for much less cost.”

I Read It in the Newspaper

According to the new Door & Access Systems survey (see page 52), Yellow Pages is certainly the door dealer’s first choice as an advertising medium. But newspaper ranks second. One tenth of surveyed dealers report that newspaper advertising takes the biggest bite out of their ad budget.

Many communities, even larger cities, have only one newspaper but a host of radio and television stations. When dealers focus on only one medium besides Yellow Pages, newspaper is often a natural choice.

The Reduction Solution

Our experts see how dealers can get caught up in a costly vicious cycle to purchase an ever-increasing presence in the Yellow Pages. “Dumping so much money into Yellow Pages is a big mistake,” asserts Herb Gross. “The Yellow Pages ad is a bottomless pit.”

“I would encourage dealers to decrease their (Yellow Pages) ad to a quarter-page ad or smaller, and put the balance of the money on television,” concludes Gross.

Scaife agrees in concept. “I’d recommend that a dealer reduce their Yellow Pages ad to something like a half- or 3/4-page ad, and spend the rest of their ad budget in the creative ad media to build name recognition.”

This solution may help dealers control their ad expenses. More importantly, it may offer you a gutsy, smart, and productive response to the tactics of the Yellow Pages bully.

The next challenge is to talk with the Yellow Pages industry about the problem of deceptive ads.

Any ideas?


To respond to this story, send an E-mail to daseditor@dasma.com or send a fax to the editor at 815-285-2543.


Images:
THE OLIVER OPTION: This is a depiction of the top of HollywoodCrawford’s new Yellow Pages ad.

SPEAKING OUT: Herb Gross speaks at Expo 2003.

HEAD-ON: This sample radio script (help yourself) attempts to expose the problem of deceptive ads in the Yellow Pages.

“Buyer Beware” Garage Door Radio Spot
Length: 60 seconds
Anncr: Staff Announcer

Anncr: (News-like tone; No music background)

THIS IS AN IMPORTANT NOTICE TO ANYONE WHO MAY NEED GARAGE DOOR SERVICE IN THE (Your City) AREA.

IF YOU CONSULT THE YELLOW PAGES FOR A GARAGE DOOR SERVICE COMPANY, BE SURE TO SELECT A REPUTABLE COMPANY WITH A PHYSICAL ADDRESS, PREFERABLY A SHOWROOM, AND A LONG HISTORY IN THIS AREA. DON’T BE FOOLED BY LARGE YELLOW-PAGE ADS THAT LIST SEVERAL PHONE NUMBERS AND POST WELL-KNOWN LOGOS, OFTEN ILLEGALLY.

A NATIONWIDE SCHEME HAS AFFECTED MANY CITIES LIKE (Your City). AS EXPOSED ON NBC’S DATELINE, SOME GARAGE DOOR SERVICE COMPANIES USE LARGE YELLOW PAGE ADS TO LURE CUSTOMERS, BUT THEY CHARGE EXORBITANT FEES FOR PARTS AND SERVICE, AND THEY ARE KNOWN TO PERFORM SERVICES THAT ARE NOT NEEDED.

IF YOU ARE IN NEED OF GARAGE DOOR SERVICE, CALL (Your Company Name). THEIR SHOWROOM IS LOCATED AT (Address), AND THEY’VE BEEN IN (Your City) FOR (Number) YEARS.

BE SMART. FOR GARAGE DOOR SERVICE, CALL A COMPANY WITH A LONG HISTORY OF HONEST, QUALITY SERVICE. CALL (Your Company Name) AT (Phone).