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Executive Editor

Sal Alfano is executive editor for Professional, 202.365.9070

A Foolish Consistency

Have remodeling pundits—me included—been too dogmatic when discussing the dos and don’ts of how to be a professional remodeler?

March 27, 2017

I have an appointment with a contractor this morning. He’s coming to the house to look at a few small projects I’d like to get done before everybody gets too busy. My new next door neighbors had nothing but good things to say about work his company did last year right after they moved in. So I called the number they gave me and talked with the office manager, who scheduled the meeting. 

Business hours. The whole process got me thinking about whether remodeling pundits, me included, have been too dogmatic when discussing the dos and don’ts of how to be a professional remodeler. Take business hours, for example. For years we’ve drummed it into our readers’ heads that to be “professional” they have to insist on meeting prospects only during business hours. But for many people in these fast-moving, complicated times, a remodeler’s scheduling flexibility is a virtue. My bank has extended its weekday hours beyond the conventional 10-to-4 “bankers’ hours” and keeps its ATM vestibule open on weekends. Even my dentist works every other Saturday because some of his clients can’t get away during weekday business hours. Does that make him less professional or more professional?

Office-only meetings. Remodelers can find a lot of advice about meeting with customers only in the remodeler’s office—or at least making sure the first meeting is in the office. In my case, the projects simply aren’t complicated enough to warrant spending several hours navigating city traffic and meeting at the remodeler’s office. Had he insisted on that, I would have looked elsewhere.

On the other side of the table are remodelers who never had an office or who moved back into a home office after the 2008 recession. And then there is the argument that it’s better to meet first in the owner’s home because the prospects are more relaxed and you can get a better idea of how they live, what their design tastes are, and so on.

Never give them a breakdown. Because General Motors doesn’t break down the cost of a car, remodelers have been told they, too, have no obligation to break down the cost of a remodeling project. But consumers who know how to buy a car probably have no idea how to buy a bathroom remodel. Besides, by the time a homeowner calls you, they’ve already researched costs on the web and know enough to be dangerous. 

Transparency is the new buzzword in the remodeling marketplace, and simply refusing to break down costs doesn’t cut it anymore. If you keep cost a big, bad secret, you create suspicion that you have something to hide. Cost is part of the agenda, hidden or otherwise, in every sales interview, but how you handle the discussion determines whether prospects become obsessed with price or focus on other factors that play a larger role in the success of a project. If those factors don’t have value for your prospects, it’s your job to create that value.

Bidding is for losers. I have room for one more, so let’s look at the bidding wars. If you can escape them, go for it, but for most remodelers that’s a fantasy. People still comparison shop, something made easier by the internet and reinforced by myriad consumer sites that recommend they “get three bids” before settling on a remodeler. 

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em by finding a way to make the bidding process work. When I used to bid for architects, they would make a point of explaining to their clients that they’d worked with all three bidders on past projects and all three were equally qualified. When architects used that to justify going with the low bidder, I stopped bidding for those architects, but I didn’t stop bidding. Instead, I made the process less about price and more of a conversation about what the clients would get for the money. And it wasn’t about the “stuff,” it was about the services, the communication, the on-time completion, and whatever else it was that I did better than the other guys. Bidding on price is for losers; otherwise, it’s an opportunity to demonstrate why your company is a better all-around choice.

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. 



I hear ya! We gave up the office-only meetings.....when we gave up our office. After years of not working weekends (when my kids were little), I was surprised how available homeowners are on the weekends and how much making myself available can shorten the sales cycle.
Ultimately, I feel like I'm still maintaining control of the sales process, still holding our margins, and ultimately making money.
Breakdowns? Sure, after I've understood their motivations behind wanting the breakdown and usually they've paid me for a Feasibility Study.
I'm still not bidding though....
Cheers, Greg

I thought I would see more comments on this because my friends have certainly been talking about it.
You had a few "small projects' - that sounds like you need a handyman (I don't know how they operate but your ideas might work well for them.)
Point 1) Business hours- It is not a question of being professional with my hours its a question of when do I want to meet with clients and when do I have personal time. When I stopped meeting with clients after a normal work day and sometimes till 11:00 at night... I got my life back. I got to see my family and prepare for the next day. I can't use an ATM to deliver my services to a client so I'm not impressed that the bank has their computer on at night or on weekends.
Point 2) I never did office only meetings so I'll let this go.
Point 3) Consumers, (myself included) don't know how to buy a car but we do it anyway. If consumers knew that the lowest price they will ever get on that new car purchase is never less that 100% markup plus the money that can be made on up sells and financing , they would be upset. So the auto masterminds keep them in the dark. Cars still sell. Because of your experience in this industry I can understand that you would want a breakdown but that just isn't going to happen. I have never met a person that understood this industry, that wasn't a Remodeling business owner and had been for decades.
I don't ever want to have a discussion with a homeowner about how much of my phone and internet bill they are paying for or does my price include 'retirement' for the laborer. Transparency might be a buzzword but FEAR is the issue and we all conquer that with references and established TRUST. That is where our value matters to the client and I agree with you it is our job to create that value to our client.
Point 4) Bidding is for losers. Once we figured out that we didn't have to do that anymore we quit bidding jobs. If they get three bids it means I have a 33% chance of not getting the job. With those odds added to the amount of time that is required to play the game... Las Vegas would be better and we all know that isn't a fair deal.
I really liked your last line '...demonstrate why your company is an all-around better choice' now that's.... good advice.
Thanks Sal, for making us think.

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