bedco stair lift wheelchairThink senior citizens aren’t using the Web to research and buy products? Tim Pelton did. Tim is a sales manager for Bedco Mobility, a company that sells and services products such as wheelchair stair lifts in the Baltimore/Washington DC corridor. For close to 100 years, Bedco advertised in local newspapers and yellow pages. 

But calls and leads were dropping precipitously.

Bedco has a website, but never attempted online marketing because the thinking at the company was that senior citizens just plain weren’t online. Wrong. The 70-75 year old age bracket is one of the fastest-growing segments of the online population, according to the Pew Center for the Internet and American Life. In 2005, 25 percent of them used the Internet. Last year, 45 percent went online. Older surfers use the Web primarily for searches for things such as health information, e-mail, and buying products.

Within four months of launching their first paid search ads last December, Bedco saw online leads more than double within a four month period. In fact, the Web is has gone from zero to the company’s primary source of lead generation. We asked Tim to share his story.

Q: Was this your first foray into interactive marketing?

A: Yes, pretty much. We deal primarily with senior citizens because we handle handicapped equipment. A lot of our leads would come through our manufacturers, through newspaper advertising, yellow pages, that sort of thing. That seemed to be working for years and years after your regular markets would have switched over [to the Web]. I think we were probably about two years behind the curve. Maybe a year. We were missing a lot of business simply because more and more people were searching, certainly older people were figuring out how to search.

In the Baltimore region we have a local newspaper, so that was fine for advertising. Basically, people would see it. But as other family members started searching we were missing all those leads. Finally, the seniors themselves started searching and we were really missing. So we figured it was definitely past our time to have done this, but we didn’t really know how to go about it.

A supplier connected Pelton with eZanga, which handles all the aspects of the campaign: keyword research, creative, bid management, dayparting and geo-targeting.

A: We cover Baltimore and Washington. It was cheaper to do search ads just here in Baltimore. So we were doing that just for economy, but I was getting lots of new leads. My business was back to what it was several years ago when we were basically the only ones around. There’s a lot of people who do what we do now. At that point, we realized we should have targeted the DC area, so we started a new campaign for that region. We’re really seeing results from it. It was fairly immediate and it’s been very steady.

Q: What’s your budget?

A: We do basically about $3 grand a month between the two programs, we split it between the Baltimore and DC areas. Then out of that we pay eZanga a commission, which I think is about $300. They eat it up, right to the penny. We don’t go over, and we seem to go the full month so we don’t have downtime. What they’ve been doing has been working. We’ve seen a definite increase and a steady increase since we started the campaign.

The metrics bear him out:

•    Month two increased 38.7% over month one
•    Month three increased 58.0% over month one
•    Month four increased 135.5% over month one

Q: With this level of online success, are you still buying traditional advertising?

A: We’re gradually turning it off. We’re limiting most yellow pages ads. These are yearly contracts and we’re and cutting them as they come up for renewal. We have ads in the “Baltimore Sun” and a weekly ad in the “Washington Post,” which is very expensive. We’re keeping those, and we’re keeping a few line ads in the yellow pages, but basically we’re getting rid of our display ads. We’ve been in the yellow pages for six or seven different areas like wheelchairs, medical supplies, that sort of thing. Now we’re cutting those categories and basically trying to funnel more money into the internet.

Q: That’s why traditional media are dying, right? Thousands and thousands of small companies like yours.

A: Yeah, it’s true. We didn’t think it was quite that pronounced until we started doing search ads and realized, “Oh, yeah.” We’re generating the same amount of leads as we did five or 10 years ago when we were really busy. For the last three or four years we’ve been less busy. So it’s been pretty obvious that this is the way to go.

For small companies that are focused in a specific area of business, it doesn’t matter who you think you’re catering to.  Internet presence is extremely important. If you don’t have it, you’re not going to get called. We were under the illusion that old people weren’t shopping through the internet.  And we were wrong.