Have you changed their light bulbs? Driven their cars around the block twice a week? Found them tickets to a show? Done their grocery shopping?
Rosie Romero Jr. has. The former owner of Legacy Custom Builders started a “concierge service” after one of his more affluent clients, a part-time Scottsdale, Ariz., resident, asked Romero to take care of the lawn and pool in his absence. “We basically turned their homes into resorts,” Romero says of his concierge clients.
“It's not easy to pull off,” Romero warns, cautioning remodelers against jumping into it without spending a lot of time strategizing. Indeed, when Romero sold the company in 2002, the buyers decided to shut down that department. But Romero says that it paid off while it lasted. “We found that [customers] did three times their annual concierge contract in remodeling work.”
Romero says he's had a handful of remodelers tell him that they've implemented the concierge service with great success, but the point is not that you should go and try this on your own. The takeaway is to always help your customers, in whatever way your business model allows.
REPEAT REWARDS Becoming the “go-to” remodeler doesn't mean literally becoming the only company any homeowner in your market ever calls. Except in rare circumstances — a very small community, for example, or a very specific niche — no remodeler is going to completely own his or her marketplace. But it is possible — indeed, it is preferable — to be the only company your clients call (or recommend to their friends) when it comes to any problem or issue with their house.
“Remodeling isn't something you do just once,” says Tom Turnage, president of The Turnage Co., in Jacksonville, Fla. Unlike new-home builders, who are unlikely to do multiple projects for the same person, remodelers have clients who will need or want a series of projects over the course of their lives. “My clients have businesses that need to be remodeled, vacation homes that need to be remodeled,” Turnage says. And they have family and friends with remodeling needs, as well: Turnage says he's now doing a handful of projects for the children of some of his first clients.
Tom Poulin, president of Poulin Design Remodeling, in Albuquerque, N.M., says that with repeat customers, “you already have a built-in perceived value. You don't have to go through your whole process again.” Poulin notes that closing rates on past clients and referrals are higher than on other leads. Turnage concurs, explaining that “it's a better marketing strategy than beating the bushes looking for new customers.”
Never lose sight of the fact that remodeling is an emotional process for the homeowner. As a remodeler, you go into other people's homes all the time, but try to put yourself in your clients' shoes. When they undergo a renovation, they are opening their home to someone they probably just met. It logically follows that once they choose you to do one project, they'd prefer that you do them all. The nature of the work predisposes your clients to give you more business. Don't do anything to betray the trust you worked so hard to earn — and do the little things that reinforce it — and you'll reap the rewards of repeat and referral business.
NEVER SAY NO If your ultimate goal is to be a “go-to” remodeler, then you're trying to achieve what marketing gurus call “top-of-mind awareness” with your clients. You may not want to send someone out to replace a client's screen door, but you want to be the only person that client thinks to call when they need their screen door replaced.
The best way to get people to continually call you for all of their homeownership issues is to never be in a situation where you can't help them. It doesn't mean that you have to walk their dogs or test their home for radon. But at the very least, know someone you can refer who does provide those services, or offer to help them find someone. “We always try to offer a solution,” Turnage says. “It may just be ‘Call this guy'or ‘Call that guy,'” he continues, or it may be acting as a general contractor managing a group of trades. “They like having me as the GC buffer,” he says. “[Many clients] are willing to pay for that peace of mind.”