How to Use Google Street View to Market Your Shop

Gilman Precision took an unusual approach to showcasing its capabilities.

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How do you let potential customers see your machines and manufacturing capabilities when they can’t spend the time and money to leave work and fly across the country to visit your facility? Gilman Precision of Grafton, Wisconsin, is taking an unusual approach to showcasing its capabilities: offering a virtual tour using Google Street View, a web service that provides 360-degree views of specific locations. In this instance, the location is Gilman’s facility.

Google Street View wasn’t Gilman’s first attempt at a virtual tour. YouTube videos ultimately fell short of expectations because they didn’t allow visitors to stop and stare at things that piqued their interest. So after the Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce sent out information on using Google Street View to tour restaurants, bars and other locations, Gilman reached out to Google to see if the company would consider a street view of a manufacturing facility.

To start the process, Gilman got bids from some Google-certified photographers in the area. (A searchable list of Google-certified photographers can be found at short.mmsonline.com/streetview.) According to Douglas Biggs, Gilman vice president of sales and marketing, prices depend on the size of a facility and how many photos would be necessary to cover it. Gilman paid about $2,000 for photos of its 70,000 square-foot-facility.

Once the company chose a photographer, the rest of the process took little involvement from Gilman, Mr. Biggs says. The photographer used a digital camera with a seamless 360-degree-view lens on a tripod to capture images around the shop. Every 5 feet, he would stop and take photos in each direction before moving on. The whole photo shoot took about two hours to complete. Afterwards, the photographer loaded the tour online to Google. From start to finish, creating the virtual tour took about two weeks. The tour is accessible at the bottom of Gilman’s website at gilmanprecision.com and on Google Maps.

Having gone through this process, Mr. Biggs has some tips for other shops considering a Google Street View photo shoot:

  • Consider the lighting. Be sure the shop is brightly lit. A dark shop does not give an overall good impression.

  • Clean up. A tidy shop indicates good work habits, attention to detail and proper maintenance. While he considers it a “home-field advantage” to always have a clean shop, Mr. Biggs suggests going through and making sure to clean out junk drawers, so to speak. Like inviting guests over to your house, you want to put your best face forward.

  • Take another look. Take several people through the shop beforehand, looking for customer-sensitive parts and logos that you would not want in photos. Gilman used to be part of SFK until it set out on its own about five years ago. Still, there were some old calendars and displays that needed to be removed before the photo shoot.

According to Mr. Biggs, walking through the facility so slowly and deliberately was an eye-opening experience. “I’ve never walked my floor and examined it to that extent,” he says. “It’s a completely different way of looking at your shop. In fact, it sparked some ideas for the future. I now know that if we need a new machine down the road, we can do it by moving a certain machine to another location.”

After a little more than a week, Google Street View was already making a difference in Gilman’s marketing efforts, Mr. Biggs reports. The company promoted the virtual tour through an email blast and saw significant growth in its open rate for that particular mailing. Moreover, the shop has received feedback from customers who didn’t realize it had certain capabilities before viewing the tour. Business opportunities are already in the works, Mr. Biggs says.

Another benefit is the ability to check Google Analytics to see where people are clicking next on the company’s website after taking the tour. Do they want more information on the company’s spindles, or do they perhaps want to know about a different topic? Using this information, Gilman can better prepare its future marketing content.

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