You know what they say about showing up being 80% of success?
Lifetime Windows & Siding, which operates in Denver and Phoenix, participates in about 200 events a year, everything from local home shows to bridal exhibits. These events give the company—which completes between 75 and 100 installations per month—exposure that bolsters its brand, says director of marketing Phil Odell.
Professional Remodeler asked remodelers and replacement contractors across the country how they market their reputations in competitive environments where homeowners can be wary about hiring pros. Here’s what we heard:
Homeowners need convincing that you’re honest and do quality work.
Even motivated owners view remodelers cautiously, even skeptically. “Most think we’re ripoff artists,” quips Don Bruce, CEO and founder of American Home Design, which has operated in the Nashville area for 32 years and does about 1,500 replacement projects annually. Guy Golliver, marketing director for Polar Bear Exterior Solutions in Mukilteo, Wash., adds that too many homeowners lack basic information about home-improvement companies. “Everyone is pretty much starting from zero.”
To fill that void, Polar Bear trains its salespeople and installers to set customers’ expectations early to minimize anxieties and head off potential disputes.
Some pros can wield market longevity as their calling cards with circumspect homeowners. Neil Kelly, whose three businesses offer design-build, handyman, and energy retrofit services, has been active in Portland, Ore., for 70 years. “We enjoy a lot of trust, particularly related to the quality of our work,” says marketing director Don Scharf.
Each month, Neil Kelly offers “remodeling workshops” in all of its markets—Portland, Eugene, Bend, and Seattle—that provide information to prospects about what they can expect during a project. Scharf says these events—which draw anywhere from 15 to 40 people per market per month—get homeowners comfortable with the company. And the leads these meetings generate tend to order projects that are 15% to 20% higher than the firm’s median sale.
Customer reviews are critical. But not all review sites are equal.
Online sites where customers can sound off about projects and pros have “gone a long way toward dispelling misconceptions about all contractors being shady,” says Dawn Dewey, senior vice president of marketing and business development at Dreamstyle Remodeling, a full-service remodeler based in Albuquerque, N.M.
Online reviews, though, are a mixed blessing. Tom Graham, president of design-build firm The Airoom Companies in Lincolnshire, Ill., which has been in business since 1958 and specializes in high-end additions and interior remodels, cautions remodelers about placing their reputations in any review site’s basket. “They’re just too spotty, and they’re only people’s opinions,” he says. Airoom focuses instead on promoting its 16,000-plus completed projects in Chicagoland, and its financing options.
A company’s reputation can hinge on how quickly it responds to complaints, and the extent to which it will go to remedy them.
That being said, other pros are convinced that customer reviews are the wax that keeps their company’s reputation shining. The general consensus is that Google is the review site where prospects are most likely to turn before hiring a pro. A surprising number of pros interviewed also see the Better Business Bureau site as an effective and objective reputational tool. For example, Durante Home Exteriors in Irondale, Ala., played up an ethics award it received last year from the North Alabama BBB.
Durante’s marketing manager Johnathan Honeycutt says his company also supports Houzz because “that’s where homeowners go for ideas, and where we can promote ourselves as a top service provider.” One quarter of Durante’s sales come from referrals and repeat customers.
Pros say Angie’s List and HomeAdvisor seem better suited for lead generation than reputation building. But don’t get them started about Yelp, which they uniformly disparage as a negative-comments-only site.
Several pros use GuildQuality to gauge homeowner satisfaction after a project is completed. Bruce says American Home Design pays “thousands of dollars” to have all of its projects, excluding water treatment services, surveyed annually. “The questionnaire helps us flag problems before they show up on social media.”
Address negative reviews immediately — if not sooner.
To hear remodelers and contractors tell it, most negative online reviews are traceable to disgruntled employees, competitors, or homeowners who are reviewing the wrong company.
But there are occasions when remodelers and contractors screw up or fall short of their customers’ expectations. A company’s reputation can hinge on how quickly it responds to complaints, and the extent to which it will go to remedy them.
Neil Kelly, says Scharf, first tries to authenticate the review by identifying the poster and tying it to a specific project. The company then reaches out to the customer, and if the problem is resolved to the homeowner’s satisfaction, Neil Kelly will ask that the review either be taken down or revised.
Dreamstyle’s response strategy, says Dewey, includes “drowning and surrounding” negative reviews with positive feedback from happy customers, whom she and other remodelers acknowledge often need prodding to share their experiences online.
Bruce notes that about 5% of American Home Design’s customers are stubbornly hard to please. But except for those who complain “so they don’t have to pay the bill,” he says the path best traveled is to concede the customer’s gripe and fix the problem. “I don’t need the bad rep,” he says.
Old-school approaches work with certain customers.
Last year, Dreamstyle expanded to Denver, where homeowners there didn’t know the company from Adam. “But they knew Pella, they knew Kohler,” says Dewey, mentioning two product brands that Dreamstyle favors for its projects, and whose recognition among homeowners the remodeler could play off of to establish itself in a new market via co-branding like “Dreamstyle windows featuring Pella.”
Polar Bear also leans on the reputations of manufacturers it works with: it is an exclusive Select Shingle Master installer for CertainTeed, an Elite Preferred installer for Johns Manville, and an exclusive installer of James Hardie Color Plus Siding. It also has supply-brand arrangements with Pella and Simonton.
Advertising in print, radio, TV, or direct mail might be passé for luring Millennial homeowners, but pros insist these media—coupled with Facebook or Instagram—are effective at conveying their reputations to targeted demographics. “Our design-build audience is pre-retirement empty nesters who still read the newspaper,” says Neil Kelly’s Scharf. Lifetime Windows & Siding’s marketing ties in with a former Denver Bronco and local radio personality Dave Logan.
Ultimately, remodelers and contractors want to drive traffic to their websites, where they can flaunt their completed work and customer testimonials that chronicle their companies’ claims about consistent service. “Pros just need to do the obvious small things well,” says Polar Bear’s Golliver. “It’s that A to Z flow.”
American Home Design gets 37% of its business from referrals. Bruce attributes that high rate to his company’s willingness “to take care of people 20 years after we did the job.” The payoff can be substantial: One such customer, for whom AHD had installed siding years earlier, recently came into its showroom and lauded the company for reinstalling a piece of siding free of charge. “That customer ordered two bath remodels,” says Bruce.