By now, most of you recognize that the residential remodeling market is not what is was a few years ago. I also think you know why. The more important issue is what you are doing about it.
As I speak to remodelers all over the country, I find that most of them are not doing anything — at least not anything different from what they did in boom times. They are talking a lot about the lousy state of affairs, but they are playing the game almost exactly as they did in the past. No one has a crystal ball, but all the indicators show that for the rest of the year, things may get worse before they get better. It's a market that will put many companies out of business unless they adjust.
Just as remodeling in the cold and snow of winter requires a different approach from doing the same job in the heat and humidity of summer, a down market requires a different approach from what we have all been used to.
Put the following ideas into action or use them to jump-start your own thinking. Depending on how soon and how well you adjust, they might help see you through the next year or two. They might even straighten out some bad habits that may have developed during the remodeling frenzy.
Sell down, not up. In this market, prospects will still call you for projects that will grow beyond their budget. Instead of relying on the clients to stretch their budget, make sure they proceed with some fraction of the original scope. Once the project is under way, their confidence will build and their emotional attachment will grow, and you may be able to introduce additional components that make sense. In the worst case, you have at least gotten a potential “do nothing” client to do something.
Sell risk. Your prospects may not mention risk, but the topic is whirling around in their heads as they make the decision to proceed. Weave this into your discussions early. You might point to projects that are less economically risky to tackle, such as repairs, kitchens, and bathrooms. Name-brand products create confidence and may make the project feel less risky. Steer homeowners who want to tackle some of the work themselves to those parts of the project that they can confidently handle. Being cooperative and encouraging will allay their fears and lead them to a decision to proceed.
Focus on past clients. Lead flow is a good indicator of market change. These days, as the number of leads heads downward and the cost-per-lead climbs upward, and past marketing methods fail to perform as expected, the most predictable source of new business is past clients. Don't assume that a past client is a client for life. Homeowners today treat remodelers much like retail stores. They may regularly frequent Macy's out of convenience, but if Bloomingdale's does something to attract them, they'll switch in a heartbeat.
CLIENT ADDICTION In this market, you must create more than just happy, satisfied clients. You need clients who are addicted to you, who are vested in your success, who will do everything they can to create new business for you.
Creating this kind of client is not something you can accomplish overnight. It's a total team sport that is tied to a mindset not just a single set of actions. But what you can do right now is to embrace the concept that your client base is a valuable resource that can create predictable results in an otherwise tough and unpredictable market.
Again, I provide these ideas to get you thinking. What are you going to do differently during the next year? Are you willing to see the gains you made over the last five years vaporize? How might smaller returns affect key team members? Will you risk losing them?
Market conditions like these can be difficult, but they can also be times when opportunities hatch. They can help you regroup and get better and stronger. They are times when you can work to position your company to blast to new heights when the environment improves.
—Mark Richardson is president of Case Design/Remodeling Inc.; firstname.lastname@example.org.