When The Home Depot came to town more than a decade ago, Hampton Kitchens struggled briefly before asking the question that revived its business to this day. “We thought, ‘What makes us different?'” remembers Max Isley, owner of the Wake Forest, N.C., company. The answers were knowledge and accessibility, assets that he began (and continues) to capitalize on through kitchen design workshops. The two-hour workshops are by far Isley's most cost-effective form of marketing. Held in his showroom on Saturday mornings, each costs him no more than $25 for light snacks and refreshments, and is promoted by free notices placed in local newspapers. The members of this captive audience quickly become “disciples” for his message, Isley says, and bring in extensive word-of-mouth referrals.

Isley attributes the workshops' success to these principal factors:

  • Limited frequency: Isley finds that his local newspapers will promote the workshops if he positions them as educational and offers them no more than four times a year. Any more often “looks promotional,” he says.
  • Knowledge, not sales. Isley invites attendees to browse among his showroom's products and look at his portfolio photos. But rather than focusing on his fabulous work, he begins with a topical 10- or 15-minute presentation, typically using guidelines from the National Kitchen & Bath Association. He then opens the floor to questions. He says that his intro shows he knows what he is talking about, and the free-ranging Q&A underscores it.
  • Limited attendance: Twenty or 25 people fit nicely into Isley's showroom and can ask their assorted questions. He recommends a more structured presentation for much larger groups.
  • Public speaking mojo. Your best speaker should deliver the presentation, but have an expert in the audience to answer any questions the presenter cannot. “It won't work if you're nervous,” Isley says. “You have to know what you're doing.”
  • A rousing finale. Isley likes to “leave them dancing,” but considers freebies and drawings too “old school” to support his professional appeal. Instead, he thanks attendees for their time by offering to review any kitchen design proposal they get from another company. This service usually costs $150 but is valuable for both establishing Isley's expertise and gleaning insights into the competition.

Catchy titles are another selling point. Isley's include: “George Jetson's Kitchen: The Future Is Now” and “What's Behind Door No. 3?”