Consumer seminars are a win-win for any remodeling company. They serve to educate your potential clients, familiarize homeowners with your company and act as a marketing tool.
Jud: Devon, what's your goal in your consumer seminars? Strictly for generating leads, branding or what else?
Devon: Primarily, it's a branding and positioning exercise, and it's a communication exercise. We're known as a premier remodeler in the area. We were looking for a way for people to feel very comfortable approaching us. It's kind of a soft entry into HartmanBaldwin. Sometimes our reputation precedes us. I have people who have heard about HartmanBaldwin for 30 years; they've grown up hearing about HartmanBaldwin. Some people may be a little hesitant to approach us. We love the idea that we can have a no-responsibility, no-strings-attached way to come in, meet us and talk to us and get to know us a little bit. We're learning that we do generate new leads. We have people that come through here who are just curious. We're finding that a lot of our clients will end up going through five or six of our seminars.
Jud: Bjorn, what about you? Consumer seminars strictly for generating leads, branding, what else?
Bjorn: There are a number of things. No. 1, we position ourselves as the leader in our marketplace. We believe that taking the approach of having an educational seminar series that speaks to some of the things — exactly what Devon talked about — taking away the mystery of remodeling and taking an educational approach to it. That's one thing. Naturally, we do not put on seminars just for the pure joy of educating the public. Our job within this series is to generate the leads, fill the seats and ultimately, at the end of the day, we want people to work with us. Just to give a couple key stats as it relates to 2008: about 9 percent of our total leads came from seminars. In the first two months of the year, in 2009, out of all the leads coming in, 14 percent of the 50 leads in the first two months have come through seminars. About 30 percent of what we've sold has come through seminars.
Jud: Who do you target and how do you promote that, Bjorn?
Bjorn: I'll give you two answers to that. The initial premise and the entire logic behind the seminar series was that if College City Remodeling has built thousands of homes over the years, we want to go after the "low hanging fruit" if you will, and we want to make sure that past clients now have a way to learn about upgrades, remodels and renovations in their home. At first, we geared the majority of our efforts to the existing clients. We learned that we did not get a strong following there. We made a shift in mid-year 2008 and went after a demographic segment in the seven-county area that has the highest income levels and home values in the $400,000-plus. We utilize the standard demographics for a "most likely" remodeling client with over $120,000 in household income and over $400,000 in home value. We send out the direct marketing pieces of 6,000 postcards. We've generated better results in talking to this segment.
Jud: Devon, who decides the topic?
Devon: I've been designing the topics myself just from a sense of what the market would be, what the general topics are that people are concerned about. We have an evaluation sheet at the end of every seminar that we have everyone fill out. We ask people very specifically what was of most value, what was of the least value, what they would like to have covered that wasn't covered. We track all of that and continue to modify the seminars based on feedback.
Jud: Bjorn, who decides your topics?
Bjorn: We look at the amount of incoming leads per project type and we look at what are the profitable things we do on a daily basis. That determines what program we put on. We added two seminars this year. One of them is green building and the other one is accessible, universal and aging-in-place. We take the market demands and try to differentiate ourselves. We try to do much of the same that we feel we're profitable and good at.
Jud: Devon, what's the cost of this thing?
Devon: It depends on the event. I would say the budget of the evening is usually about $600. Then, of course, promotional costs can be anywhere from zero to $2,500: phone calls, e-mails, Web site augmentation. Then of course, direct mail and print costs for the direct mail, or for newspaper advertising, it can go up above that. I think we send out about 80,000 direct mail pieces a year. There's a budget for that, which has to be worked in.
Jud: Bjorn, what about your costs?
Bjorn: Pretty much the same. We made some calculations on that. In our direct mail campaign, we list the three next upcoming seminars. We get a little synergy there. If we do 18, we're going to have six postcards go out. We spend about $3,000 — probably a fair statement for each seminar.
Jud: Devon, tell me how many leads you get from this.
Devon: We can pretty much count on two to four super-qualified leads at each seminar. Then, in this business, we have very long lead times, as you all know. I have people coming back that I spoke to two to three years ago. I have people who have been coming to seminars off and on for up to five years now and are just now coming on board. The other thing that's fascinating is that some people can come to a seminar and have a project that may be too small for us or maybe they're only looking and kicking the tires, and maybe they'll go off and have someone else do something, but then they'll come back a year later and do a major project with us. There's this ability to stay in touch. I think the level of professionalism that we're instilling in people's minds — the ability for them to come back and feel comfortable talking to us at any point in time, coming back to the finished project receptions that we're having, talking with other clients and other people who are in the process at these seminars over the years — increases the level of trust to the point where they become part of the family.
Jud: Bjorn, this is a strange question, but I want to make sure that we have it clear: there is no charge for these in any way, shape or form?
Bjorn: No charge; it's a free seminar. We do not promote that fact that we have beverages, wine and beer or the fact that we have a chef there; it will be a nice surprise when the people get there.
Devon: That's a nice idea. Bjorn, I have a question about the co-branding from your sponsors there. Do they give you actual money to help support these efforts, or are they giving away materials? How does all that work?
Bjorn: Yes, yes and yes. The way we go about it in this marketplace is that you have to be everywhere. And, I'm going to need help to be everywhere. The more we sell, the more of their services and products we will sell. We've rallied them around us, and we have contributions coming anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to $4,500 to $5,000 from these partners. I want to believe that at the end of the day, the co-op amounts for the joint seminars is going to be in the $20,000 to $25,000 range for the year.
Devon: We're a design/build company in Claremont, Calif., and we have a fully-integrated architecture company and construction company. It is true design/build in the sense that we have five architects and a whole construction side that can execute everything that we're designing. We specialize in historic restoration, high-end residential remodeling and we do two to three new homes a year.
Jud: Do you basically use your own people but subcontract a lot also?
Devon: Yes, our project managers have been with us anywhere from 15 to 22 years. Our architects the same: going on anywhere from 10 to 20 years. Then we've got our sub pool; electricians have been around for about 15 years. I'd say kind of a family affair in that sense. We have about 35 people in the company down from 50 last year. We tend to use the same subs, we're two- to three-deep in each category.
Jud: Bjorn, tell us a little about your company.
Bjorn: My name's Bjorn Freudenthal and I'm general manager for College City Remodeling. We are a division of College City Homes, a custom home builder in the metro area. We've been in business since 1969. Our founder and CEO Don Pavek has built homes all over the south metro area for 40 years. We've also done some commercial work with a very strong focus in the design/build/remodeling segment since about 2000. Very heavily since 2003. We do about 60 projects a year, and we did around $4 million in 2008. We do the traditional design/build projects: kitchens, room additions, lower levels, bathrooms, moisture intrusion projects, porches and decks, etc. We also kicked off a Special Projects Division under remodeling last year, with a focus on the replacement end of the business. We project to do about 16 custom new homes in 2009, and we project a total of 194 remodeling projects out of which 110 will be special project and 80 or so will be design/build projects.
Jud: That's awesome; especially in this market for new homes, if you can get that pulled off! Devon, have you done any of the consumer seminars?
Devon: We've been doing them for about five years.
Jud: Bjorn, tell me this. Where did you get the idea to start this consumer seminar?
Bjorn: Good question. About the end of the year in 2007, around the September — since 2005 — we've been a project niche for the moisture intrusion remediation, stucco tear-offs. We built a niche out of that, and we decided, after seeing some seminars held in this project niche type and put on by testers, moisture testing companies and attorneys, we realized the need to come up with a new, enhanced seminar for this nice. We included the builder's perspective. We put on a joint seminar with a legal entity and a moisture testing company and the builder. We go forward and talk about this in a non-frightening way discussing facts and not generating fear. When we put on the first seminar, we had 45 attendees. This was at the tail end of 2007. After that seminar, we decided to build our entire promotion and marketing around seminars for 2008. In other words, everything we do is talking about someone's project or planning someone's project. Rather than full page branding ads about how good we are. We invite people to interact with us. Our entire direct marketing post card campaign that we've done from 2004 to 2007 now is converted into a seminar "invite." In 2008, we did 15 seminars with seven different project types.
Jud: On the building site itself?
Bjorn: Exactly. We did it in the seven project types that we represent. We had kitchens, bathrooms, lower-level, outdoor living, moisture intrusion, tear-down/rebuild and whole-house remodel. We had our technology partner who does all of our low-voltage and audio-video; they have a 4,500 square foot Rambler Technology show home. It's a top of the line model home that they put together in order to showcase the technology side of things. We thought we should bring our seminar series into that environment; very high-end finishes and beautiful facilities, with an auditorium which seats about 35 people. We put one and one together at the end of 2007, and struck a partnership with this company and said "we're going to host all our seminars in your facility." That's how we got started. Now, we've got one year, 2008, under our belt, with results. We continue to take this approach in 2009, and we believe fully that this is what's going to get it done for us.
Jud: Devon, how did you get started in this?
Devon: Our clients started asking us about five or six years ago for a need to start pulling together the information that we take them through on every project. Some clients would say things such as, "I've got a sister in upper New York state. Is there any way you could write something down to be able to help people got though this design/build process?" We tend to do very high-end projects which are extremely complicated. Some of our clients started to be impressed with the overwhelming detail and organization that it required. They wanted to pass this information on. We wrote a book, "The Home Remodeler's Survival Guide." It mentions various ways of approaching construction and architecture and why we believe very strongly in the control that design/build gives to our clients. We wrote the book and they said, "Maybe there's more you could do." We decided to start an educational wing of the company as a way to interface with the public more frequently. Also, to educate people as to what's coming on. Because, of course, remodeling is a huge industry and so many people are thinking about doing it. There are so many horror stories out there. People are scared to death of making a mistake. We created our first seminar about five years ago called "The Home Remodeler's Survival Guide." I started doing those twice a month in our offices. We started filling up the office twice a month. It was exciting. The response we were getting. When we started, we considered a full house at about 16 people in our conference room. We started addressing the major fears that people have when they're considering doing a major remodeling project; addressing those fears, showing them what the processes are they we've generated over the last 30 years that have been helpful. Basically, educating and upping the level, hopefully, of information so that people feel more in control and more excited about being able to move forward. Those were such a success that we decided, similar to Bjorn, that interfacing with the public is a blast, No. 1; and No. 2, it affords people in the community a soft way to come in and get to know who we are and to learn a lot about the industry. Nowdays, we've got about five different seminar topics which we run monthly. We do what we call "The Home Remodeler's Survival Guide." We have a finished project reception every other month. We bring the community, especially people who've come to our seminars before, into a finished project. It's a wine and cheese reception in the evening at one of the projects that we've just finished up. We do a Green Building Seminar, and we do an Energy Seminar based on the new building science technologies that we're all learning about. Another seminar that we do every other month is called a "Mid-construction Showcase". Last weekend, we had about 45 people show up. We put chairs up right in the middle of a construction project in the family room and kitchen. We go through the process, and answer questions about different materials people are seeing . We do this whether the building is in framing, whether it's been dry-walled, or maybe when the cabinets are halfway installed; just somewhere in the middle of construction. We find that people have all kinds of questions that we wouldn't even think of to answer. They're right on site, they get to see the electrical box that's sticking out behind the refrigerator, what that means and why it's put it in that particular place. It's a great opportunity for people to go through and anticipate what they're going to be experiencing when they're in the middle of a major construction project.
Jud: You both kind of feel into it in some degree and it's multiplied since then. Devon, what's your goal in your consumer seminars? Strictly for generating leads, branding, or what else?
Devon: Primarily, it's a branding and positioning exercise, and it's a communication exercise. We're known as a premier remodeler in the area. We were looking for a way for people to feel very comfortable to approach us. It's kind of a soft entry into HartmanBaldwin. Sometimes our reputation precedes us. I have people who have heard about HartmanBaldwin for 30 years; they've grown up hearing about HartmanBaldwin. Some people may be a little hesitant to approach us. We love the idea that we can have a no responsibility, no strings attached way to come in, meet us and talk to us and get to know us a little bit. We're learning that we do generate new leads. We have people that come through here who are just curious. We're finding that a lot of our clients will end up going through five or six of our seminars. At the Mid-Construction Seminar last weekend, we had a lot of prospects. We had about four or five people who are currently in construction projects and three people who finished their construction projects and were just coming back to stay involved in the community. It's been wonderful from the community building point of view as well.
Jud: Bjorn, what about you? Consumer seminars strictly for generating leads, branding, what else?
Bjorn: There are a number of things. No. 1, we position ourselves as the leader in our marketplace. We believe that taking the approach of having an educational seminar series that speaks to some of the things, exactly what Devon talked about, taking away the mystery of remodeling and taking an educational approach to it. That's one thing. Naturally, we do not put on seminars just for the pure joy of educating the public. Our job within this series is to generate the leads, fill the seats, and ultimately at the end of the day we want people to work with us. We want them to find, as Devon said, a very soft way to get to know our team. It's a soft way to demonstrate our work. In the educational seminar we also walk through case studies of projects we have done from beginning to end. It gives them a visual of how things happen from before, during and after and how the transformation takes place. Just to give a couple key stats as it relates to 2008: about 9 percent of our total leads came from seminars. We've also had clients who ended up working with us who went through three, four or five of these seminars or our show appearances. We've learned it also provides a relationship-builder type event for us where we can have our past clients bring friends. We can have new clients who don't know us understand how we work and learn about how we work without inviting us into their home. They can come and visit with us in this environment. We modified our seminar content a little bit. We started out, as Devon talked about, with a very strong educational. We brought in components to the presentation about how to choose a remodeler, things to do before you sign contracts, the Better Business Bureau, the Minnesota Department of Commerce, and walked through the design/build process. What we have done is gravitated a little bit away from that. We touch on an extremely high-level, and have it in the handouts. We do not spend a tremendous amount of time doing that. We talk more about projects we've done, and we show pictures. One thing I want to share with you all to set the tone and the atmosphere in the very beginning was have an executive chef who joins us at these seminars. We start out the program by eating some of the hors d'oeuvres that he has prepared. At that time, he also shares some thoughts on well functioning kitchens or layouts from a chef's perspective. We use that as an ice breaker and from there we move into the auditorium. A couple more stats: 3 percent of our entire sales volume can be directly related to the seminars. These are individuals who said they work with us because they spent time at our seminars. That's our inaugural year. I'm not thrilled with the results of that, but it also tells me that there's something there. In the first two months of the year, in 2009, out of all the leads coming in, 14 percent of the 50 leads in the first two months have come through seminars. About 30 percent of what we've sold has come through seminars.
Jud: You're liking the numbers?
Bjorn: I'm liking them a lot better. I also know that I don't like the overall numbers, because we're behind our projections, but at least I can see that there are some results and we are building momentum. Our average attendance for seminars in 2008 was 12. In the last seminar, that we actually had to cancel due to a snowstorm, we had 23 people signed up for the Green Seminar.
Jud: That was a question I was going to ask: do you take reservations?
Bjorn: Yes. We demand RSVPs. We basically communicate in our promotions efforts that seating is limited, and we can fit only 30. We would like them to RSVP. That also gives us a count for the chef, and how much to prepare. Surprisingly, they typically show up when the RSVP.
Jud: Who do you target and how do you promote that, Bjorn?
Bjorn: I'll give you two answers to that. The initial premise and the entire logic behind the seminar series was that if College City Remodeling has built thousands of homes over the years, we want to go after the "low hanging fruit" if you will and we want to make sure that past clients now have a way to learn about upgrades, remodel, and renovations in their home. At first we geared the majority of our efforts to the existing clients. We learned that we did not get a strong following there. We made a shift in mid-year 2008 and went after a demographic segment in the seven county area that has the highest income levels and home values in the 400-plus. We utilize the standard demographics for a "most likely" remodeling client with over $120,000 in household income, and over $400,000 in home value. We send out the direct marketing pieces of 6,000 postcards. We've generated better results in talking to this segment.
Jud: Out of the 6,000 postcards, you hope to get 30 responses.
Bjorn: We do more than just the postcards. With the postcards, if I go and look at the results, they account for only about 20 percent of our total attendance. We do print ads, we do e-mail blasts, we do very strong self prospecting, and we also do e-mail blasts to our existing client base.
Jud: Devon, who do you specialize in targeting, and do you take reservations?
Devon: This all sounds very similar, which I think is fascinating. I think what we're all landing on is that this is a high-touch business in every aspect; from the beginning when we're starting with our seminars all the way through the process. I think having a seminar to begin with is a great high-touch way to get in touch with people. It starts with the reservation. The RSVP is important. We require an RSVP with a call in or they can sign up on our Web site. We do the same thing; we target demographic areas, we blanket with postcards, we have newspaper and magazine ads. Before every seminar, we have a certain number of people in the office get on the phone, and talk to everyone they've been normally talking to in the course of the last three of four weeks to invite them personally. We also call back every RSVP person two days ahead of time to make sure they're reminded to come. At lot of our seminars are in the evening when people are very busy. We like to get another level of commitment from them before they come. It's also just another opportunity to talk. That's what we're really trying to do, to let people understand that we are definitely available to talk and answer questions. I think it's fascinating, Bjorn, a lot of the things you're saying are very similar to what we're experiencing here.
Jud: You've both figured out what has worked over the years for you. I know, Bjorn, you haven't been in it that long, but it still seems like it has worked. Devon, who decides the topic?
Devon: Well classically I've been designing the topics myself just from a sense of what the market would be, what the general topics are that people are concerned about. We have an evaluation sheet at the end of every seminar that we have everyone fill out. We ask people very specifically what was of most value, what was of the least value, what would you like to have covered that wasn't covered, and by the questions that are asked at the end of the seminar. We track all of that and continue to modify the seminars based on feedback.
Bjorn: We do the same thing. We have an evaluation filled out at the end of the seminar. We take the comments very seriously and shape the program accordingly.
Jud: Bjorn, who decides your topic?
Bjorn: Basically, it's simple. We look at the amount of incoming leads per project type and we look at what are the profitable things we do on a daily basis. That determines what program we put on. We added two seminars this year. One of them is Green Building and the other one is Accessible, Universal and Aging-in-Place. We take the market demands and try to differentiate ourselves. We try to do much of the same that we feel we're profitable and good at.
Jud: Bjorn, do you use your Web site to get people to sing up on it?
Bjorn: Yes. Our Web site in the last two months has been revamped and updated in a way that individuals are now able to go on there and register for the seminar. They will receive a confirmation e-mail back to them right away, and also a reminder e-mail. I used to be the guy who called everyone back. I still get in a personal touch with an e-mail back to the clients, just reinforcing the fact that we want to see them there, and that if they have any questions ahead of time, we'd love to take them, too. Frankly, it depends on the amount of things we have going on. Sometimes, I can't get to everyone.
Jud: How long are the seminars?
Bjorn: They're evening events. They go from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.. Sometimes, we have run over; we've gone to close to 9:00 p.m.. We also, due to the location where they are, we incorporate two showroom tours. One of them is to our plumbing and mechanical design studio, which is next door. We have a wonderful showroom with eight bathroom vignettes and an extra kitchen set up, and that's a 20 minute tour. We also have a tour of the technology show home, where we go through a master bath, a kitchen/great room, and a lower level rec room area. Those add 40 minutes. The time is about an hour and 20 minutes. We're trying to shave down the amount of time in the classroom.
Jud: These rooms where the tours are taken are right there at your facility?
Bjorn: Yes, right at the facility. We break from the power point presentation. We divide people up into two tours. The plumbing showroom representative leads one group over to that showroom, and our technology contractor leads the tour in the place we're at. After 20 minutes, we send our staff together with these groups. They are the time keepers, and then we just switch groups. We come back for a recap, Q&A, summary session where we also introduce the incentive package that we have put together for people attending the seminar.
Jud: Devon, how long are your seminars?
Devon: Again, it's very similar. In the evening we'll do them from 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. We have people try and show up about 6:15 p.m. We do slide shows and other things like that. We cut the seminar off right at 8:30 p.m., including the time for evaluation fill out and some questions. Then, we usually hang around or another half an hour if people want to stay and talk. The Mid-Construction Showcase is usually done on a Saturday afternoon, and is also about two hours. We usually do that from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.. We'll start a conversation at about 2:15 p.m. and go for about 45 minutes in seminar form. Answer questions, and hang around for about half an hour.
Jud: Devon, yours are also held at different locations from time to time?
Devon: Yes, we do them at several different locations. We like to do them at our office. Since we work in a large geographical area, we will go to a hotel. We've got three or four different hotels in different areas that we go to and have arrangements with so we can get a little bit closer to some of our clients.
Bjorn: Our moisture intrusion seminars we host at a country club, golf club or conference center in close proximity to the targeted groups of homeowners. They are larger homes, $600,000 plus; stucco, stone, brick clad building envelopes that we target. We want to be close to them in proximity.
Jud: Devon, the one question that Bjorn answered and I didn't ask, but I'll ask you: do you do any PowerPoint presentations with these?
Devon: Yes. In the Home Remodeler's Survival Guide, there's an entire PowerPoint presentation with lots of supporting graphs; before/during/after photographs that help illuminate what we're talking about. When we do the Mid-Construction Showcase, we'll be showing construction photographs before and construction photographs. At the finished project reception, we always have a really nice book we've put together of before and after photographs which are professionally done. We have two or three sets of drawings and specifications around. We're proud of the drawings and specifications we produce as well. A before and after floor plan is put up in an easel form, so people can go by and get a sense of what the house looked like before we touched it. As many visual cues as possible are really great with this.
Jud: One of the other questions we were going to ask was what were the attendance numbers. You both king of hit the 30 number; Devon, is that a good number for you too?
Devon: Yes. In this particular market, we've been surprised, since the first of the year, both our Survival Guide and Mid-Constriction Showcases had about 45 people. Normally, we're happy with about 35. That's been a surprise to us given the market. I don't know what you've been experiencing, Bjorn. We've gotten a sense out here that people are at least out looking, and decided that maybe the economy's really bad, but for the people who have jobs and can project a little bit, and their situation is going to be somewhat secure, they're out looking to get things done right now.
Jud: Bjorn, 30 is a good number for you, right?
Bjorn: We'd like 30, but we don't get 30 that often. Our average was 12. The last seminar we had 24, and we had to cancel. The February 5th seminar on kitchens we had 22 people. If we get 20 plus, we feel it's a good number.
Jud: Bjorn, who staffs this?
Bjorn: Our staff is our four sales people, our designers, our construction manager represents our production team. We rally and can have some of our venders, trade partners, taking care of sign-in duties, just helping and making sure everyone's glass is filled and they have hors d'oeuvres on their plates, and helping out and handing out info bags at the end. Our staff and our trade partners.
Jud: Give me a number, Bjorn, six people?
Bjorn: Probably between six and ten. With our sales people and designers, there are seven people.
Devon: It depends on the seminar. Our Survival Guide seminars in the evenings generally are staffed by 4 people; a representative from our marketing and sales, that includes the presenter. Usually, the presenter is either me or one of my architects who is what we call a design/build consultant. Then at the Mid-Construction, we will have those same people plus the architect on the project and the project manager. We'll have a discussion back and forth about the specifics of that particular project, so people can meet the different people on our team from the architect through the project management and construction. Sometimes lead carpenters will come just so that we can have them interface with the public as well. It's kind of internal training as well as meeting the public.
Jud: Devon, what's the cost of this thing?
Devon: It depends on the event. I would say the budget of the evening is usually about $600. Then, of course, promotional costs can be anywhere from zero to $2,500, phone calls, e-mails, Web site augmentation. Then of course, direct mail and print costs for the direct mail or for newspaper advertising, it can go up above that. I think we send out about 80,000 direct mail pieces a year. There's a budget for that which has to be worked in.
Jud: Bjorn, what about your costs?
Bjorn: Really, pretty much the same. We made some calculations on that. In our direct mail campaign, we list the three next upcoming seminars. We get a little synergy there. If we do 18, we're going to have six postcards go out. We spend about $3,000; probably a fair statement for each seminar that we put on.
Devon: That would be about right for us, too.
Jud: You have to take the total costs for each throughout the end of the year and divide it up by the seminars, and you come up in the $3,000 range.
Bjorn: Yes. I can look at that two ways. I can say the seminars cost me this much or I an look at that and say this is also my branding and this is also my self prospecting costs for my salespeople who now have a story to call on people and say let's eat some good hors d'oeuvres and look at design trends and visit. And by the way, I'll buy you a drink! This is something the other guys don't have. We're really the only one who puts these on in this type of broad front, engaging our vendors as well. We have remodelers in this market who put on seminars maybe on the weekend, with not a very strong promotional machinery behind it. We do it a bit different. We do it for the reason that we want to position ourselves as a leader and we want to drive leads and be able to have our salespeople be very proud to put our jersey on and say, "hey, we're the guys who do this!"
Jud: Bjorn, what's the population of the area you work in?
Bjorn: The Minneapolis metro area is about two million.
Jud: You work in that whole area?
Bjorn: Yes, we work all over the metro area.
Jud: Devon, what's the population of the area you work in?
Devon: Our working area is about the same.
Jud: I asked because I think it's important that the folks who read this to understand that you could probably do this in a market of 80,000 people, like I'm in, but it's got to be scaled differently than what you have with two million people to work with.
Jud: I wanted to make sure we clarify that. How many leads do you get from these seminars? Bjorn, you talked about some percentages. Devon, tell me how many leads you get from this.
Devon: I would say that from a typical seminar we'd get two to four consultations signing up at the seminars. We can pretty much count on two to four super qualified leads at each seminar. Then, in this business, we have very long lead times, as you all know. I have people coming back that I spoke to two to three years ago. I have people who have been coming to seminars off and on for up to five years now, and are just now coming on board. I think it's a fascinating thing to track all of that in the sense that we get immediate response. I think two to four leads out of 30 to 40 people is pretty astounding. I think that's because of the high-touch. The other thing that's fascinating is that some people can come to a seminar and have a project that may be too small for us or maybe they're only looking and kicking the tires, and maybe they'll go off and have someone else do something. But, then they'll come back another year later and do a major project with us. There's this ability to stay in touch. I think the level of professionalism that we're instilling in people's minds, the ability for them to come back and feel comfortable talking to us at any point in time; coming back to the finished project receptions that we're having, talking with other clients and other people who are in the process at these seminars over the years increases the level of trust to the point where they become part of the family.
Jud: That's a good point. Bjorn, how many leads have you developed from this?
Bjorn: Right now, leads between Jan. 1 and Feb. 28, we've had 50 total leads. Seven of those came from seminars, for a total percentage of 14. Compared to last year, we had 9 percent. I see an upswing. I feel the things here that Devon talked about. It's impossible to completely measure the residual effect of the seminar series. I'm going to go out on a limb and say I believe it is very significant.
Jud: Bjorn, do you see a better conversion rate with that percentage that you get?
Bjorn: Right now, we're behind in our projections for the year. Last year, year-to-date, we sold $600,000. This year, we sold $127,000 with the remaining balance from the $600,000 is so close we can smell it. One of these projects has been signed through a seminar. Given that, we've got almost 30 percent of that little volume sold by seminars compared to three percent from last year. I would consider that an increase.
Jud: Devon, how about your conversion rate?
Devon: We've gone back and forth trying to measure that in various ways. It's a little difficult to compare. If someone calls us, and knows about us in the community, they had a referral, call us to come out; they want to do a room addition and are ready to get going. That's a person who's has already been cross referenced over the years for us and are ready to go. In seminars, we are really trying to target people who may be warm to begin with. Maybe they've had a bad experience before, maybe they've never had an experience before and are terrified about how to enter the process. They wouldn't have called our office except to come to some kind of soft entry. They can sit in the back and just listen and understand things. Comparing a conversion of that person to a conversion of a person who calls in and is ready to go and start talking seriously might not be quite the right math. What we're discovering, once again, is that most people who come to a seminar come to multiple seminars. One of the things we were worried about is that maybe people who come to seminars were not the biggest projects. We're doing three $2 million homes right now. All of those people came to multiple seminars. They were continuously interest in educating themselves, and would come to the same seminar three or four times. They liked the feeling of meeting the people; they always see something and get something new. It's difficult to talk about a conversion rate to track one person at one job from one seminar, because we're discovering there are multiple seminars, and they're even coming back after the jobs are done.
Jud: We're talking about tracking marketing. It's very difficult, and that's proven when you have them isolated like this.
Devon: Every good marketing plan will have multiple points of catch and multiple points of contact going on simultaneously. When you drill down too deeply, it gets difficult to see where the initial spark even came from.
Jud: In our case, I've been in business 40 years, and they come up and say, "Yes, we've known Jud forever!" Well, thanks, that helps my marketing! Devon, do you include special offers to the attendees?
Devon: The special offer we're talking about right now is every person who comes to our seminars are invited back to the finished project receptions. Those are special, a lot of our clients come to that. We don't have any give-aways or anything like that as a promotion.
Jud: Bjorn, how about you? Do you have any special offers?
Bjorn: We do. I'm not so sure that we need to or that it's critical at all. In the close at the end of a seminar we do announce that. Let's say, in a kitchen project over $45,000 or $50,000, we give away $1,000 consisting of countertops, cabinetry, tile work, technology and appliances. In some mix combined with the project design discount, we do that. I don't think it's a deal-breaker, but it's an acknowledgement that hey, you people made it here. If you want to take advantage of this, this is something that is there for you, by our partners and ourselves.
Jud: Bjorn, this is a strange question, but I want to make sure that we have it clear. There is no charge for these in any way, shape or form?
Bjorn: No charge, it's a free seminar. We do not promote that fact that we have beverages, wine and beer or the fact that we have a chef there; it will be a nice surprise when the people get there.
Devon: That's a nice idea. Bjorn, I have a question about the co-branding from your sponsors there. Do they give you actual money to help support these efforts, or are they giving away materials? How does all that work?
Bjorn: Yes, yes and yes. The way we go about it in this marketplace, is that you have to be everywhere. And, I'm going to need help to be everywhere. The more we sell, the more of their services and products we will sell. We've rallied them around us, and we have contributions coming anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to $4,500 to $5,000 from these partners. I want to believe that at the end of the day, the co-op amounts for the joint seminars is going to be in the $20,000 to $25,000 range for the year.
Jud: Good question Devon.
Devon: You're continually talking to these co-sponsors and negotiating how much they feel they can contribute. So the monetary remuneration would be $2,500 and then there might be some materials beyond that?
Bjorn: Yes, $20,000 to $25,000 for the year and then some smaller incentive and things for the specific project type. We market it as a joint seminar hosted by College City Remodeling along with our trade partners. We have four that we would consider the "founding partners" so to speak. We also post their logos on direct marketing pieces that go out. And also on the Web site we present the seminars together with the logos of our partners.
Devon: Who are those partners?
Bjorn: We have Kohler Company, Stock Building Supply, Genz-Ryan. Jud, I think you have the Green Seminar flyer.
Jud: Yes, I have the Green Seminar flyer here. There's ¾ of a page covering the information. It's a very nice looking color brochure. At the bottom there's Kohler, Genz-Ryan, Marvin Windows, Al's Cabinets, Warners' Stellian Appliances, Midwest Home Media Technologies Show Home, Uponor, and the logo of the Minnesota Green Star corporate member. They're across the bottom of this page and only about ½ inch high. But they're very readable and in color. You also have a map of the location and how to get there with some major highways listed on it. The chef's picture is also here in the corner!
Devon: Yes! I think that's a great touch.
Jud: That chef deal, I can see that as being a really big deal.
Devon: Yeh, I really like that.
Jud: Let's go back and clarify. Devon, no charge in any way for these seminars?
Devon: No, we don't charge.
Jud: Devon, you have not had the support of some of your suppliers, like Bjorn has.
Devon: No, we have not. That's one of the things we're looking into this year, and why I'm so interested in what his experience.
Jud: That's worth up to $25,000 a year in round numbers. That's a huge help from that standpoint. Devon, is the question and answer area very critical to these seminars?
Devon: Yes. The seminars, for us, are like mini-performances in some ways. It's fascinating to watch the personality of a particular group of people take shape during an evening. There are times when, no matter what I do, the people that seem to just want to sit and listen. Then there are evenings when the entire seminar takes on its own shape based on the interaction and the questions. We get through the seminar, but it's kind of lead along by the excitement of the crowd. Each evening has its own personality. Personally, I like a lot of interaction. I like the question and answer, because I really like to be able to be as personally helpful as possible to the people who come to the seminar. We have to play it as it unfolds.
Jud: Bjorn, are the question and answer area in your seminars also critical?
Bjorn: First of all, you have to have a Q&A session in every seminar. That's just the format. I would agree with what Devon said. Sometimes there are no questions, or very few. Sometimes, we have some unbelievable dialogues that take shape, and we need to just pipe it down and take them off line afterwards. It's a mixed bag. We do, however, at every seminar, we make the statement when we open up and do the introductions, that we want it to be an interactive piece. If they have a question, we want to hear it! We make the threshold very low and we want them to participate. The truth of the matter is that most of the time, people in the group of 20 or 30 don't want to be on the hook with "all the eyes on them."
Devon: One thing we might get into that hasn't been asked yet because there are a lot of details that we do, and maybe Bjorn does as well, that we discover after we've been doing this awhile. For example, when we're doing a seminar with 40 people in the room, or even if it's 15 or 20; we have a sheet that we print out of the computer which has the table configuration in it with the number of seats with a blank in front of the seat. We have someone in the back of the room fill in where everyone is sitting at the seminar. The next day, we'll sit down for a recap and go over what happened at the seminar, who came, what the follow up is for each person, a phone call or letter, did that person sign up, just making notes and getting that into our contact database. Just having a seating chart with where each person sat helps jog our memories as to who the person was, and what their particular interests were. That's a little tip that has been very helpful to us. We can remember who that person is. Everyone may have a different experience with that person. Before and after the seminar, we try to get around and talk individually to as many people as possible, so that we can really understand what their situation is and track that off later.
Jud: We're about out of time. I was gong to ask if either of you have any other considerations. Devon, you certainly filled that question well. Bjorn, do you have any tidbits you'd like to throw in at this time?
Bjorn: I'd like to have more attendees. I'd like to have more of them sign up and do the remodeling projects with us. I'd like to keep in contact with Devon and compare notes.
Devon: I'd like to do that too, Bjorn; it sounds like we're on the same track here.
Jud: You two are matched very well as far as what you've been doing. I would suggest that you two need to talk to one another.
Devon: I think that would be great. We should put our marketing people together as well. I think there's a lot of detail we could help each other with.
Bjorn: Yes. Devon, there's one thing I don't think we've talked about. I don't know what size your company is.
Devon: We did close to $10 million last year.
Bjorn: You're a $10 million company. You're the size of the company we want to be. That's a good thing.
Devon: We're hoping we can do that this year.
Jud: I did have one other question to clarify. Bjorn, you have the chef, do you have to pay for the products that he brings too?
Bjorn: I'm glad you brought that up. We had him free of charge last year at about 10 seminars.
Devon: Good marketing for him!
Bjorn: Yes, exactly. It works both ways. This year, we decided we want to be able to cover his costs for the materials. He said he didn't do a lot of marketing and this is great for him. "I have an audience, and I like to do this, its fun for me".
Devon: That's a great idea!
Jud: I wanted to bring that up and see where you were on that. I did not expect the answer you gave me. That's interesting, a way for him to get some marketing.
Bjorn: Some final things here. Devon, you said you try to make contact with everyone afterwards. Is there a follow up letter, or structured process you follow? Letters, phone calls, etc? How do you do this?
Devon: It's not too structured other than the formal meetings where we sit down as a team and decide what each person is going to receive. We don't want to barrage people when they come to a seminar. Once again, we don't want them to feel trapped in some kind of system. Some people may need a phone call, with some we'll wait a week or two and send a card; or, we'll put them on our e-mail list and invite them to our next seminar. It's individually decided.
Jud: You've both taken the attitude in these seminars, to some degree, that this is not by any stretch of the imagination "high pressure," this is "just come in, and let's talk!"
Devon: Absolutely! We make that statement up front. We say, "Thank you for coming. We're going to be clear about telling you every single thing we know about what we've learned in the last 30 years so you can have a better experience when you remodel. This is not a sales seminar. You're not going to be required to buy anything during or at the end. We want you to sit back, relax and enjoy yourselves."
Jud: Bjorn, is that your attitude?
Bjorn: Exactly. We don't say that in those exact words, but do say much to the same effect. I'm actually going to add some of that verbiage to my intro the next time.
Devon: I think people come scared sometimes that they're going to sit there and get pressured at the end to do something. We don't want them to feel that way.
Jud: Gentlemen, thank you very much for your time. This will be appearing during the next month or two. It's been nice to meet you.