Tim Shigley grew up around cattle, so it came naturally for the Wichita, Kan., man to talk in those terms when an NAHB Remodelers committee got around to discussing what its members do. “We have to figure out how to brand ourselves,” the head of Shigley Construction Co. began. “We’re builders. We choose to focus on remodeling because it’s the most profitable section. We’ve been dragging this [concept] to the [branding] fire for years. We’re a focused section of the building industry. I’m proud to be a builder focused on remodeling.”
I think Shigley is on to something significant. My years spent covering federal and state governments, as well as major lobbying groups, drove home again and again the importance of picking the right words to both educate and persuade. Just compare “Social Security” to “entitlements” and the difference is clear.
Of course, you already knew this instinctively. Your business relies heavily on your ability to talk to customers and frame your argument in ways that help that customer understand, appreciate, and ultimately support how you plan to do what’s needed. Small builders putting up spec houses and crews of foreign framers tramping across tract projects never had to learn those skills. That may be one reason why they’re condemned to those jobs.
Now your ability to choose the right words is going to be tested even more, as baby boomers call on you to remodel their infirm parents’ home or revamp their own home so they can live in it long after they retire. Dan Bawden of Houston’s Legal Eagle Construction Co. (note that “remodeling” isn’t in the name) already is familiar with this through his work helping create the NAHB’s Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) program.
During an interview with Bawden last month that I conducted in the exhibit hall of the International Builders’ Show, Bawden told of how he has learned to use certain words and ban others when talking to customers. People don’t want to think about being disabled, he said, but they can imagine breaking their leg in a skiing accident. Creating a kitchen with different counter heights makes sense regardless of whether you’re in a wheelchair, he noted. And replacing round faucets with handles can simply reflect a customer’s age-old desire to update the decor.
Both Shigley and Bawden have learned that your business depends on using the English language with as high a level of skill and sensitivity as you do with your carpentry. Master it, and you can earn your place in construction’s most lucrative division. —Craig Webb, editor-in-chief, REMODELING.