The replacement market looks attractive to many remodelers because the margins are typically higher than an addition or a kitchen or bath rehab. But because the price per job is lower, the volume of jobs must be greater. So the better replacement contractors survive by generating hot leads. Lots of them.

What's hot? For Wayne Wilusz, president of Advanced Siding, Window and Sunroom Co., in Brentwood, N.H., the marketing message that generates the biggest response focuses on the cost of energy. “Energy is the number-one reason windows are moving right now,” Wilusz says. More than ‘maintenance-free' or ‘easy to clean,' the energy-saving benefit of new windows has increased both the number of leads and his sales volume, even though the price of vinyl windows has increased with the surge in energy prices.

Search This It's not just the message that counts, however. It's the medium. And these days, the hottest marketing medium is the Internet.

“Customers are more knowledgeable than they used to be. The majority of people coming to us have done their research,” explains Wilusz, whose own Web site,, strives to provide prospective customers with home improvement tips and answers to remodeling questions. “But a company Web site is just the beginning,” he says. More and more customers are ending up at general research sites that combine articles about replacement windows and other renovation categories with “Find a Contractor” services. As a result, customers are finding him, rather than the other way around.

Wilusz participates in two contractor networks that generate leads for him — one type provides him with a unique lead while the other shares the lead with three or four competing companies in his area. Like other contractors participating in these networks, he pays by the lead, and of course, a unique lead costs a bit more.

Two Models Andy Zurcher is vice president of marketing at ServiceMagic, a leading online marketplace that matches homeowners with professional services. He refers to the two lead-generating models as “market match” and “exact match” scenarios. (Hanley Wood, which publishes REMODELING, has a business relationship with ServiceMagic.) Under the market-match model, consumers are guided through a lengthy interview process to define the project they want to accomplish. At the end of this, they are matched to three or four qualified contractors serving the same geographic location. These typically cost $6 to $60 per lead, depending on the extent of the project, and contractors can set a limit on exactly how much they want to spend. Because contractors are competing for the leads, which are delivered by fax, e-mail, or cell text message, they must quickly respond.

Research sites that provide homeowners with general information about a range of remodeling projects also link prospective clients with qualified contractors.
Research sites that provide homeowners with general information about a range of remodeling projects also link prospective clients with qualified contractors.

The exact-match scenario capitalizes on search-engine optimization to position a company high on the list of consumer searches for a particular category. The phone number associated with that Web profile comes into a ServiceMagic call center, where operators verify that the customer is a good match for the contractor's services. If it's not, the caller is redirected. These leads cost about 1½ times more than market-match leads.

In both scenarios, the emphasis is on delivering qualified leads to the contractor. The interview process for prospective customers is designed to capture serious inquiries. “It's a fine line,” Zurcher says. “You don't want to make the interview process so hard that you turn away good customers, but it needs to be hard enough to turn away the casual seeker.”

ServiceMagic tracks the completion rate of each page of the interview, and the greatest drop-off occurs on the third and last page where the prospect must provide complete contact information. “The amount of contact information is fairly daunting; people don't fill that out unless they are serious about being contacted.” He also insists that the level of contact information is critical to completing a connection. “Leads are one thing, but the two parties have to connect for that lead to have any real value,” Zurcher says.