easy to admire brilliant marketing. But itís difficult to say
whether Sean Wolf, the owner of Wolf Paving in the town of Summit,
recognized his own brilliance in advance, or whether he was the
fortunate beneficiary of an unpredictable media firestorm.
When Wolf decided to give away 20 tons of rock salt last week, Iím
not sure he could have realized the full extent of the free
advertising and goodwill his actions would bring to his custom
asphalt business. For two full days, it was impossible to turn on a
television or radio news broadcast without hearing about the Wolf
Paving salt giveaway, references which were almost always prefaced
with the phrase, "locally owned custom asphalt business based
in Oconomowoc." The first round of news focused on the companyís
plans, and the second round focused on the giveaway itself, with
plenty of quality video footage of happy smiling salt recipients.
Running the numbers, Wolf Paving received approximately 100 free
one-minute television ads, and 200 free 30-second radio ads, for the
small price of 20 tons of rock salt. And the cost of all this
coverage was relatively minor. Over the past three years, the
average price of a ton of rock salt, purchased in bulk, ranges from
$30 to $50. Assuming some price increases due to the severe winter
and salt shortages, itís possible that 20 tons could have cost the
company as much as $2,000. Thatís a small price to pay for tens of
thousands of dollars worth of positive coverage in Milwaukee media
Like I said, itís easy to admire brilliant marketing, and I
wouldnít be surprised to see Wolf Paving tally an unprecedented
asphalt season in 2008.
Would this approach work for other local businesses, or was this
a fortunate sequence of events which came together at the end of a
long, frustrating winter? Iím not sure of the answer, but Iím
waiting for Best Buy to test the theory by giving away 20 tons of
flat screen televisions.
Speaking of salt, the city of Waukesha has issued 473 tickets
through last weekend to people who did not adequately shovel their
sidewalks. They also had to take action to clear snow from the
sidewalks of 113 homeowners who didnít comply with the ordinance.
Considering the winter we have experienced, and the general
snow-related depression and apathy gripping the entire region, Iím
not sure if the city has completely thought this through.
If a homeowner does not clear snow from the sidewalk, they
receive a bill for snow removal from the city at a rate of 50 cents
per sidewalk foot. Thatís not unreasonable at all. In fact, for a
typical 50-foot sidewalk, that amounts to only $25. During some of
the more severe blizzards we experienced this winter, I would have
gladly paid $25 to have my sidewalk cleared. In fact, kids in my
neighborhood wanted to charge me $50 for the same job during the
blizzard of early February.
According to the Waukesha city ordinance, "For the first
offense no citation shall be issued and no fine imposed." That
leaves only the cost of snow removal for first offenders. To
summarize: No ticket, no fine, 50 cents a foot in snow removal fees.
Iím not advocating large-scale civil disobedience or anything, but
on a last resort basis during a once-per-generation snowstorm, Iíd
be awfully tempted to conveniently become too busy to shovel.
Note to city of Waukesha - public works department: Please donít
blame the messenger, I have an obligation to point out a good deal
when I see one.
Itís also interesting to note that there is an exception in the
ordinance for the common ice dam situation that plagued many
residential sidewalks and driveways during mid to late-February. The
ordinance recognizes that we live in Wisconsin, and sometimes it may
not be possible to chip away ice that can accumulate quickly this
time of year from rapid temperature fluctuations. If the ice cannot
be removed, the owner needs to keep it covered with ashes, salt or
sand, according to the ordinance, until such time that the ice can
be removed under warmer conditions.
So homeowners literally cannot be ticketed for the unremovable
chunks of ice that were so common on sidewalks during February.
(Tim Schilke is the author of "Growing up Red" and
lives in Grafton. His column runs Wednesdays in The Freeman.)