Chris Gash

To help address clients’ fears of using a chunk of their savings to pay for a remodel, Dawn Tuskey decided to offer a “souped-up” version of the Kmart layaway plan she used as a teenager. To research the marketability of the plan, the owner of IHM Remodeling Repair Contractors, in Downer’s Grove, Ill., held a seminar at her local library, and the idea was positively received. “It gives people a sense of control,” she says.

Tuskey thought the plan would be especially fitting for her sweet-spot clients, who she describes as the “millionaire next door.” These clients stress individual quality of life over trends. “Price is important, but value is equally important,” she says. “What they like about my layaway plan, especially in these hard times, is that they do not have to immediately part with [all the] cash,” she says. It also helps them if they are uncertain about job security.

For example, in the plan a customer would pay 70% of the cost of the project before work starts: 10% down, then the other 60% divided into monthly payments over six months. Tuskey would collect the remaining 30% upon project completion.

She has been testing the program with a few clients, starting with a long-term client’s kitchen project. The client selected all the products before the project began, and once 70% of the contract price was paid, Tuskey started work. The remodeler also offered the layaway plan to a client for a whole-house window replacement job. “She had just retired and desperately needed new windows,” Tuskey says. “She liked the idea of not depleting her cash reserves.”

Tuskey did not add either project to her schedule until after the clients had each reached the 70% payment mark. That way, she says, she’s not holding up the schedule waiting for projects that may not start.

Tuskey points out that the layaway plan is only for small jobs that have more defined estimates. She will not offer it for large whole-house projects. It works well for energy-efficient jobs such as window replacement, tankless water heaters, solar panel retrofits, home energy audits, and blower door tests. If clients change products or prices increase or decrease before the project begins, Tuskey issues a credit or change order. For the kitchen project, the clients received a $350 credit for choosing a lower-price plumbing fixture; money that they then used to upgrade the sconces. If the client cancels the project, Tuskey keeps 10% of the contract price to cover administrative costs.

—Nina Patel, senior editor, REMODELING.