Most of us got into this business for our love of the craft and because remodeling is not fraught with office politics and corporate ladders. Yet in the last 15 years of prosperity, it was easy to get caught up in the politics and lose sight of what is important. Our employees are important, but are they all aligned with our culture? Our clients are important, but are we focused on creating the most value for them — in pricing and in experience?
We need to help homeowners buy. Trying to sell our prospects on just anything is not effective — and could hurt our brand. Case's marketing focuses on giving our prospects knowledge or enjoyment — think educational seminars, open houses, community involvement. Our sales team should focus on consultative approaches. When meeting with a prospect we should be transparent; we should be their advocate. If the project doesn't make sense for their home, tell them that. If we aren't the right company to do the work, tell them that. When we are following up with past clients we should relish opportunities to fix warranty issues. We should proudly ask them about the space we created and if they would have done anything differently in retrospect.
The balance of power has shifted to the buyer in numerous ways:
- Demand vs. Supply: Three years ago most consumers were elated with remodelers who called them back, showed up on time and didn't track mud through their living room. Today consumers can line up remodelers to give them free advice and design. If we don't call them back within 24 hours, we've lost our edge and we need to be ready to answer their knowledgeable, penetrating questions. At the same time, we have more competitors that are willing to work at, or sometimes below, cost to get a project — think new home builders or unemployed craftspeople hanging out their shingle.
- Transparency: Knowledge is often commensurate with power, and the Internet age has empowered the buyer. I have met some homeowners who know more about a specific product than me because they researched it for three hours on the Web. At two in the morning, they can line up seven remodelers though Web-based referral services. Pricing is available 24/7 on most products and even from some remodelers. Not only does this shift the balance of power to the buyer, but if we don't add value to a specific task our consumers know that and won't pay our mark-ups.
- Time: Unless a repair is required to prevent home damage, there is no reason for most homeowners to remodel today rather than remodeling in a year. Home values are depreciating. Uncertainty is rampant with unemployment rising and financial sectors crumbling. There are plenty of quality craftspeople hungry for work, and they (we) are likely to be hungry for work a year from now too. Time is on the side of the buyer.
With this new-world order, we should focus on building relationships, not one-night stands. At Case, creating "Clients for Life" is our beacon. We are not interested in their first or second project; we are interested in creating a relationship with our clients over the myriad home improvements in their lifetime. Our business model incorporates kitchens, bathrooms, small handyman repairs, larger remodeling work and design/build. We recently added another arm focused on connecting our clients with our preferred trade specialists. We even have a list of approved contractors that we will recommend to homeowners for services that don't fall within our scope of work (driveways, pools, etc.). Regardless of what a client wants done to their home, we want them to call Case. We see the client relationship, not the project, as the true focus of our efforts.
This is the time to get back to what got most of us into this crazy business called remodeling — things like top quality craftsmanship and service as well as a focus on the client rather than on office politics and toxic employees. For someone to buy from us, these foundational issues must be strong. Excellence is required.
Give your input and continue the dialogue on Bruce's blog at www.housingzone.com/brucecase.
|Bruce Case is president of Case Design/Remodeling and is chief operating officer of Case's national organization Case Handyman & Remodeling. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.|