23 Remodelers Offer Repeat & Referral Tips

Effective and easy-to-apply strategies to increase your repeat and referral business in 2014.

January 30, 2014

Do the best job possible for the client. I often mention to clients that our work comes almost exclusively from repeat and referral customers. We’re only one bad job away from losing our good reputation--John Van Dame, Owner, Van Dame Custom Builders, Lansdale, Pa.

For many remodelers, the lifeblood of their company comes in the form of repeat and referral work. In some cases, remodelers have reported that repeat and referral work makes up a significant portion of their business for a given year.

Because of the critical impact repeat and referral work can have on your business, Professional Remodeler interviewed dozens of remodelers by phone and e-mail to find out their go-to strategies for increasing repeats and referrals. Furthermore, we asked them to reveal any new tactics they plan to incorporate in 2014 to increase repeats and referrals. Finally, as a Web exclusive accompanying this article, we asked how they are going to implement these new methods to increase this type of work in 2014.

What are the most effective methods you use to increase repeat and referral business for your remodeling company?

Paul Hammond
Partner, Hammond and Brandt, Nashville, Tenn.

The first way to get repeat business is to provide a hassle-free customer experience.

For example, be professional in your communication and interaction with the client and construction team, complete the project on time, keep the client informed of their actual cost incurred compared with the initial estimate, and make the process as enjoyable as possible for the client.

We also offer previous clients free upgrades (between $500 and $1,000) to their home for referrals that lead to projects.

 

Michael Menn
Architect and Principal, Michael Menn Ltd., Northbrook, Ill.

When I reinvented the business four years ago, I made a decision to be more sustainable. I constantly interact with my clients, therefore, the only printed collateral I maintain are business cards. All interaction with past clients and referrals is through social media, one-on-one meetings, and the Internet. My marketing plan is also fairly unique:

Post to three-to-four social media sites at least three times a week.

Send an e-blast with an interesting tidbit or when we finish a project to our database of more than 2,600 people, perhaps three to four times per year.

For the last three years, I’ve mailed out 120 coffee table books to clients and interior designers in order to leave a lasting impression with those I collaborate with regularly.

 

Tom Kelly
President, Neil Kelly Inc., Portland, Ore.

First, do a great job and surprise your client with the service, design, and construction quality. Most importantly, communicate proactively especially when issues come up.

Second, never assume clients will remember you beyond a few years. Have at least six communications with previous clients every year including company newsletters, designer newsletters, phone calls, warranty check-ins, or any reason to have a communication “touch.”

At the end of every project, have the designer pick up the final check, re-cement the sale, and ask for referrals.

We also do a holiday mailer every year to our previous clients. This year, we offered a free energy audit, four hours of design for their next project, or five hours of home repair carpentry for $99.00. The response was very positive. It’s tough to swallow the cost, but it is a long-term investment.

 

Bradley Johns
CEO, Ready Decks Inc., West Monroe, La.

We take time to educate our customer about the other products and services we provide. Because our branding is so specialized, many of our customers do not realize that we also build carports, docks, fences, and more. Each customer gets a packet that includes warranty and care information but also more about the other services we offer.

Additionally, we discuss how we appreciate repeat customers and want to show our gratitude by continuing to provide them with the guaranteed scheduling, pricing, and high level of service.

 

Scott Cross
President, SC Homes, Corona Del Mar, Calif.

We don’t spend any money in print ads, or social marketing, it’s all word of mouth. It amazes me how one happy client can create 10 new jobs and one unhappy client can lose you 20 jobs. The key is pleasing the client and going above and beyond in all circumstances.

I have taken losses on jobs just to please the client when I know I don’t need to, and it’s those clients who refer me to numerous jobs where I make money.

 

Sam Gervais
Vice President, Prime Renovation Group, Williston, Vt.

The method that works best for our company is offering incentives. Of course, with our three-year labor warranty and great customer service, they are driven to use our firm again but most clients appreciate our 5-percent repeat client discount, which offers real savings without sacrificing any quality.

 

Jeff Moeslein
President, Legacy Remodeling, Pittsburgh

In April 2013, we began an effort to increase repeat and referral business as a percentage of our overall business. Since then our repeat and referral business represented 25 percent. The goal is to get these lead sources to represent 40 percent or more of our overall business.

The best way to get a referral is to deliver an exceptional product and experience. Based on this idea, we focus on how we interact with our customers including:

- Requiring shirts with a company logo on all employees any time they may interact with a customer.

- An upgraded sales process with a new in-home presentation on iPads.

- We changed our approach to pricing so we now go in with a flat price. The price is what it is, no discounts for buying immediately, no games, just an honest, professional approach.

- We reach out to the customer a week after the sale in case they have any questions or concerns.

- Last, we have always sent out a customer mailer once a year. It gives us a nice shot in the arm in terms of leads.

Over the second half of 2013, our repeat and referral business represented 35 percent of our overall revenue, a 10-percent increase from the prior year.

 

Anthony Tripp
President, Tripp Builders, Chicago

You must provide a professional experience every time you work with a customer. No matter if it is the first time or a customer of 20 years. Try and solve every issue they have and be ready to listen. They will call and recommend you to everyone they know. 

Finally, always have business cards with you. People still ask for them all the time.

 

John Van Dame
Owner, Van Dame Custom Builders, Lansdale, Pa.

Do the best job possible for the client. I often mention to clients that our work comes almost exclusively from repeat and referral customers. We’re only one bad job away from losing our good reputation.

One of the best compliments I hear is the client’s disappointment they won’t see us every day once the project is finished.

 

Walter Lewis
President, Neighbors Home Remodeling, Roswell, Ga.

Customer relationship management begins with the basics: trust, relationship, craftsmanship, and service delivery. 

It is important homeowners become clients not customers. The term client implies a long-term relationship with a professional, as opposed to a customer, which is a very short interaction. The relationship can and should go on for years.

In the end, clients are very proud of—and love to show off—their completed projects.

As part of the “pre-construction conference,” ask the homeowner to inform their neighbors of the pending project. Give it as much fanfare as possible.

During the project send update notices or “door hangers” to the neighbors and include pictures, logos, websites, links, and QR codes to stir interest. Personally meet with the neighbors if at all possible.

When the project is completed, and with the homeowner’s permission, invite the neighbors to a party to show off the craftsmanship. The homeowner will be beaming with pride. The pride breaks through as a glowing recommendation for your company. Collect information and establish follow-up calls or meetings as appropriate.

Finally, the ultimate referral program in my opinion is the “NARI Tour of Remodeled Homes.”

 

Botond Laszlo
President and Owner, Marvelous Home Makeovers, Dallas

The most effective method to increase repeat and referral business is to establish the relationship with the client. Once we established the relationship, it helps the existing project and in the future. 

In order to have a good relationship, it is critical to start with the right clientele. If you are not invested in meeting the client’s needs, a relationship will be harder to establish and it will be even tougher to get repeat and referral business.

This means turning down projects because you may not be a good fit for the client. Ultimately, it leads to a stronger relationship with the client.

Follow-up is important to continue engagement and help with quality assurance. We try to follow up after every project at the 30-day, 90-day, and 1-year point. This helps us to stay top-of-mind for our clients. 

 

Lora Deller
Red Oak Remodeling, York, Pa.

Make sure you keep in contact with every client no matter the size of the initial job. Don’t remove their name from your database if you haven’t heard from them for a while. Keep sending information; they may need your services down the road or even refer your company to a friend.

We also believe in using Facebook as a marketing tool. One time we made a post about glass and tile backsplashes. Later, we received a message from a past client who liked the material and wanted to use it in her future kitchen. Several months later, we completed her kitchen and incorporated a similar glass and tile backsplash.     

 

Mike Mahn
President, Mahn Custom Homes & Renovations, St. Louis

Referral business begins with getting it right the first time. We have a philosophy to treat our clients as family in order to build a long-term and lasting relationship.

Also, we never say “no” to an existing client’s request. For example, if they had a handyman project, such as a small leak at a sink, toilet replacement, broken window, a sticking door, or HVAC filter cleaned, we take care of them. Even if the items were out of warranty, or not part of the original scope of the job, we still help.

 

David Davison
President, Realty Restoration, Austin, Texas

Being a design-build company, we work hard to develop and maintain our relationships, especially the relationships with realtors, industry partners, and interior designers. Our involvement with the local NARI and NKBA chapters provide a wealth of opportunity to interact with people who prefer to recommend or refer a team with a proven track record.

One of our best sources for referrals are the professional realtors who serve the high-end market. We do miniature seminars for their sales meetings to keep them abreast of changes in the building market and with local building code changes.

We also contribute to several local and regional publications with articles and updates with the latest trends and participate in presentations at our local Building Trade and Home & Garden shows on the NARI and NKBA stages.

Finally, we keep in touch with our past clients to check their pulse on new projects they may be considering and to share our accomplishments and awards.

 

Scott Brown
CEO, Brown Remodeling Co., Franklin, Ind.

We try to differentiate our business from the competition. Our customer’s experience is the No. 1 opportunity to differentiate our company. We find some way during the project to go above and beyond their expectations. This creates hype about our company that you cannot buy through marketing or advertising.

More importantly, the answer to client referrals is “be referable.” If you complete a project and failed to meet the customer’s expectations, you have little chance of gaining a referral in the future. But if you exceed their expectations, you can all but guarantee future referrals.

 

Cesar Rosales
Owner, Unlimited Kitchens & Baths, New Carrollton, Md.

Fair pricing and good service helps us keep our existing customers while also getting referral business. We will do a little extra work for free as a thank you to the customer for their business.

 

Todd Warner
CEO, Warner’s Homes & Improvements, Mercer, Pa.

The most effective way for repeat business and referrals is quality construction, fair prices, and personal service. I not only sell all the remodeling jobs but I also order the materials, schedule all the jobs, and oversee the jobs. This can be time consuming but my competition delegates these responsibilities to others. It provides for better customer satisfaction because they prefer to deal with me directly. I find customers want to deal with the owner one-on-one regarding their home improvement versus a supervisor.

 

Stephen Doucet
Owner, Doucet Remodeling & Design, Stoneham, Mass.

Make sure the client is happy at the end of a project. We do this with customer service and attention to cleanliness on the jobsite. We are fanatical about dust and floor protection. We have so many customers commenting, “I thought this remodeling project would be a lot dirtier.”

 

Andy Wells
Principal, Normandy Design Build Remodeling, Hinsdale, Ill.

We employ a wide variety of tactics that work together to keep repeat and referral business strong. Obviously, we need to provide a quality product and a great experience, despite the fact that remodeling is messy, noisy, and disruptive.

Our designers partner with the homeowners from the initial meeting all the way through final inspection and are frequently at the jobsite throughout construction. This keeps the bond between the designer and the homeowner strong.

We know homeowners like to recommend people, not companies, so we do our best to nurture those relationships. Our designers are involved in social media and connect with past clients to stay in touch, we also send newsletters to past customers and recent prospects.

We have gained a stronger appreciation for the likelihood of people to refer us before construction even begins, so we have shifted the time we ask for referrals to the front of the relationship, making prospective customers aware of our referral rewards program and asking them to share our name with their family and friends.

Our referral rewards program includes a restaurant gift card for anyone who refers an appointment and a more substantial gift, such as an iPad, for a referral that turns into a purchase.

 

Scott Mosby
President, Mosby Building Arts, St. Louis

Doing 1,000 things right all the way through our process is a strength of ours. We try to out-behave our competitors with hundreds of little things. For example, smile! Joy and happiness are infectious and clients love to be around pleasant and happy people. Smiles are attractive, grow positive relationships, and lead to referrals.

These client referrals are often stories told at dinner parties about the interesting associates and employees Mosby has on their project. We recruit friendly people, and discharge associates with sour attitudes.

 

Anthony Slabaugh
Owner, Anthony Slabaugh Remodeling & Design, Stow, Ohio

We have a monthly newsletter that goes out via Constant Contact. We also use Facebook to provide info and updates about our company and the industry.

However, the most effective method is six- and 12-month personal follow-up phone calls after project completion. This gets any potential warranty issues that are lingering.

 

Bill Owens
Founder and President, Owens Construction, Powell, Ohio

We have a monthly e-mail newsletter titled, “Cruise News,” that is strictly information about the remodeling market and oriented around the different seasons in Ohio. It is written like a daily log of activities and has newsy snippets you might find on an actual cruise. It works well because the audience knows it isn’t an in-your-face solicitation. 

We also reward people for referrals that turn into contracts. We send them gift certificates to local high-end eateries. Those awards are scaled somewhat based on the size of the contract to keep marketing costs in control.

Finally, face-to-face networking at local events and being involved in local organizations is a consistent mainstay of our success. It represents one of the more cost-effective ways to gain repeat and referral of business. 

 

Christopher Davison
Vice President, Realty Restoration, Austin, Texas

Maintain relationships. Remodeling is a very invasive process. If we develop a strong friendship with the client during a remodel, we will be the first person that comes to mind when a remodeling project is mentioned to that person.

 

Are there any new strategies you plan to incorporate in 2014 to increase repeat and referral business?

 

Michael Menn
Architect and Principal, Michael Menn Ltd., Northbrook, Ill.

In 2014, my social media posts are going to be more specific. We have learned from two years of analytics when to post and what to post. For instance, prior to a holiday we always post a recipe that relates to that holiday (i.e. a BBQ recipe near the 4th of July). We also know that on Mondays posting between 10 and 11 a.m., we get more hits than other times during the day.

I plan to make stronger appeals to past clients about referrals being my life source. Finally, I am going to be more involved with interior design. Designers are my second largest referral source followed by realtors. Several of my blasts will be directed to each group separately to evoke a response.

 

Tom Kelly
President, Neil Kelly Inc., Portland, Ore.

Often, managing a business is revisiting things you used to do and pull them out of the closet.

For years we have had a marketing program that includes a budget for the client to host an after-project party for friends and neighbors.

We simply ask that we can be there to pass out business cards. We are going to do an internal marketing program to encourage our sales designers to do at least one such party every year.

 

Bradley Johns
CEO, Ready Decks Inc., West Monroe, La.

After we launch our new website, we will begin a specific newsletter to our customers that focuses on adding to their decks with additional space and amenities.

 

Scott Cross
President, SC Homes, Corona Del Mar, Calif.

Social marketing, including Houzz and Facebook, will be strong for us in 2014. We will have promotions with giveaways to draw people to our Facebook page.

We will also use a professional photographer on projects over $300,000 and post them on Houzz. We believe Houzz is a game-changer for our industry and should be used by all remodelers.

 

Sam Gervais
Vice President, Prime Renovation Group, Williston, Vt.

To help with referrals, we send out closing packets that include business cards so clients can give them to their friends. One new change is that if we get a business card back from one of our clients friends, we give the potential client a 5-percent discount on their project and $100 to the past client for the referral.

 

Jeff Moeslein
President, Legacy Remodeling, Pittsburgh

First, we look to generate as many online reviews as possible. We know from our Guild Quality surveys that if we do work for a customer, between 94 percent and 97 percent are willing to refer us to others. With that in mind, we have installers distribute a letter from Legacy asking customers to review us on Facebook, Google Local, Angie’s List, or one of several other sites. We ask the customer to send us a link to the review and we will in turn send them a $25 gift card.

Secondly, we are looking for other ways to interact with our customers on social media. We may do Facebook ad campaigns this year or a contest like “worst windows” or “ugliest door,” where we give away a new entry door, garden window, or something else to the winner. People will try to get their friends to vote for them, which in turn would lead to new business.

 

John Van Dame
Owner, Van Dame Custom Builders, Lansdale, Pa.

I ask for recommendations on my Houzz site and post pictures of projects that clients can send around to their friends. We don’t promise any kind of referral reward but I usually give a gift card to a restaurant if a referral turns into a signed contract.

 

Walter Lewis
President, Neighbors Home Remodeling, Roswell, Ga.

Last year, I attended David Lupberger’s “Customer for Life Business Systems” and “Home Asset Management Plan” seminars. His concept is to develop a comprehensive checklist of home repair and maintenance items and become the go-to resource for everything on their house. When it’s time to remodel, you will be first on the list. The program is designed to allow the client to budget needed repairs and maintenance over time, giving you future work and revenue. 

 

David Davison
President, Realty Restoration, Austin, Texas

We give our design-build customers a nice Realty Restoration portfolio in the early stages of a project to help them keep selections and notes in an organized format as the design development process begins. During the design development process, we create a set of plans, specifications, and a “Look Book” for the client’s edification during construction. This year, we are going to give the client a bound copy of the “Look Book” in a Realty Restoration portfolio for future reference. Any time they need information on appliances, plumbing fixtures, lighting fixtures, paint colors, hardware, etc., they can find it in one place and it reminds them of the remodeling experience with our team.

 

Todd Warner
CEO, Warner’s Home Improvements, Mercer, Pa.

I am implementing an employee customer referral program. If one of my employees upsells a customer into another project while we are working on their remodeling job, I will give the employee a 2-percent bonus.

 

Stephen Doucet
Owner, Doucet Remodeling & Design, Stoneham, Mass.

We are planning a newsletter to go out quarterly and we will do more mailings to our past customer and prospect list. We will also reach out to subcontractors and suppliers for more referrals. I also plan to make courtesy calls to our past customers.

 

Andy Wells
Principal, Normandy Design Build Remodeling, Hinsdale, Ill.

In 2014, we plan a renewed push for even cleaner jobsites. Dust is a real concern for homeowners living through construction, and it is just one more opportunity to “wow” them as we take extra steps to protect the other areas of their home.

 

Scott Mosby
President, Mosby Building Arts, St. Louis

Last year, we began encouraging feedback throughout our entire construction process. We ask clients how to best contact them, whether by phone, e-mail, or text, what hours of the day or night they prefer to be contacted, and then ask to contact them each week throughout the project. This is in addition to communications from their project manager, carpenter, and production office staff.

 

Anthony Slabaugh
Owner, Anthony Slabaugh Remodeling & Design, Stow, Ohio

We are planning to do four or five educational seminars in our design center in 2014 and we may incorporate some contests in our newsletter.

We are also going to send handwritten thank-you cards after the second sales presentation.

 

Bill Owens
Founder and President, Owens Construction, Powell, Ohio

We are going to ramp up our “belly-to-belly” networking with civic groups and organizations as well to continue to expand and fund our past client incentives for qualified referrals.

 

Christopher Davison
Vice President, Realty Restoration, Austin, Texas

Facebook and Houzz are becoming a bigger part of our referral network. It has surprised us how many referrals have come from people whom we have never worked with on a project yet they have tracked our work and success stories through our Facebook posts over the years.

Also, handwritten cards. Many times a project doesn’t get off the ground, but leaving a good impression on a client of what could have been will bring them back when the time is right. By writing a card and mailing it we show them the personal attention we take on every project. PR

 

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