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Advertising in the Yellow Pages

Howard Scott |

PEMBROKE, Mass. — The Yellow Pages are dying, but they aren’t dead yet.  Many consumers over 40 still use them as their first shopping resort. Every household still has them.

Most dry cleaners put line ads in several area books, and one or two competitors have standard bullet box ads that aren’t terribly effective. What that means for you is that you can more easily stand out and that you can bargain for a better price.

New residents use this resource to find whom to go to for dry cleaning. Transients use Yellow Pages to bring a load of clothing. Others use the book to find a special service, such as drapery cleaning. Angry patrons might use Yellow Pages to discover another source.

If your market is stable, without many comings and goings, you probably only need a line ad. But if you have a mobile market, with quite a bit of movement, then you might at least try a box ad.

Watch out for duplication in line ads. You don’t have to be in every “Yellow Pages” book that comes out. These days, there are marketing companies that put out advertising packages disguised as Yellow Pages. Avoid these. Make your ad dollars count.

Stick with the basic Yellow Pages network, put line ads in one or two area editions—or four or five editions if you have multiple locations—and push hard for a price advantage. Some dry cleaners say they can get 50% off posted rates these days by ganging multiple ads.

One thought about line ads: if you can say something definitive, add a second line. That will separate you from the pack, and the customer’s eyes might go to your ad.

Saying you are “The best cleaner around” is advertising puffery, which will not do much. But lines like “the market leader since 1976,” “special attention to stubborn stains,” “offering customized upholstery and drapery work” or “home delivery makes us hassle-free” just might capture patronage.

Of course, to stick out, bold lettering is an option. But heavier print in itself probably won’t capture the consumer’s eye. Its higher expense isn’t justified. A second line is preferable.

If you decide to try a box ad, the absolutely wrong thing to do is to look at existing ads and copy them. Consumers will see your ad and say, “Ho hum.” Your ad needs to stand out.

The typical box ad states the name of the cleaner as a headline. Then come five or six bullets in small print—dry cleaning; tailoring; alterations; leather, suede and fur cleaning; wedding gown preservation. At the bottom is the phone number in large print.

There may be an image of a man in a tuxedo to say that this operation is interested in sharp clothes, or a hanger symbol is included. Often, there are images of every type of charge card accepted. This information isn’t, well, very informative. It doesn’t say anything other than what is already assumed.

For example, let’s take the first bullet—dry cleaning. Of course, the customer knows you do dry cleaning, since he is looking under the “cleaners” category. The other bulleted services are provided by about 100% of all operators. So you’ve told consumers nothing unique beyond your phone number.

If you decide to use a box ad, consider the type of person who will use the book: a community newcomer choosing a dry cleaner, a customer checking which outfits offer home pickup and delivery, a short-term visitor looking to bring in his dry cleaning.

With this picture of your customer/prospect in mind, design your ad. It is important to realize that your company name is not the headline. The sad truth is, no one cares about you. They care about themselves and taking care of their needs. So, if your box ad lists your company name and phone number, it will garner zero new business.

A good headline might read:

  • We offer volume discounts
  • We’ve cleaned clothes reliably since 1986
  • Home pickup and delivery is our specialty
  • The only discount cleaners in the market

These all say something that just might hook the consumer into calling, which is what you are trying to accomplish.

Give them something to do—a call to action. Call (your number) for a 50% first-order discount. Call (your number) for a valet service quote. Call (your number) to discuss your cleaning needs. Don’t just assume they know what to do. It helps if you could offer them something. 

Don’t include a useless photo or graphic. Just because you have a company logo doesn’t mean you have to use it. Words are the power, not a graphic. You’ll stand out anyway, because these days, most dry cleaners only have line entries. On the other hand, if you have a graphic that delivers a message, then by all means, put it in. Be sure that the photo or graphic adds a tangible benefit to your ad.

Cheesy slogans and meaningless buzzwords are to be avoided. Phrases like “great service,” “quality care” and even “family-operated” are so overused that they are meaningless. If your company slogan is “The best cleaner in town,” resist using it. Instead, put in a slogan that a prospect can’t dismiss, one that’s a grabber. “We remove the stain or we eat the cost” would do.

Don’t be cute or funny. You don’t have space in a Yellow Pages ad. Most readers will not appreciate your brand of humor. And you’re not there to entertain anyway. You’re there to catch the browser’s attention, and make one or two points, which will be processed and then acted upon. You’re there to garner action. So, if your modus operandi has been to insert humor in your general ads, resist the urge in the Yellow Pages.

If you know someone who has graphic-design expertise—a son or daughter, a neighbor, a family member—you might ask for some suggestions. It never hurts to have an ad that sticks out because of an eye-catching graphic.

Most of what I’ve shared here has been what not to do. So what do you do?

Focus on one market. Headline with: “We are the only full-service valet service in town.” Or, “Six locations to make your life easier.” Then list your company name. Third, add your plant address. Make it as short as possible. “Downtown next to the movie theater” is better than “447 Main Street, Smithville.” Finally, put in a large phone number with a call to action at the bottom: “Call (your number) to find the location nearest you,” for example.

Keep the information to a minimum. I believe that you don’t need to include your website because, 99% of the time, prospects will call.

Experiment. Don’t leave an ad unchanged year after year. Gauge its effectiveness by asking customers new and old if they have seen your Yellow Pages ad. Keep a record. If the five new customers who saw your ad provide an average of $500 in volume a year, it helped generate $2,500 in revenue. Did your Yellow Pages spending more than pay for itself?

If one approach doesn’t work, try another. Go after different market segments with each ad. In this way, you will be getting maximum use out of your Yellow Pages investment.

About the author

Howard Scott

H&R Block

Industry Writer, Drycleaning Consultant, and H&R Block Tax Preparer

Howard Scott is a longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant, and an H&R Block tax preparer specializing in small businesses. He welcomes questions and comments, and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359.

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