Watching late-night television, flipping fast and furious like men do (just to make sure we're not missing something good), I came across a commercial new to television land: Baseball cards! Two chubby loudmouthed guys in golf shirts bantered to a fever pitch:
“You get three Gem Mint Hall-of-Fame cards GUARANTEED in every box — that's SIGNED and GUARANTEED! You get ONE rookie Mickey Mantle — ORIGINAL! GUARANTEED! Beckett prices this single card at $1,000 — and it goes for more at card shows…I've never seen anything like this. On this deal I made sure to get my OWN order in early…There are only so many old-time Hall-of-Fame players still around, still signing cards — there's a limited supply. Geez, I can't believe what's included here for only $299.95 — in three easy installments of $99.98…We're selling ‘em all tonight.”
It was a good pitch and almost tempted me — even though I've not really been a big baseball fan for 20 years, don't have any kids and don't own a display case to house baseball memorabilia. I also sensed something dubious — not so much a scam but a ploy to hire a handful of down-in-the-heels Hall-of-Fame players to flood the market with signed baseball cards.
Like many nostalgic products, baseball cards have become big business, with their own trade shows, magazines and, now, television advertising.
Infomercials, which now sell hundreds of products on television, can be fascinating to watch. Emcees turn on the kind of high-pressure salesmanship you usually only see on showroom floors. Products offer life-changing almost-too-good-to-be true properties: “It slices and dices…. It squeezes only the healthy vitamin-enriched juice from the carrot….with my secrets to real-estate success, any idiot who can rub two nickels together can become a millionaire overnight. You don't even need the nickels! I did it and now so can you!…If you buy my space-saving vacuum-sealed storage bags, you won't have to buy that bigger house to closet your family's blankets and winter clothes….”
Meanwhile, consumers filling their hutches and medicine cabinets with seen-on-TV curios and “miraculous” cures sometimes ignore something more basic and essential to their homes: Electrical wiring! Nobody really thinks or cares about their wiring until the lights go out. Never mind that shoddy old wiring can be a fire hazard or that small inexpensive wiring problems can quickly spark into big ones. Consumers don't worry about wiring so long as it's concealed and delivering electricity — even if it dims a bit when you switch on the attic fan.
Local television commercials for contractors don't speak to this electrical urgency. In fact, they're about as low-pressure as salesmanship can get. The local spots usually feature a 1950s logo, 1950s jingle and a mumbling owner with monotone voice and deer-caught-in-the-headlight eyes: “Monaghan Electric has been serving this community for over 50 years. If I can't solve your electricity problems, I'll eat my tool belt. So give us a call…♪ If faulty wiring has you wound up tight, call Monaghan to brighten up your night.♪
I don't mean to poke fun — on the contrary. I think local contractor commercials are right to be old-fashioned and easygoing. Slick high-pressure scare tactics are not a good way to win wiring business. The point of the local-contractor spot, like many commercials, is to establish that the contractor is experienced, reputable and successful enough to buy airtime. More typical contractor advertising mediums include Christmas cards and yellow-page ads. Contractors tend to reserve harder-hitting salesmanship for bids, project presentations and estimates.
Electrical contractors can be persuasive salespeople. If they're not, it's usually because they don't have to be because they let the quality of their work do the talking. Large contracting firms, like any corporation, employ a host of salesmen, accountants and other specialists. For smaller firms, sometimes a business partner, or a spouse doubling as a business partner serves as the marketing person.
I know of two electrical contractors who invented a product and then successfully manufactured and marketed it because of the salesmanship of their partners: their wives. The better halves found a manufacturer, selected a distributor, helped write the advertising copy, pitched the product at trade shows and promoted the product to magazine editors. Meanwhile, the other partner quietly refined the product down in the basement.
When my father was having a house built 35 years ago, I remember my grandfather telling him “The less a contractor talks up plans, the more time he'll spend working.” My grandfather (who rarely spoke more than a single sentence at a time — usually finding his spots edgewise between my grandmother's lilting paragraphs) thought gabby contractors full of beans and empty promises. Construction is probably the best example of a profession where actions speak louder than words. Tradespeople tend to be linear and step-by-step oriented.
Ultimately, customers will spread the word about the quality workmanship of electrical professionals. But it doesn't hurt to hire a professional writer to work on your brochures and to advertise your services occasionally — if you have the budget for it. It could mean you'll win a lot more business. And who knows what that could lead to? I've heard contractors tell tales of finding valuable baseball cards when removing old knob-and-tube wiring from walls and attics. Could be there's a signed Honus Wagner or Christy Matthewson in your future. (Not a guarantee.)