A few years ago, my wife, Elaine, and I visited Italy on our first and only vacation abroad to date. We stayed a week in Florence, a city with more art per square foot than anywhere on the planet.

We spent some of our time wandering around town, figuring things out on our own, but when it came to the major galleries, we signed up for a guided tour.

We spent about four hours walking around the Uffizi, listening through wireless headphones as our guide explained the intricate connections among artists and their paintings. She covered more than 600 years of art history, but we actually stopped and looked at fewer than one in 20 paintings. We had a similar experience with a guided architectural tour of the city that ended up at the Accademia, which houses Michelangelo's David. In both cases, we had a much richer experience because our guide had expert knowledge and had pre-determined where we would linger and what we would skip.


Imagine the reaction of a client of yours who had a similar vacation experience, and is now faced with selecting products, choosing among design options, and making the hundreds of decisions required in a typical remodeling project. How does your process stack up against the guided walking tour of Florence? If European cities seem too exotic, remember that your clients can experience the same thing in Hershey Park or Walt Disney World, at the supermarket or the mall.

Competition may be stiff, but much more worrisome in the long run is the threat you face from the level of service that your clients experience in other areas of their life. I say “more worrisome” because at least you know who the competing remodelers are; you know almost nothing about the experiences that have set your clients' expectations for the remodeling projects you are about to undertake with them.

Now that the market is slow, the pace is less frantic. Even though you may be expending a lot of energy chasing down work, the reduced number of jobs you have under contract means you have more time to work on your “soft” remodeling skills. Learning to serve as a guide for clients is one of them. Here are two additional areas where most remodelers can use some remedial help.


This May at the Remodeling Leadership Conference, sales guru Michael Hoffman explained that most salespeople assume that they understand why their clients buy when in fact they “don't know jack” about it unless they ask.

If you are too focused on the “features and benefits” of the “stuff” that goes into a project, you have no way to capture the clients' imagination because you don't really listen to what they say they want.

Hoffman teaches salespeople how to listen for “power words” and use them in their pitch as a second, more personal layer of language that enhances generic marketing jargon. Selling a window by talking about U-value, solar heat gain, and visible transmittance does no good unless you also mention whatever it is that prompted the homeowner to call you in the first place. And you don't know what that is unless you ask.

Talking with fewer potential clients is a financial challenge, but it's also an opportunity to spend more time with each one learning how to listen.


As craftspeople, there is nothing about the building that presents much of a surprise. You've seen and done it all a thousand times before. But your clients haven't. That wall you're about to tear down used to hold family photographs, and the window you're about to chuck in the Dumpster is the one they looked out every morning during breakfast. To you they are dotted lines on the demo plan; to your clients they are a set of memories and emotional connections. You've planned the demolition with care; how will you manage your client's “mourning” the loss of familiar spaces? The same goes for every other phase of construction that you take for granted.

The challenge of a remodeling project is not the stuff you're building it with, it's the way you manage the client's experience. Use this slowdown to learn how to make it feel like a vacation in Italy.

Sal Alfano
Editorial Director