Bill Patrick’s incentive for teaching seminars can be traced back to one specific homeowner who attended his first seminar in 2000. “She sat in the front row and was very interactive,” he says. That same year, she visited William J. Patrick Inc.’s booth at a local home show. Soon after, she hired the Leola, Pa., company for a $450,000 whole-house project. She is now a regular client, having done that first large project, along with six other significant jobs and some minor service work. “That is the reinforcement I received right out of the gate,” Patrick says.
In fact, most remodelers who teach seminars see a positive impact on sales leads — something that Patrick and other remodelers are reviewing to boost leads in today’s rough economy.
Most of Patrick’s seminars since 2000 have taken place at his local builder’s association home show. He stopped teaching in 2006, but recently decided to host a seminar in his showroom. “It is time to promote the company and provide homeowners with something they feel is a value, and it allows them to get to know us in a no-obligation, neutral forum,” he says.
At its most positive, seminar attendees view the remodeler as an expert. At the very least, a seminar is a good public relations practice. “It’s as much public relations as direct marketing or an advertising piece. It’s an opportunity to earn people’s trust,” Patrick says. He uses the seminar to advocate on behalf of homeowners and explain the remodeling process, contracts, and estimates.
Dave Bryan, president of Blackdog Builders, in Salem, N.H., has taught seminars in varying forms for many years and says that his company is a good fit for seminar-attending homeowners. “They qualify themselves. They are educating themselves about remodeling. If they meet with other contractors, they automatically think we are better. Calling on these clients can be a better call for our sales staff,” he says.
Early on, Bryan planned events for 200 people, hiring outside talent such as Michael Payne from the Home and Garden Television show Designing for the Sexes and Tom Silva of This Old House. He rented and set up a tent behind his office and found co-sponsors to defray the costs. The large crowds were exciting, but hardly any leads from the event turned into jobs. Bryan scaled back and now teaches three or four seminars in the spring and again in the fall. “Last week, we had 10 [people] signed up, 11 at the seminar, and seven strong leads,” he says, “I’d rather have 10 committed than 30 less interested,” Bryan says.
Remodeler Tom Mitchell has presented seminars at different venues: at a residential design conference, at a local library, and at a cabinetry/millwork showroom. “Out of say, 20 attendees, we usually speak separately to three or four, and of those we get one or two jobs,” says the president of Mitchell Construction, in Medfield, Mass.
Mitchell’s early seminars were at a library in an affluent town where the company had done a few jobs. Now, almost half the company’s work is in that area. “We marketed it on our Web site with press releases, newspaper ads, and letters to our clients and leads list, and sent postcards to a targeted audience,” he says.
At a design conference hosted by the Boston Society of Architects and geared toward homeowners, Mitchell taught a seminar and also set up a small booth. In an effort to cross-market, he also taught a seminar in the showroom of a cabinet/millwork company he works with. That company marketed the seminar, and about 55 homeowners attended. Mitchell has future plans to host a class in his offices.
A community college is the venue of choice for Jeb Breithaupt. “It’s a great deal,” he says. “They do all the advertising for you, and it goes in their catalog.” He is also paid a small stipend to teach the class. One out of every 10 visitors to the Jeb Breithaupt Design/Build showroom in Shreveport, La., is from the seminar, and the company usually gets one new client per seminar.
“There is a ton of information on the Web about remodeling and books in bookstores, but it’s easier for people to listen to a speaker,” Breithaupt says. “You might be on their short list of remodelers, and they feel like they are interviewing you by coming to the seminar. They think that by spending about $40 to attend two 11/2-hour sessions, they’ll find a way to save themselves money. For us, the idea is that the more people you talk to, the more top-of-mind awareness they will have.”