Take a Fresh Look at Your Marketing Plan and Win!

New York pumping operation uses catchy family name, integrated marketing and constant consumer education to capture more customers.
Take a Fresh Look at Your Marketing Plan and Win!
The Barefoot Septic & Sewer crew includes, from left, Scott Barefoot, Chris Rutherford, Cal Stetzel, Brian Weber, Kevin Walton, Penny Saulen, Ben Rutherford, Adrian Johnson, Liz Barefoot, Cole Johnson, Jon Barefoot, Adam Pursel and Jake Weber. (Photos by Mike Bradley)

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Marketing can be a bit of a mystery for some septic service contractors. But to Scott Barefoot, the co-owner of Barefoot Septic & Sewer, the evidence is clear.

An integrated marketing strategy — coupled with an emphasis on professionalism and customer service — can definitely fuel growth for a small, family-owned service company, as Barefoot has learned through experience. And it’s true even for a mature, well-established pumping company.

Like many service contractors, Barefoot Septic, based near Rochester, New York, once relied primarily on phone book advertising to promote its services, which include septic system installations, inspections and repairs along with pumping. After Barefoot’s father, Jon (now majority owner and president), founded the company in 1961, the business slowly grew its phone book presence, finally to a full page in two books. But about five years ago, the duo took a step back to look at the big picture and realized they weren’t getting a bang for their advertising buck.

“We were spending about $40,000 a year on Yellow Pages advertising and not getting much return for investment. … We knew that less people are using phone books when they look for a septic service provider,” says Scott Barefoot, a minority owner of the company and its vice president. “At the same time, we also were worried that the phone would stop ringing if we pulled the Yellow Pages ads. But eventually we became convinced it was a gamble worth taking.”

Clearly, dropping all advertising wasn’t an option. So, based on a referral from a friend, the Barefoots hooked up with Kristin DiProsa of Prosper Marketing + Branding. With her help, the Barefoots updated an old company website and redirected its marketing budget toward more grass-roots advertising efforts, such as mass mailing of postcards with a discount offer, educational pamphlets for customers, business cards and refrigerator magnets. All the materials are branded with the company’s distinctive logo: a red (barefoot) footprint.

“These changes have resulted in a significant growth spurt over the past several years,” Barefoot says.

DIRECT MAIL GETS RESULTS

A revamped reminder-card program keyed the surge. For decades, the company has mailed out postcards to customers on three-year pumping intervals. If the customer didn’t respond, Barefoot Septic made no further contact. “Now we send postcards out every two years,” Barefoot notes. “And if we don’t hear from them, we send out another one in six months. We went back in our database and sent out reminder cards to customers who’d fallen away and we got an overwhelmingly positive response. … Just this year alone, we’ve added more than 560 customers to our database.

“This tells me something I’d always suspected during the years I drove a pumper truck: Customers like to be reminded. My father was always concerned that we’d come across as badgering the customers. But we’ve found they don’t want to run the risk of expensive leachfield problems. People really do like to be reminded. And if we remind them twice, they don’t find it annoying — they’re grateful.”

Based on advice from DiProsa, the company also mails out promotional postcards targeted at potential customers in ZIP codes where municipal sewer service is uncommon. The company sends out the cards once a month from April through November; new customers get $20 off a pumping if they respond within the month the mailing occurs. “And whether or not a customer responds during the month they receive the card, a lot of them save the card and call us later, so it still works as advertising,” he adds. “The mailings easily pay for themselves.”

Barefoot has good news for pumpers who might think marketing firms are too expensive to use: He says the company doesn’t spend any more now on marketing than it did before.

“And if you look at the income generated from pumping, the cost of reminder postcards is a drop in the bucket,” he adds.

A FAMILY BUSINESS

Jon Barefoot began his career as an excavator and worked closely with his father, James, who ran a water pump and well service business. In 1971, Jon bought out a local septic pumper and focused more on that market. Scott joined the company in 1991, about a year after he graduated from St. Bonaventure University with a degree in business administration.

“I hadn’t planned on joining the business,” Barefoot says. “But at the time I graduated, the environment was a hot topic. That was something that resonated with me. … I saw a lot of potential for growth in an industry that interacts with the environment the way we do.”

Barefoot spent his first decade pumping out tanks, but he also left his mark on company operations in other ways, especially in marketing. Under his tenure, the company changed its name from Jon Barefoot Septic Systems and developed a new logo that playfully — and memorably — leverages a unique asset: a last name that’s as catchy as it is uncommon.

“We have an unusual last name,” says Barefoot. “I think that it sticks in people’s minds. Our barefoot logo is crisp and clear and we wear it loud and proud on all of our equipment. We get a lot of comments about it from customers.”

The barefoot logo replaced a Winnie the Pooh image, with the lovable bear’s hand in a honey jar. That reflected the Barefoots’ decision to more proactively emphasize a professional image.

“We wanted to move away from goofy and silly to something that’s serious and professional,’’ he explains. “As a result, I think we’re taken more seriously; and people need to take their septic systems more seriously,” he adds. “There’s no advantage to making a joke of it and treating the industry lightly.”

Better yet, Jon Barefoot endorsed all of the changes. “He embraces change,” the younger Barefoot says. “To tell the truth, he’s probably more open to change than I am — more of a risk-taker.”

VERSATILE EQUIPMENT

Over the years, the company has invested heavily in equipment that enables it to offer a full range of services. That, in turn, allows the company to maximize revenue by minimizing the need to use subcontractors. “When people see that we have everything they need, that works to our advantage,” Barefoot says. “They see us as a one-stop septic shop.”

The company relies heavily on four vacuum trucks built out by Vacutrux Limited on either Mack or Kenworth chassis. The rigs feature 3,300- to 4,000-gallon steel tanks and Wallenstein pumps. In addition, the company owns four excavators made by Doosan Infracore America Corporation, Case (CNH Industrial America), Bobcat and Schaeff; two Case backhoes; a Bobcat skid-steer; a John Deere bulldozer; a Trojan loader; four dump trucks with aluminum and steel dump bodies made by Galion-Godwin Truck Body, Raglan Industries and Beau-Roc; a box trailer made by Atlas Specialty Trailers; five GMC pickup trucks; two equipment trailers manufactured by Interstate Cargo Group; and four CornPro utility trailers.

Investing in advanced, quality equipment not only enhances the company’s focus on professionalism, it also helps boost customer satisfaction by reducing downtime and allowing employees to finish jobs quickly and efficiently. But the little things that employees do on the job also contribute to great customer service, Barefoot says.

“Our business has been built on the simple do-unto-others principle. … We strive every single day to treat our customers as we would like to be treated,” he points out. “We are very careful to leave every customer’s property at least as nice as it was when we got there, with no oil drips on the driveway, no mess on the lawn and garden hoses coiled away neatly,” he says. “Customers frequently tell us that we put dirt and sod back on top of a tank cover so neatly that they have to look closely to even know we were there. We love that.”

LOOKIN’ GOOD

Technician appearance is important to the company. Workers wear uniforms and a service is hired to launder the uniforms weekly. Barefoot said it’s important to keep the equipment in good working order as well. “We have the best mechanic in the world, Adam Pursel, and he keeps everything operating in tip-top condition,” he says.

The emphasis on customer service extends to the company’s website, which answers frequent questions and allows online service requests.

“Some of our customers don’t like to use the phone. … They’re used to email or texting,” Barefoot says. “We’re also in the process of implementing a system that can send out (service) reminders via email instead of mailing them, or in addition to mailing them. It’s just another way we make things convenient for customers.”

There’s another aspect to customer service that Barefoot says makes a big difference: customer education. Technicians go out of their way to teach customers about proper septic system maintenance. That includes a recommendation to get tanks pumped out every other year, he notes, not three years, as technicians used to suggest.

“That’s because we see tanks that are overfull and neglected way too often,” he explains. But don’t customers see that as a cash grab? Not if it’s properly explained, he says. “The expense and inconvenience of having your septic tank pumped every other year is minimal when compared to the expense and inconvenience of repairing or replacing a neglected system,” he says.

KEEP ON GROWING

Barefoot Septic has enjoyed steady revenue growth during the last several years, and Barefoot expects to continue on that path for the foreseeable future. But beyond revenues and profit margins, Barefoot is also passionate about building on the family legacy his grandfather established more than a half century ago.

“I love to carry on the family tradition of excellent customer service that was started so long ago,” he says. “It’s important to me that customers continue to associate the Barefoot name with quality service they can trust.”


Inspections are a great marketing tool

Barefoot Septic & Sewer does a brisk business in septic system inspections — anywhere from 10 to 20 a week, prompting the Caledonia, New York-based company to employ a full-time inspector, according to Scott Barefoot, co-owner and vice president.

Inspections also serve as a marketing tool that exposes customers to the company’s full range of septic services. “They boost our pumping business because the septic tank gets pumped every time we do an inspection,” Barefoot explains.

“Perhaps most importantly, all new homeowners are provided with a clear, thorough report about the septic system at their new home with our name on it,” he adds. “In this way, we often become the first call when service is needed.”

The State of New York does not require a license to perform onsite system inspections. As such, the scope and thoroughness of inspections can vary widely from contractor to contractor. To make customers feel confident about the quality of inspections, Barefoot Septic has developed its own criteria for comprehensive inspections, Barefoot says.

“We’ve created our own forms,” he says. “It’s a very thorough procedure that also includes inspecting inside houses to see how all the wastewater plumbing exits. … Sometimes we find that certain drains bypass the septic system altogether and drain into a ditch.”

Brian Weber, Barefoot Septic’s in-house inspector, works with local Realtors and generates a steady stream of inspection referrals. Most of the referrals come from Realtors, but sometimes people who are buying a home call for inspections, too, Barefoot notes.

“Aside from serving as an entree to pumping and repair services down the road, doing inspections also speaks to our company’s professionalism because we’re called in as septic system experts,” he says. The company presents inspection reports in a folder with information gleaned from county health department records, which Weber researches to gain as much information as possible about a system prior to its inspection.



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