iPad the device for in-home exterior/replacement sales

From canvassing to presenting and closing, tablet PCs have taken hold in the home-improvement industry

September 26, 2011

A year ago in August, about four months after the first version of iPad was introduced, the replacement bath company Liners Direct held a sales meeting for its dealers in Chicago.

In attendance was Liners’ New York dealer Ralph Rossi, who was a late addition to the agenda. His topic: demonstrate how he, with the help of Liners’ marketing chief Dave Wilson, had converted many of the company’s sales presentations and visualization applications to the iPad and how Rossi had begun using the iPad during in-home sales calls to great success. During a break at the end of Rossi’s presentation four of the dealers in attendance walked over to Apple’s Michigan Ave. store and purchased iPads.

Since that meeting nearly all of Liners’ dealers have begun using tablet PCs, primarily iPads, at least on an experimental basis. They use them not only for selling Liners’ replacement bath products, but also for additional product lines they carry — replacement windows, sunrooms etc. More than a dozen of their dealers, says Liners’ Dave Wilson, have gone much further beyond experimentation – equipping their entire sales teams of “six, eight or 10” representatives with fully loaded iPads for their meetings with clients and prospective customers.

“Our New York dealer Ralph Rossi, who is quite a tech guy, converted one of his Laptop PC sales presentations to fit the Apple platform and for the iPad and started using it in the home. Immediately it got a reaction from prospective clients,” says Wilson. “First of all, it was cool. And it was new and hip. But Ralph recognized that not only did the photos look very high quality, but people were mesmerized.”

According to Wilson, it was those early adopting dealers, like Rossi, by using iPads in the field, who sparked the the company’s understanding that tablet PCs, specifically iPad, held the potential to improve and perhaps revolutionize in-home sales. Those early sales calls sparked an awareness that tablets, unlike their predecessors, Laptop PCs and, before that, laminated presentation flip books, created a stronger more forceful impression in sales situations. A major reason was the simplicity of the new platform, says Wilson.

“The swipe screen has a very low, or easy, learning curve,” explains Wilson. “I’ve heard from dealers who have some retirees as sales reps. They are second-career, retirement-income kind of sales reps, who were initially pitch-book people. And to many of them laptops were confounding. Those older folks, once they saw the iPad — the sales manager would not believe it — they immediately adopted it because it is just a swipe. Older people gravitated to it because you did not need to know any of that other computer stuff.”

The Build-A-Bath app

The iPad, somewhat famously, does not support Flash, a popular software code used to display videos and games. Flash is also the platform used by many building product manufacturers to develop visualization software to demonstrate color and design options for personal computer and Web applications. In the process of converting Liners’ Flash-based visualization application to a format compatible to the iPad, Wilson took the added step of creating an iPad application, (see page 44 in our App Directory), which became available on the Apple “App Store” last December.

Liners’ Build-A-Bath application, which is free, has been downloaded more than 6,000 times to date. Yes, many Liners Direct dealers use the app as part of their in-home selling process, but the bulk of the downloads have come from consumers who are in the market for a new bathroom. Many of them will create their own bathroom using the software and use a special feature to send their bathroom creation to a local Liners Direct dealer to initiate the sales process. Though the numbers of prospective clients who have taken this step number only in the hundreds, they come to Liners Direct further along in the sales process. They are readier to “talk turkey” when they meet with a sales consultant.

“Prospective clients that come to us through the app, helps make the sales cycle a little shorter.” Says Wilson. Now our dealer goes in and the dealer understands that the client is looking at a walk-in-tub or a tub-to-shower conversion. It makes the conversation quicker and less intimidating for the customer.”

Aside from in-home sales, the Build-A-Bath app has spurred further use of the iPad at home shows, fairs and events, adds Wilson. “It is a nice ice-breaker in a kiosk format for a customer. It is a good conversation starter. People like being able to touch and swipe and zoom and pinch and take advantage of the iPad. It draws people in.”

The Dealer Perspective

From the perspective of David Goodman, owner and president of Bathwraps Today in Feasterville, Pa., the iPad offers a number of advantages to his sales team, each of whom is armed with an iPad complete with 3G wireless cell phone service. First, the iPad sets his company and his team apart from the one-man operations who sell with less professional tools. But more importantly to Goodman, who has been involved in the exterior replacement business for many years, are the selling efficiencies it creates.

“The sales people are more comfortable using the iPad than they are using their laptops,” says Goodman. “One of the reasons is that when you were on a call in a client’s home with laptop, and you began to open up your laptop, the whole flow of the conversation hinged on how quickly it was going to take the laptop to boot up, and for you to put in your passwords. With an iPad it is really just a touch of a button and you are into it. Also, customers are much more willing to look at a presentation on the iPad. A lot people have had experience with the iPad, so they actually swish their finger across the iPad and make the image change. So customers are much more interactive with it. Our sales people hand the iPad over to them and they are much more interactive with them.”

For Goodman’s sales team, who number about 10, the Build-A-Bath

application is not necessarily the core of the presentation. He sets up each iPad loaded with before-and-after photos, links to shower door manufacturers, and other materials that would have comprised the traditional flip. The Build-A-Bath app resides on the first screen and is used as needed to advance the conversation.

“It is more fluid. It is a lot easier to jump back and forth between applications. It goes very smoothly. The pictures are high quality,” notes Goodman. “Also, the salesperson can carry the iPad with them throughout the house. They can carry it with them when they move from the living room to the bathroom. It does not weigh very much and they can do parts of their presentation that they would not normally do in the bathroom.”

When it comes time to close a sale, Goodman’s team is able to use the 3G wireless service to swipe a credit card and close the transaction using QuickBooks “GoPay” application. There are obvious advantages to this. In the recent past, sales people would have to call the credit card number into the office and someone there would perform the transaction. If it was after hours, the sales person would write down the credit card number and it might be a day or two before they processed the paperwork back at the office.

“The customer still has three days to change their mind. But it has helped with cash flow because we are not waiting for the guys to bring in the credit card numbers from the field. So the speed at which we can turn dollars is much faster. Even one of our installers in the field sells something on Friday, I might get paid on Monday whereas in the past I would get the paperwork on Monday and I would get paid on Wednesday,” notes Goodman.

In terms of measuring improved results, Goodman says, he does not have the metrics to enable him to quantify the iPad effect in dollars and cents or a percentage gain. This notwithstanding, Goodman is a believer.

“I definitely think it is the best thing going. For in-home sales it has made a tremendous difference. Our sales people can access all kinds of information all the time and they are better prepared when a customer asks a question. There is an immediacy that enables them to provide answers and overcome objections.”

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