Mark Robert Halper

In September of 1930, businesspeople and politicians gathered in Cape Charles, Va., to perform a mock burial. Caskets containing “Old Man Business Depression,” his wife “Mrs. Pessimism,” and his daughter “Miss Misfortune” were unceremoniously dumped in a watery grave in the Chesapeake Bay.

Unfortunately, while temporarily lifting the spirits of the onlookers, this act did nothing to end those troubled times.

Here we are in the Great Recession. As remodelers, we can do all the burying we want, but none of us — including our government — has a crystal ball. So how can we effectively plan 2010?

Plan, Monitor, Adjust

My recommendations show my conservative bias. I value safety and security over big risks that lead to big wins or watery graves. My gut tells me that we’ll have a slow and somewhat rocky recovery. I don’t expect a rebound to anywhere near our 2006 levels within the next five years, though perhaps within 10 years we will see credit and spending revived.

In the meantime, I suggest that you plan very carefully and map out multiple scenarios. Expect 2010 to be much like 2009 with maybe a 5% to 10% improvement in number of leads and sales volume. Because of enduring economic uncertainty, focus on short-term planning. Your best strategy: monitor those plans and update them as needed.

What are top remodelers doing? I’ve just come from a meeting of 30 of our clients. Their experiences don’t qualify as a scientific survey, but they may provide some sound planning guidelines.

  • Vital statistics: Only 5% to 8% say they are doing well, have enough work, and have some backlog of unstarted work. Several of these companies are in Canada, where the recession has been milder. Most are working harder than ever, with fewer leads, a poorer closing ratio (one in eight vs. one in five a few years ago), and smaller job sizes.
  • Marketing budget: All these remodelers view marketing as a critical business component. Even those who once took pride in being “referral-only” realize that their referral base can no longer support the company. How much are they spending? Some that once spent 1% to 2% of their projected volume on marketing are now earmarking 5% to 6% to deliver marketing plans sufficient to support their downsized companies.
  • Marketing that works: Our remodelers’ best marketing consists of making clients deliriously happy and then substantiating that satisfaction with third-party surveying. They’re also marketing back to their referral base six times a year with a variety of communications, events, and programs. In the realm of belly-to-belly marketing, one strategy is to create community networking groups of top-quality companies that refer leads to one another. And they’re polishing their “elevator” speeches and using every opportunity to share what their company does.

Our members are also upgrading their websites, optimizing their search engine appearances, and sending regular e-newsletters (always, of course, expanding their e-mail lists).

  • Marketing that doesn’t work: Our top remodelers are finding far weaker responses from just about anything in print, including newsletters, postcards, and mass mailings. While the Yellow Pages seem to work for trade contractors and specialty companies, I’m still not a fan of them for full-service remodeling companies, except for accessing your phone number. Even for that purpose, more and more folks are using their cell phones and the Web to get your listings. Magazine ads are rarely working, and newspaper ads are expensive and usually a bust.

What about pay-per-click on search engines? The jury is still out, but that tactic usually only makes sense for multimillion-dollar remodeling companies.
Get planning now for 2010. Involve your staff. The bigger the brain trust, the better. In January, I’ll present some strategic planning tips that should kick off your year with some real sparks — but probably not a 2006-size “boom.”

—Linda Case is founder of Remodelers Advantage, a national company that gives remodelers the tools to achieve consistent profitability and success through one-on-one consulting, the Roundtables peer program, and an online learning community, Advantage Associates. 301.490.5620;;