Feature, Operations, Sales & Marketing, V9I5

Getting Noticed

(Photo courtesy of Melanie Deziel on Unsplash)

There’s no “one size fits all” solution for getting a shed business in front of the right customers. 

The correct approach typically depends upon a litany of variables that are different for every company—location, business model, coverage area, and even buying preferences of the target demographic. 

Typically, though, a healthy mix of tech-savvy and old-school marketing techniques is needed.

By definition, “marketing” refers to activities a company undertakes to promote the buying or selling of a product or service and can include everything from print and online advertising to search engine optimization (SEO) to referrals. 

The methods used by the shed industry, though, are infinitely diverse, and many companies have been traditionally slow to market themselves. 

That’s all changing, as increasing competition from a growing field of players is forcing owners to change their thinking. 

EXPANDING MARKETING PORTFOLIO

Until now, David Myers, a business partner at Myers Barn Shop in Knoxville, Maryland, has used Facebook as his primary marketing medium. 

Myers Barn Shop offers a line of highly customized sheds to customers in a relatively small 30-mile radius around its home office. 

“Our biggest marketing strategy has been word of mouth,” Myers says. “In a way, our sheds have sold themselves. 

“For example, we built some customized cabins for a local campground, and their popularity spread quickly. The campers have been raving about them, and we picked up new business because of that.” 

Nevertheless, he says changes in market dynamics have forced him to expand his marketing portfolio. 

“I didn’t feel like I was losing sales,” he adds, “but I’ve seen a few more competitors around here in the last year or two, and other shed lots are popping up here and there.

“I decided it was time for me to do something about it.  I don’t want to put anyone out of business, but at the same time I need to maintain mine.”

Myers began working with an outside consultant to gain a stronger online presence through SEO and to ensure that his company remained at the top of the search list for his coverage area. 

He also uses Facebook as a marketing medium. 

“I’m basically playing the game that they (the larger retailers) are playing,” he says. 

That’s a far cry from the way he’s done things in the past, but he hopes to use SEO as a springboard for possible geographic expansions into other areas where there is high demand for custom buildings, such as pool houses, offices, and high-end custom sheds. 

“We’re small,” he shares. “We’re not doing thousands of units like some of those guys out of Lancaster County (Pennsylvania). 

“But it might be time to expand our presence in the current economic environment.”

GETTING TO THE RIGHT PEOPLE

Some businesses have such distinctive business models that getting in front of customers can be uniquely challenging. 

Jason Graber, founder and CEO of Shed Suite in Sarasota, Florida, says until last year he has focused on product-led growth. 

“If we build the very best product, then customers will find us, come to us, and refer us,” Graber adds. “And it has worked.” 

Shed Suite is essentially a holistic shed business management software “in a box.” It incorporates nearly all of a shed builder’s business functions, except for accounting—point-of-sale transactions, enterprise resources planning, logistics, payment processing, invoicing creation, etc. 

His introduction to the software side of the business came in 2015 when he developed a 3D shed configuring platform—3D Shed Builder. Then, in 2017, he launched Shed Suite, an all-encompassing platform.  

Until 2022, Graber’s business grew with negligible marketing efforts. He essentially invested in the product, and then let it sell itself. 

“I started with a core group of customers, and they became ambassadors for us,” he says. “That got us to about 45 customers with multiple shops, dealers, drivers, etc.”

However, Graber hit a ceiling in 2022. 

“Once you get to a certain number of customers, there are those in the market that will never hear about you because they’re not very well connected to the industry, or they’re not subscribers to industry publications,” Graber says. 

“If we wanted the business to reach 100 percent of the industry, something needed to change.”

In the fall of 2022, Graber hired an experienced marketing expert to guide a robust effort that would establish Shed Suite as a “thought leader.” 

“He’s now on the team full time,” adds Graber. “He has been spearheading that effort and is doing a fantastic job.”

Shed Suite now produces valuable, relevant content that assists builders in starting and running a successful company. They began writing blogs and created “Shed Suite University,” a learning library covering a variety of topics. 

Along the way, Graber hopes to create an “authority brand” for the company. 

“We’re hoping that if potential customers read those articles, they’ll realize that they need a business software solution and that they’ll find that we’re the best ones out there,” he adds. 

“We’ve kind of developed a following already. We have 600 to 700 Facebook followers, which is significant given the small size of the industry.”

To augment its marketing efforts, Shed Suite has also partnered with industry publications and used email marketing blasts for direct email marketing. 

SEO is also growing in importance, and they attend the Shed Builder Expo every year to solidify their position in the market. 

“Our customers are in the booth with us, and if a prospect walks by they’ll often act as advocates for us,” Graber says. 

He says referrals remain a big part of Shed Suite’s business model. 

“Our primary focus is to provide the best product and give the most value,” Graber says. “In such a niche industry, a company will win if they do that long enough.”

DIGITAL DYNAMO

Carson Hostetler, president of Eagle Ridge Barn Builders south of Fort Worth, Texas, says virtually all of his marketing efforts have been in the digital realm. 

His storage building sales are executed and completed predominantly online, so he blankets his expansive territory—including Texas and portions of Arkansas, Louisiana, and New Mexico—with online Google marketing and advertising, as well as Facebook Marketplace. 

SEO is also particularly important.

His salesmen will post regularly on Facebook and Instagram, track the source of each lead, and adjust their advertising budget accordingly. 

Hostetler gets a report at the end of each month, which he uses to determine where he’s getting the most bang for the buck. 

“If I find that an ad is doing really well on Facebook, we’ll put a little more money behind that,” he adds. “Or if Google is doing well and Facebook is struggling, we might switch where the money is going to take advantage of that.”

Right now, most of the business is coming from Google advertising and Facebook Marketplace. 

“My sales team is fairly diligent in posting new buildings on Marketplace daily,” he adds. “We also started Facebook advertising about two months ago, but it’s still in the testing phase.”

To gain traction in the local community, Eagle Ridge Barn Builders sponsors regional events, such as golf tournaments and baseball teams. 

“We sell a lot to the major metro areas, but in the local communities we’re not as well known,” Hostetler says. “That helps us get our name out in the small towns around us.” 

Going forward, their biggest challenge will be getting noticed in an increasingly competitive landscape. 

Hostetler has noticed a marked increase in the number of new companies competing for the same pool of customers. That, he says, can make it difficult to stay at the top of the Google search list.

At the end of the day, though, referrals will continue to play a big role in building and growing a solid customer base. 

“It requires that you put in the work,” he adds. “Good products and good service are always your best marketing tools.”

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