Why is business so slow? It’s not a lack of cash. Banks have cash; corporations have record amounts of cash; even consumers have cash — despite stagnant wages and high unemployment, the average personal saving rate in the U.S. has doubled in the last four years.


Business is slow because people are uncertain. Some of what they are uncertain about are things they can’t control, such as the string of natural disasters we’ve had this year. Snow, flooding, tornadoes, earthquake-induced nuclear accidents — what’s next?

A lot of uncertainty is about things we don’t really understand, like the effect that a default in Greece would have on the European Union. And a lot of uncertainty is personal — uncertainty about our health, our children, our parents, our job.

And sometimes uncertainty feeds on itself. According to Google Trends, the number of times the topic “uncertainty” appeared in Google news stories in the U.S. has quadrupled in the last four years.

Getting Unstuck

Uncertainty is overwhelming and paralyzing. It has everyone on pause. Is there anything you can do to help your clients get themselves unstuck?

Make it easier to buy. Listen to what customers say about what they want, then simplify your solutions. For your clients, remodeling is about making choices, but offering too many alternatives just fuels their uncertainty. Anticipate their questions and provide clear answers — not more confusing choices.

Nail it down. Where choices are necessary, act as sherpa, doing the heavy lifting and keeping everyone moving forward on the right path. Cut down on allowances; postponing decisions contributes to clients’ sense of uncertainty.

Manage change. Once the work begins, minimize change orders. Don’t speculate excessively about what might go wrong, but be honest about anything that does. Communicate early if the schedule changes.

Like you, your clients are looking for something they can count on. Private and public events have made them more risk-averse than usual. To get them to place a bet on you, you have to overcome their inertia and squelch their uncertainty.

You have to be a sure thing.

—Sal Alfano, editorial director, REMODELING.