Remember what a struggle buying living room furniture used to be? You have your tape measure out, you’re diagramming the room, you’re trying to visualize what should go where, then what color fabric will work with the walls and the curtains and the rest of the upholstery. The truck arrives and you’re holding your breath, hoping it all fits.
Today? You have an app on your phone that measures the room and can superimpose 3-D models of real products onto a photo. The app’s free. It saves days of work and hassle and eliminates the risk of an ill-advised product selection. You know everything fits and comes together well before the truck arrives.
How We’ve Always Done It
Technology has changed everything in home improvement as well. There are few aspects of this business that can’t be made more efficient by available technology. Moreover, additional technology for marketing, selling, estimating, product selection, installation, and running the office is being introduced all the time.
For the most part, contractors have been slow to incorporate technology into their businesses. My guess is there are two reasons for that. For one thing, many contractors are 45-plus years old and grew up using tools, not software. That’s where they feel most comfortable. For another, there is the feeling that what we offer—the ability to build a porch, replace a roof or windows, etc.—is what really matters to the public. If they want it, they’ll seek us out. The companion thought there is that when it comes to measuring, estimating, pricing, tracking leads, etc., we’ve always done it this way, and it’s worked fine so far. So let’s leave well enough alone.
That’s The Way We Do It
Here’s the problem: The world has changed. That means, in part, that your customers have changed, too. They have different expectations when it comes to how they want to do business with a company, whether that’s a residential roofer or a bank. In the old days, for instance, you went to the bank, deposited a check, waited for it to clear, then came back and made a check out to “cash” to put some cash in your wallet while you wrote out additional checks to pay the bills. Now, without thinking about it, you refill your wallet from an ATM and you move money from account to account online sitting at your laptop.
Here’s the thing: Once technology becomes part of some aspect of the business, there’s no reverse gear. They’re not going to suddenly haul away all the ATMs and go back to the days of waiting for checks to clear.
You can see this in home improvement. Twenty years ago salespeople lugged samples, photo albums, and a pitch book into the house. Then along came the laptop. That proved cumbersome for many, but when tablet computers were introduced, companies soon loaded their PowerPoint presentations, photos, videos, contracts—everything—onto the tablet. That’s what most salespeople today carry into the house.
Most, but not all. There are still companies out there using a pitch book because That’s The Way We Do It. And though it may have the comfort of familiarity for the salesperson or company owner, what does it look like to the homeowner who’s already talked with two other contractors whose sales reps or estimators did everything on their iPads? So 20th century.
Here’s the other thing that’s different. Technology drives consumer behavior. One result in home improvement, studies show, is that homeowners are online researching companies and products before they ever actually contact a contracting company. And because they have information, they are no longer willing to passively accept whatever recommendations or suggestions we make.
This especially holds true for Millennials. They want to play an active role and be involved in design decisions at every level. Manufacturers have been onto this for a while. Companies such as GAF, Tamko, Azek, and others have websites equipped with visualization tools that give visitors a clear idea of what the house will look like—of what they’re actually buying.
A Beautiful Thing
The beautiful thing now is that it doesn’t matter much whether you’re a big company or a small contractor. With cloud-based storage, the cost of technology has come way down on everything, whether that’s estimating, visualization, or CRM software. These are products meant for everybody. You can easily buy a tablet computer today for way less than a thousand dollars. (We bought the iPads we use with Hardie Bucks, the James Hardie co-op rewards program.) And then there’s the phone in the your pocket. There are project management apps that let you track where crews and trucks are, apps that let crewmembers enter their hours for payroll purposes, and on and on.
You may not think it has anything to do with you—and it doesn’t if you’re not interested. But then there’s the customer. The customer under 40 or 45 lives in a tech-centric world, even moreso according to research that shows smartphones are now in 77 percent of the pockets out there.
The longer you wait, the more difficult it’s going to be to integrate technology into the way your company does business. Why not start by looking for repeatable tasks you could automate using currently available technology? There are some things all contractors have in common: They need to generate leads, measure the job, make a sales presentation, and generate a proposal. Why not start with one of those?
Next, decide what platform you’re going to be on. Initially, Apple had far more apps available for it, but most apps are now also available for Android tablets and phones.
Technology is teachable, something you can deploy across your organization, and it will save a ton of time and money by enhancing efficiencies. More important, since the technology your company uses equates, in the eyes of your prospects, to professionalism, you’ll gain a certain critical advantage. There’s the guy who climbs out of his truck with a pencil behind his ear and a measuring tape on his belt. Then there’s the guy who’s snapping pictures while he’s estimating with electronic tools and downloading reports from EagleView or Hover. Who would you trust more to do the better job and have it done on time?