A few years ago, in the heyday of home equity and a booming remodeling business, remodelers could be more lax about their marketing. Now these owners are reviewing the value of every promotional dollar they spend. “Today, if I’m going to invest $50,000 in a certain item, I want to know my return. How many appointments am I setting from that investment?” says remodeler Todd Jackson, principal of Jackson Design & Remodeling, in San Diego.

Many remodelers reacted to the recession by slashing their marketing budgets, something that consultant Beverly Koehn of Beverly Koehn & Associates, in San Antonio, advises against. Due to social media, homeowners are even more brand-conscious than before. “They want to know you are healthy and have market presence,” Koehn says. “[Companies] that are cutting back on [their] marketing and advertising budget are stabbing themselves in the back.”

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Koehn suggests that remodelers research their buyers and track leads so they can optimize their marketing spending. Jackson hired marketing director Coco Harper to help him focus Jackson Design & Remodeling’s message. “We started fine-tuning by asking who are our clients, who is making decisions, what attracts them, what detracts from our message,” he says. Jackson hired a research company to interview Jackson Design & Remodeling’s strongest clients about why they hired the remodeler.

Steve Gray, president of Steve Gray Renovations, in Indianapolis, knows that his clients have changed and is conducting a survey of Steve Gray Renovations’ 6,500 newsletter recipients to find out how best to reach them. He has already updated his website based on preliminary data from the survey.

Show Me the Value

Today’s recession-weary homeowners are more fearful and skeptical and are taking longer to make decisions. They are researching to find reliable companies that will closely monitor design and selections so that the client gets the best value for their investment. They are also being more conservative about product selections and want more control of their budgets.

“They want to know the resale value of a renovation,” says Art Donnelly, owner of Legacy Builders & Remodelers, in Holbrook, N.Y. “They are not choosing the cheapest guy because the investment means more to their pocket than it used to.”

Darius Baker, CEO of D&J Kitchens & Baths, in Sacramento, Calif., says that his company’s longevity is attractive to potential clients. “They want to play it safe and pick a known entity,” he points out. The company’s advertisements, trucks, and home show presence all contribute to its market presence. Matt Wright, owner of The HomeWright, in Carmel, Ind., finds that consumers who use online consumer rating site Angie’s List to research companies are strong leads. “People who review those reports are doing due diligence,” he says.

Buyers are becoming increasingly skeptical of bargains and believe that companies trying to buy their business with discounts are unstable, Koehn says. Consumers today are more likely to check homeowner references and to even ask to speak with trade contractors and vendors to verify a company’s financial stability.

Baker provides homeowners with a seven-page reference list arranged by ZIP code. It used to be rare for homeowners to call even one reference, he says. But after a recent meeting with the remodeler, one potential client called every reference in her ZIP code. Last year, 40% of Gray’s leads came from the company’s preferred partners, so when he updated his website last December, he dedicated a page to them and he encourages homeowners to use the subs, vendors, and suppliers on the list.

Baker created a list of 10 ways his company differs from its competitors, including such items as experience (in business 29 years) and reliability (proven systems allow the company to be efficient so it can deliver the best value). He then used the same items to create a list of 10 reasons why the company offers the best value.

He used the lists in a print advertisement, National Association of the Remodeling Industry directory ads, in direct-mail postcards, and on posters in his home show booth. He also created Chief Architect renderings for his booth to compare good (oak cabinets, vinyl floor, laminate countertops), better (maple cabinets, laminate floor, tile countertops), and best (cherry cabinets, tile floor, granite countertops) designs. “People can see the difference in price from $38,000 to $60,000. I’m getting the information to them before they know what they want,” Baker says.