Builder Buzz: Halberg Engineering – another industry blog!

You may have read in my daily updates from Frame Building Expo that I had a good talk with Aaron Halberg of Halberg Engineering regarding online publishing options. It didn’t take long for Aaron to create his new blog — in early March he launched Structural Integrity, I encourage you to check it out. I’ll be looking forward to seeing if the blog is effective for Aaron.

Blogs can be effective tools for small businesses for a completely different reason than why they are effective for, say, a large publishing company like the one I work for. By faithfully maintaining a blog — or email newsletter, or a regularly-updated website — you can communicate with your customers and potential customers that you are staying on top of things. For instance, in his first post Aaron writes about his experience at the Expo. Sharing that information lets his customers know that he invests the time and money to stay abreast of an ever-changing industry, and that’s got to be a great selling point.

Good luck, Aaron!

Spotted: MRA TV ad
Back in 2003, I had the opportunity to view a new TV spot promoting metal roofing, produced by the Metal Roofing Alliance and its marketing partners. The media buy for airing that commercial did not include any channels that I frequent, but my wife’s preferred viewing options these days is those omnipotent home improvement shows up and down the cable/satellite dial. And yet we’ve never seen the spot.

Until recently, that is. At approximately 9:45 CST, we were watching King of Queens (if you haven’t watched it, it’s a terrific show, give it a shot) on TBS, and as the show went to commercial, I saw a wide view of what industry insiders could immediately identify as a metal shake facsimile in gray (my guess is it’s a Metro product). Then, cue the perky realtor! The over-caffeinated lady goes on and on about the benefits of metal roofing to the slightly overwhelmed customers. Close-up shots of various types of metal roofing follow, capped by a scene with the realtor showing the customers the bedroom — which has a spectacular view of the roof.

It’s a good spot, funny yet informative. Yet this is the first time I’ve seen it. Even with a multi-million dollar advertising budget, groups like the MRA know they can’t reach every single possible consumer, and concentrate their spends on specific desirable target groups.

So while average young men with viewing habits similar to mine probably haven’t seen the MRA ad, it’s more likely that women a few years older than me have seen the spot. Frankly, they’re better potential consumers of premium products like metal roofing. Judging by statistics produced by the MRA’s marketing partners, the plan seems to be working.

Keep your eye out for the spot, it’s a nice plug for an industry we care deeply about.

A plug for the Post-Frame Building Design Manual
Bob Dorazio, a builder friend from California, called this afternoon to chat. Bob’s getting into post-frame building, and for design guidance I had referred him to the National Frame Builders Association’s Post-Frame Building Design Manual. He told me the manual is invaluable and a terrific reference — if you’re in post-frame building and haven’t used it yet, you should. Call 800-557-6957 for more information.

In Bob’s area, the perception of post-frame buildings remains that of the old “pole barn” that is put up by unprofessional crews for temporary ag uses. He was looking for advice on how he should describe his post-frame buildings in advertisements. I suggested calling them “pre-engineered wood buildings,” which I borrowed from some post-frame colleagues. Or, he could simply stress the buildings’ durability, energy efficiency, versatility, aesthetic features, etc.

How do you market post-frame buildings in your area?

USDA predicts a record corn crop in 2007
Several rural builders have told us recently that there is growing demand for corn storage structures, anticipating a boom in corn production associated with the increasing popularity of ethanol. It’s looking like that demand could hit historic levels. According to a USDA news release:

Driven by growing ethanol demand, U.S. farmers intend to plant 15 percent more corn acres in 2007, according to the Prospective Plantings report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Producers plan to plant 90.5 million acres of corn, the largest area since 1944 and 12.1 million acres more than in 2006.

Expected corn acreage is up in nearly all states, due to favorable prices fueled by increased demand from ethanol producers as well as strong export sales. Illinois farmers intend to plant a record 12.9 million corn acres this spring, up 1.6 million acres — or 14.2 percent — from 2006. Record-high acreage also is expected in Minnesota, North Dakota, California, and Idaho. Iowa continues to be the largest corn acreage state with 13.9 million acres, up 1.3 million acres — or 10.3 percent — from 2006.

The increase in intended corn acres is partially offset by a decrease in soybean acres in the Corn Belt and Great Plains, as well as fewer expected acres of cotton and rice in the Delta and Southeast. U.S. farmers plan to plant 67.1 million acres of soybeans, the lowest total since 1996 and a decrease of 8.4 million acres — or 11 percent — from 2006. Area planted to cotton is expected to total 12.1 million acres, down 20 percent from 2006.

Google trends, updated
Last summer I heard about an obscure feature from Google: Google Trends. Basically, you type in a term and the search engine reveals what areas of the country and world have been searching for that term most frequently. Since “post-frame” did not have enough search volume to yield results, I typed in “pole barn” and came up with this top 10:
1. Evansville, Ind.
2. Boca Raton, Fla.
3. Allendale, Mich.
4. Grand Rapids, Mich.
(our previous #1)
5. Bay City, Mich.
6. Kalamazoo, Mich.
7. Indianapolis (host city of the recent Frame Building Expo)
8. Detroit, Mich.
9. Southfield, Mich.
10. Cincinnati, Ohio
Keep up the good work, Michigan!

Advertising assistance available from NAHB
If you’re in the home building business, there’s a better-than-average chance you’ve run into some hard times lately. The National Association of Home Builders is trying to help shake the housing market out of its slump.

NAHB is assisting local home builder associations with ongoing advertising campaigns in print, radio, or television outlets, so have your local apply for a “Buy Now” assistance grant from NAHB. To date, 26 local associations have applied for advertising assistance grants from the $1 million to be awarded during the first phase of the program. NAHB currently has approved 17 requests totaling $504,000. Another $2 million will be made available if the program is successful.

The association launched the program last month to assist local home builder associations in an effort to bolster home sales in markets hit hard by the current housing downturn and help offset the cost of local ad campaigns.

For more information visit www.nahb.org/buynowapplication (the site is for NAHB members only) or call Niki Clark at 800-368-5242, x8061.

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