Steven Jones, owner of Tulsa Renew, in Tulsa, Okla., has an advantage when it comes to selling siding jobs: He installs them. Familiarity with both the product and installation particulars are among the reasons why Jones consistently sells a high-end siding job. Attitude is another. He sets out to develop a design for his clients that, he says, “is different, but not crazy.” Jones has found that difference not only sells, it upsells. He defines selling as “trying to get homeowners as much as they can afford for the best final experience.”
Sell Design, Not Product
Siding upsells start with a suggested change in materials, stepping up from low-cost cladding—vinyl—to more expensive products such as composites, fiber cement, or fiberglass. But product changes are just a beginning. Any product can be sold against any other by comparing and contrasting its respective advantages, pro and con. Vinyl is inexpensive but sometimes fades, fiber cement costs more but comes with a 30-year product warranty, steel lasts longest but will toast the house in summer, etc. Those arguments might only end up confusing homeowners and convincing them to stick with a replacement that’s pretty much like what they already have. What shows them that spending more money makes sense is design.
“I don’t take samples out of my car and say: Hey, look at this siding,” says sales and marketing consultant Mike Damora. “That would be like the five people who came in before me.” Instead, Damora photographs the house, prepares three design options in Renoworks, emails these to the prospect, and returns to discuss.
The first and most expensive among those options is a new front door. (“The front of the house is where you sell the curb appeal,” says Arlo Cook, owner of Above & Beyond Construction, in East Bethel, Minn. “We always recommend a new front door.”) Shutters provide color and textural contrast—though be aware that vinyl shutters may fade, and if they do, there goes the contrast. Jones custom-builds wood shutters and brings three or four shutter products over to the house to give homeowners an idea of what it will look like.
Accent items such as corbels or brackets and gable vents provide points of visual contrast. Contrasting different siding materials—wood and stucco, for instance—or different shapes of the same material—fiber-cement shakes in the gable over board-and-batten fiber-cement underneath—will do that in the overall composition. Stone, for instance, is a standard upsell for Damora. Just about every homeowner wants it, he points out, but only maybe 5% end up with stone on the house wall because nobody pitches it.
Last but not least, there is lighting, something that Jones always suggests. If you’re going to spend something extra making the house look snazzy, why not show it off at night? He often sells about five light fixtures with a siding job, but says that lighting is important enough that if homeowners blanche, he offers to go to The Home Depot, buy the lights, and install them so they can see it all coming together.
Change Orders Not Chump Change
Upselling doesn’t end at the design stage. Above & Beyond Construction, which specializes in windows, siding, and decks, typically adds $2,000 to $3,000 during the course of a job by suggesting additional work in the form of enhancements that installers are trained to recognize and sell. “The salesman or the project manager will make those suggestions,” Cook says. “’How about if we stagger some boards here?’ Or, ‘Hey, you need new gutters over here.’ We don’t just do it. We stop the job, and we get the change order signed.”
Looking to Upsell? Do This
• Carry several products. You can’t sell what you don’t have, can’t get, or don’t know is out there. To provide options in combination, familiarize yourself with the range of cladding and accessory products—doors, shutters, lights, siding accessories—that are available. Like just about every other exterior building products category—think roofing or decks—that number constantly increases.
• Know the product. You don’t need a construction background to upsell a siding job. You should know what goes where and why. More importantly, know the product and discuss it in terms of what it means for the homeowner and the house. If you want to step them up to stone, for instance, be aware that stone looks great and adds to the value of the property. Explain that the fiberglass door you’re proposing to add will seriously enhance energy savings, that fiber cement is a maintenance-free product, etc.
• Compare and contrast. Using the self-publishing website Shutterfly, Dan Merrifield, vice president of sales for Lakeside Exteriors, in O’Fallon, Mo., prepared two separate books of before-and-after photos that he brings on appointments. “While I’m measuring the house, I leave that for the homeowners to look at. I want to get their creative juices flowing.” The point is to let prospects know that the company doesn’t just install siding. “We do design work,” Merrifield says.
• Explain the process. You can overwhelm and bore homeowners by launching into an extended discussion of installation particulars before they’re even open to a whole new look for the house. But once they come around to the idea, your construction or design knowledge can be a big part of convincing them to buy a better siding job than what they originally had in mind. “Explain the process,” Jones says. Tell them, for instance, that when you change out the door, you’re going to take out all the trim, clean up the opening, and so on. Discussing the details builds value and raises their expectations for the amount of money that’s legitimate to spend on the project. This is particularly important when it comes to doors, Jones says, because they’re now fairly expensive. “I am using every bit of knowledge I have about the building process to sell that project,” he points out.
• Sell the experience. Homeowners probably haven’t even thought about what it might be like working with a siding company. Tell them exactly who’s coming out and when, and how often you or someone from your company intends to be in touch with them. Don’t be afraid, when assessing the home, to offer suggestions about other products and projects. “Communicate with confidence and security because that’s what homeowners need when you’re giving advice about the work to be done,” Jones says. “Home projects are high-anxiety projects.”
• Offer financing. There’s enough information out there—such as REMODELING’s Cost vs. Value Report—that homeowners already have some idea what their siding replacement project will cost. Say you sell them on a design that’s more than they were originally prepared to pay. Show them how to afford it. “We’re all payment buyers one way or another,” Damora says. “Let’s say we work out a budget of $250 or $300 per month for the job. For another $25 or $30 a month, that can easily include stone or the new front door.”
—Jim Cory is a contributing editor toREMODELING who is based in Philadelphia.