More Emphasis on Training Now

As competition for workers intensifies, home improvement companies direct more efforts to training

August 27, 2016
staff training

Photo: Jim Larrison on Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Franzoso Contracting, in Croton on Hudson, N.Y., has an ace sales team. Who could want better? To hear owner Mark Franzoso tell it, the five seasoned guys, and a newbie, who sell for his $12 million company, are superstars any home improvement operation would kill for. Numbers tell the tale: six salespeople, $11.3 million last year. “I’ve been blessed,” Franzoso says.

No question that these are people who know how to close business. And for that, they’re well-rewarded. “They make money,” Franzoso says.

But in October, those five seasoned sellers will head to the Washington, D.C., area for a three-day course called Sales Boot Camp 201, offered by Certified Contractors Network, a contractor organization with 350-plus member companies, including Franzoso Contracting. The course builds on, and is open only to those who’ve completed, Sales Boot Camp, CCN’s most popular educational offering, which involves five days of presentations and role-playing in the network’s two-step system. Every one this year has been sold out. Sales Boot Camp 201 consists of three days in which salespeople focus on nothing but how to manage objections. “Whatever will help them,” says Franzoso general manager Mark Sackerson, whose son, Michael, has attended sales boot camp twice, since joining the team. “Sales training,” he says, “is not a one-shot deal. The more exposure they have, the better they become.”

Beyond Tribal Knowledge

No one is born knowing how to shingle a roof or install kitchen cabinets, let alone sell these projects to a homeowner. But much of the learned information that home improvement companies operate from is what Vince Nardo, president of Reborn Cabinets, a kitchen refacing, bath liner, and full-service K&B remodeling company in Anaheim, Calif., calls “tribal knowledge.” That is, it’s passed from one company employee to the next. Less often, it’s education gleaned from outside the company.

For smaller companies, outside education and training sources can prove to be an information lifeline. Ten years ago, on joining CCN, John Gorman, co-owner with his sister-in-law, Pat, of Save Energy Co., in Petaluma, Calif., attended a five-day boot camp on financial planning that proved to be the first step in reorganizing the company to use systems and processes that boosted profitability and enabled growth. “Everything was a mess,” Gorman recalls. So he and Pat went again, and again, four times in total.

But it’s not just owner-managers who benefit from outside training and education. Three years ago, Gorman took two of his installers on a two-day trip to the Milguard window plant in Sacramento to get certification training. “They talk about it quite a bit,” he says. “They sort of knew what they had to do, but having that certification gave them more confidence.” Enough confidence, on the occasional remodels where Save Energy is the window sub, to stand up to general contractors who think they know more about installing a window than anyone else around.

Come Back Pumped

Sometimes neither the installers nor the salespeople who work for a company have any idea what the larger world of home improvement is like. Phil Callen, co-owner of Callen Construction, in Muskego, Wis., which has hired professional industry sales trainers, including Rodney Webb, to come in and beef up selling skills, says he once sent a salesperson who’d been with the company eight years to a conference on selling. The salesperson later told Callen it was the first time he’d ever been to anything like it. “It gave him that extra little boost,” Callen says.

Callen Construction, which budgets for training, benefits from that not only by enhanced skills but by the loyalty that often results when employees realize that the company is willing to invest in their future by paying to make them better now, such as the installers it has sent to training by InstallationMasters, a certification program sponsored by a window associations including the American Architectural Manufacturers Association. “Most of them come back pumped,” the owner says.

Going In-House

Since consistent performance, in both installation and sales, is key to growth, larger home improvement companies—those with revenues of $10-plus million—often find themselves faced, at some point, with developing an in-house training program. Reborn Cabinets, for instance, has three full-time trainers staffing its “Reborn University,” an institution complete with its own crest. What’s there to learn? Everything. The company’s processes—sales, admin, and installation—are documented in manuals, and new hires at this multi-branch operation that now employs close to 300 people, including 55 salespeople, can be swiftly schooled in the way things work. For instance, new installer hires move through three courses called Reborn 101, Reborn 102, and Reborn 103. Reborn 101 consists of two weeks of hands-on training in the company’s training facility; 102 involves shadowing an installer in the field; and 103 has the employee installing, with frequent supervision and inspection. “You have to graduate each class to continue,” notes Nardo.

Reborn’s president describes an evolution at the company where, in the beginning, managers trained, then department managers did the training, until finally Reborn had grown to the point where “we realized we could not support the growth on the back-end if we were constantly pulling managers out of their jobs to do training.” So, “we had to put people in place whose only job was to train.”

Other home improvement companies that have grown along similar lines have found exactly the same challenge, and responded to it—with training systems—in similar ways. “We need to keep things on a uniform platform to support our brand,” notes Doug Cook, president of Feldco, an Illinois-based window replacement contractor that has grown to eight Midwest locations in the last dozen years. The hundreds of reps who’ve sold for Feldco in that time have passed through the company’s three-week training course, but once up and running, they’re continually evaluated on metrics and are provided with steady feedback that will include additional training on “touch points” in the sales process such as product knowledge or closing. “We provide the tools so that they can go in and execute,” Cook says. “There are a lot of sharp elbows out there,” he says. “It’s a tough marketplace.”

Training: Internal and Eternal

Reborn, Feldco, and other large companies that willingly shoulder the expense—in time and money—of a training program, say there’s no choice, especially in a market where the competition for human resources is now every bit as intense as the competition for customers. Size demands systems, and systems by their nature are uniform. “We’re training sales reps every single solitary day,” says Brian Elias, founder and president of 1-800-Hansons, a Detroit-based roofing/siding/window company that has steadily grown in the Rust Belt states of Michigan and Ohio. He means it literally, since a Hansons’ salesperson’s day begins with a half-hour morning motivational conversation on the company’s closed-circuit TV system. “Then they get their leads.”

At Hansons, training is internal and eternal; that is, it never stops. For larger companies, there’s no choice but to invest in the success of recruits.

“We’re not perfect trainers,” Cook says, “but when they are well-trained versus not well-trained, success is so much more likely to be achieved. It’s that black and white.” And, he notes, the cost today of not having systems to regularly train new workers as well as those who’ve been around for a while, is prohibitive. “It’s highly inefficient for us to burn through employees,” Cook points out. “Recruiting is expensive, interviewing is expensive, onboarding is expensive. The cost of a miss is really expensive. There is nothing beneficial to us,” he says, “when a new hire doesn’t succeed.”

About the Author


About the Author


Philadelphia-based writer Jim Cory is a senior contributing editor to Professional Remodeler who specializes in covering the remodeling and home improvement industry. Reach him at coryjim@earthlink.net.

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