At our recent conference for replacement contractors, Thom Winninger, an accomplished author and a sales and marketing consultant to a variety of industries, told a story about his meeting with the founder of a large fast-food pizza chain. The man claimed his fortunes changed the day he realized that no one ever called his pizza shop who wasn't already hungry. That epiphany showed him that he wasn't in the pizza-making business, he was in the pizza-delivery business. He changed his sales and marketing message and his company went on to dominate the category.

Remodelers tend to define their companies by the quality of the products they install, the high level of craftsmanship their crews supply, or the reliability of their trade contractors. All of those characteristics are critically important to success in this business, but they are increasingly taken for granted by homeowners.

Some companies strive to provide “outstanding customer service” without, however, really defining what that looks like. They're on the right track, but their self-definition needs to look as hard at process as it does at product.

For example, clients need information in varying degrees. Some read every page of the specs, pore over every line of the contract, and spend endless hours researching products on the Web. Others can't make heads or tails of the blueprints and are exhausted just thinking about reading the specs. To be successful with both of these customers, a remodeler has to understand what it means to be in the information business: thinking about what kinds of documents communicate best, ensuring that everyone in the company speaks plain English instead of insider lingo, and never assuming the owner knows as much about your business as you do.

A small change in the way you think about your company's mission can work wonders. How much of a difference would it make if you switched from thinking about being in the product installation business to being in the product selection business? Flawless installation is critical, of course, but your customer isn't really involved until the action is over. But every customer is involved in selecting products, some more readily and with more skill and energy than others. You understand the difference between hand-made tile and production tile, they don't; just sending them out to the tile showroom does you both a disservice. You also know more about which products fit their budget. If product selection were the defining characteristic of your company, you would try to see all of these decisions through your customers' eyes.

At any given time during a project, beginning with the first sales call through to the last punch list item, customers will experience fear, joy, anger, confidence, annoyance, trust, loyalty, anxiety, disbelief, suspicion, and maybe even rage. Companies in the product installation business can handle a part of this spectrum, but they have no chance of handling them all. What business are you in?
Editorial Director