Show and Sell

Printer-friendly versionSend by email

Don Novak knows that exhibiting at home shows can pay off-to the tune of $3 million during the 30-plus years he’s had a booth at a local event.

January 01, 2000

Novak Construction Co. Type of company: Full-service remodeling.

Location: Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Staff breakdown: Eight office; 12 field

Annual jobs: 140

Sales history:

Novak Construction Co. Type of company: Full-service remodeling.

Location: Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Staff breakdown: Eight office; 12 field

Annual jobs: 140

Sales history:

Novak Construction Co. Type of company: Full-service remodeling.

Location: Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Staff breakdown: Eight office; 12 field

Annual jobs: 140

Sales history:

Novak Construction Co. Type of company: Full-service remodeling.

Location: Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Staff breakdown: Eight office; 12 field

Annual jobs: 140

Sales history:

Novak Construction Co. Type of company: Full-service remodeling.

Location: Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Staff breakdown: Eight office; 12 field

Annual jobs: 140

Sales history:

Novak Construction Co. Type of company: Full-service remodeling.

Location: Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Staff breakdown: Eight office; 12 field

Annual jobs: 140

Sales history:

Novak Construction Co. Type of company: Full-service remodeling.

Location: Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Staff breakdown: Eight office; 12 field

Annual jobs: 140

Sales history:

Novak Construction Co. Type of company: Full-service remodeling.

Location: Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Staff breakdown: Eight office; 12 field

Annual jobs: 140

Sales history:

Don Novak knows that exhibiting at home shows can pay off-to the tune of $3 million during the 30-plus years he’s had a booth at a local event. Although aspects of operating the booth have changed in that time, focusing on the company’s specific goal and making the time pay off have not. "Remodeling is a hard product to show," says Novak, CGR, CKD, president of Novak Construction Co. in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He exhibits at the local show, which is held every February. Where other companies can present their products or working samples, Novak must rely on three key ingredients: before and after photos of recent jobs, vignettes that imply the quality of work the company does, and a layout and approach to operating the booth that draws in quality customers.

Novak doesn’t do several things remodelers typically do at such shows: He doesn’t take down names to generate leads, and he doesn’t hand out promotional items. "We have three goals at the show," he says. "We want to get our name out to interested people, show off the work we’ve done as seen in the pictures, and show off some of our work in the stairs and windows we exhibit." Taking down names, he says, is a waste of time. "We don’t have time to follow up on them after the show, and taking them leaves visitors with expectations that we’ll contact them quickly. We have a hard enough time keeping up with all the people who call us back after the show to set up an appointment, which is what we suggest to people unless they’re really hot to start. We know those who call us back are serious about doing a project."

Although promotional items would help with name recognition, Novak says they aren’t as effective as they may seem. "We want to focus visitors’ attention on what we do and show them our work. We don’t want people coming in for the wrong reasons." Instead, he hands out brochures and business cards. The only nod in the direction of promotional items has been a refrigerator clip/magnet for holding papers, and he sees those in homes when he makes sales visits, he says. But handing them out every year wouldn’t be cost-effective, as many of the same people would continually receive them.

Instead, Novak focuses more attention on rewarding past customers with small tokens, such as a deck of cards with the company’s name. Another on-going promotion issues an invitation, which appears in the company’s newsletter that is published before the show, to past customers to attend the show for free. Novak pays half-price admission for each person who is let in free-a cost of $150 to $200 per year, he says.

The ability to draw past clients to the booth makes it worth the cost, Novak says. At last year’s show, a visitor asked about a type of project and a former client standing there answered the question from his own experience with the remodeler. "All I had to do was stand back and listen to him sell us on his own," he says. "The more we can have our past customers visiting us and talking about us, the more confident booth visitors are of our abilities."

The company began exhibiting in 1966 when it operated a cabinet-making business in addition to its home building and remodeling activities. (It now focuses on remodeling.) As a result, Novak has tried a variety of booth sizes and configurations over the years. His booth at the show has been as big as 70 feet wide, but he’s now settled on a 20-foot booth as the most cost-effective.

Although the booth layout and vignettes change each year to freshen them up, the basic plan stays the same. It features walls sided or finished to resemble a home’s exterior, with windows, roofing and other elements fit in where appropriate. Inside the booth are several staircase sections (which are created before the show and brought in as modules) and other exhibits, including additional window options. Some years, the space is laid out to resemble a remodeled living room, complete with a television set that plays a video showing the company’s projects. The booth’s walls are covered with framed before- and-after photos of recent remodeling projects, which visitors browse through and sales people use to explain the company’s work. These are updated every year, andh highlight some of the company’s latest projects . "We don’t need much else to draw attention, because people like to see remodeled homes," he says. A major draw one year, he says, were the company’s before-and-after photos of a fire-restoration project.

To celebrate its 40th anniversary in 1998, the company designed the booth to feature 224 framing and sheathing, with dropcloths and ladders around. The staff wore nail aprons and work clothes. In other years, the staff has worn tuxedoes or company sweaters. "We try to change some elements every year to keep it fresh, but it’s hard to change too much because we want to keep the focus on the project pictures as our No. 1 goal." In fact, he says, changing less often may be a more effective approach. "We often have customers tell us they remember something we did at the show last year, but in fact we did that three or four years ago. They have a longer memory than we realize, and it might be better to make fewer changes."

Two constants always are present: a 20-foot overhead sign with the company’s name that identifies the space and draws attention, and a second sign placed at eye level in the booth to ensure people identify the company immediately. Novak has one other trademark: He brings 10 300-watt light bulbs to the show and hooks them up above his booth and around his sign. "The lighting in the show can be so dim that people can’t see the pictures. Bright lights make the booth more visible, the photos easier to see, and draw attention from down the aisle."

No matter the layout used, Novak ensures the carpeting in the booth has plenty of padding-he doesn’t allow chairs in the space. "We want everyone up on their feet, moving around and talking with visitors," he says. Staffers should move into the aisles to ensure visitors can flow through the booth easily. With the company’s long-term standing, Novak has obtained a prime spot on a corner of a heavily trafficked aisle, which boosts visits and stresses the need for easy flow-through.

Between three and five employees staff the booth, including Novak, his wife, sales staff and designers, on overlapping schedules. Some years, he adds his production people to give them a feel for the show and let potential customers hear their perspective. Prior to each show, Novak hands out a three-page memo detailing shifts for the crew, reminders about how to operate in the booth, and conversation starters.

Although booth costs have run as high as $15,000, Novak now estimates expenses run between $3,000 and $5,000 per year. This includes material costs, brochure printing, newsletters, admissions and other materials. It’s a wise investment, according to Novak. In fact, one homeowner was so impressed with the sales technique and information he received at the show that after talking with Novak at the site about a master-bedroom addition over the garage, he didn’t even get a second price. He also recommended the remodeler to three friends at work, resulting in four additional projects and more referrals from those co-workers.

"We track where our leads come from on every call we receive, and a significant number mention seeing us at the home show. That’s our introduction to many of our clients," he says. "It definitely pays off."

 

Comments on: "Show and Sell"

April 2014

This Month in Professional Remodeler

The Wise & Houzz

Ultimate Kitchen Confidential

25 New Products from D&CW 2014

DIGITAL EDITION
Products

The classic Edwardian design features ball and claw feet, available in a number of finishes.

Features

Great leaders have great planning skills. They know how to plan and how to execute a plan successfully.