When an employee from Home Check Plus was recently asked to crawl into an attic and eradicate some bats from a customer's home, it didn't seem like an odd request. That's because the St. Cloud, Minn., company is more than just your average remodeling company. President Dale Gruber has tapped into the lucrative and expanding market of maintenance contracts.
The maintenance program was launched in 1997 as an offshoot of Gruber's commercial and residential remodeling business. At the time, the company was fielding calls for simple maintenance items, such as a ripped screen or a faulty door lock. After turning away customer after customer, Gruber decided that performing these smaller services would not only increase revenue but could also be a lead generator for the remodeling side of the business. “Our largest hurdle is that consumers believe they built or purchased a maintenance-free home,” Gruber says. “We educate them on what this term really means, and then they agree to have things checked out on a regular basis, especially when we show pictures of potential problems that we have repaired because of lack of maintenance.”
Home Check Plus currently has more than 500 customers for whom it completes periodic maintenance. “Some contract every year, while others do it as needed,” Gruber says. “Because of the complexity of homes, we encourage all our customers to have routine maintenance done to prevent large repair costs.”
Gruber is one of a growing number of remodelers across the country who recognize the need for services that go beyond home renovations and upgrades. “We started the company because when we were going back into the homes, we were finding that the maintenance being done was less than successful,” explains David Croom, president and owner of Croom Construction Co. in Vero Beach, Fla. Croom launched WhiteHall Professional Home Maintenance 10 years ago to meet the maintenance needs of his company's customers.
There are many variations of the services. Some, like Gruber's, sell annual maintenance contracts to current and prospective clients for a set fee. Other companies have found success simply by offering their services, then charging customers a predetermined trip fee that either includes a specific amount of hours or is calculated by the project. Yet another business model involves contracting with a government or commercial entity and acting as the go-to fixer for all its needs.
Maintenance services differ from warranty services in two key ways. First, unlike a warranty service, which typically only kicks in when something breaks, most remodelers offering maintenance services emphasize preventive maintenance. Second, warranty contracts are usually limited, whereas maintenance services can be more flexible. “We do a total preventive maintenance plan from the foundation to the roof and everything inside,” Croom says. “Here's what we don't do: We don't mow your yard. We don't pick you up at the airport. We don't buy your groceries. We're not a maid service. We're a professional maintenance service.”
ONE-STOP SHOPPING Groceries aside, most companies that offer one kind of maintenance service or another do just about everything else. So, in addition to checking for leaky faucets, fixing loose roof shingles, or inspecting the air conditioner, they'll also do things on a smaller scale, such as replacing smoke detectors, repairing window or door locks, or even changing a hard-to-reach light bulb. For customers, it's one phone call for all their needs. “Customers appreciate being able to rely on the same company no matter what their needs are,” Gruber says. “They don't have to worry that they're going to be ripped off or invite unscrupulous people into their homes.”
In addition, a skilled remodeler can spot other problems. Perhaps a leaky faucet in the bathroom has led to water seepage behind a wall or cabinet. “Because we have skills in a variety of areas, we can serve the customer better,” says Gruber, who has a pool of skilled subcontractors for specialty services, such as electricity and plumbing. “We deal with the plumber, the electrician, the heating guy. We fit the vendor to the customer.”
There's also built-in trust. “[Customers] feel like they have someone they can always count on,” Croom says.
For Terry Wardell of Wardell Builders in Solana Beach, Calif., offering a home maintenance program is a way to continue the relationship with the homeowner after construction is complete. “There are few technicians out there who really understand high-end homes,” he says.