Earlier this year, Reborn Cabinets, in Orange County, Calif., reorganized its sales recruitment process. The company uses Zipcruiter.com to post one job listing on multiple classified sites. That ad directs applicants to call a number where they leave a voice message in response to a question. Based on the tone of their response, typically 12 to 15 of the 25 or so who leave messages will be invited to a group interview. There, the vice president of sales will describe the job, the company, the customer, and the sales process. Of the 12, Reborn president Vince Nardo says two will ultimately find a long-term spot on the salesforce, now at 40 total.

Way to Grow

Home improvement companies grow by adding salespeople. Add to that the fact that many companies experience high turnover rates within their salesforce and “you’re always hiring,” says Mark Kenyon, co-owner of Home Smart, a Pennsylvania company that specializes in bathroom remodels. For many, the search for salespeople is intensifying. “The industry’s heating up,” says Grant Mazmanian, president of Pinnacle Group International, a Pennsylvania recruiter that counts 200 home improvement companies among its clients. Here’s what they need to know:

  • Experienced reps often stay put. As much as company owners may say they like to hire someone without prior selling experience—disdaining the supposed “bad habits” that seasoned reps bring—most would like nothing more than to pry away the $1 million-plus seller now working for a competitor. In the past, top sellers could be moved to switch companies by, say, a change in the compensation plan that left them with less money. Today, after five years of recession and its aftermath, companies are finding fewer sales superstars willing to jump ship. And, if the reps are looking to change, they’re far pickier, most taking the time to thoroughly research the company attempting to woo them. “The salespeople with experience are being more discerning,” Mazmanian says. “Top salespeople are going to check us out more than we’re checking them out.”
  • Millennials are hard to hire, and hard to keep. Sales managers at many home improvement companies find relatively few candidates for sales positions who are aged under 30. And those who do apply often have different expectations about what they want from the prospective company. “I would love to hire someone 30 or under,” says Aaron Magden, vice president of sales for Window Nation, in Maryland. Window Nation’s not alone there. “I don’t know that we’re getting any under-30 candidates,” Nardo says. “The under-30s are looking for more of a technical or professional job. I wish I did have younger candidates.” Those who hire under-30 candidates find they’re not only difficult to attract but to retain as well. Brian Elias’ company, 1-800-Hansons, is one of relatively few home improvement companies hiring younger candidates. Elias says that wooing them to his Troy, Mich., business is about advertising the position as not just a job but the first step in a career. “We let them know we have opportunities where they can take over offices,” he says.
  • Some companies are reexamining strict commission sales. Home improvement companies have traditionally compensated salespeople on a 100% commission basis. That’s evolving as companies come to grips with the fact that job seekers want the security of a salary. “Salary is becoming a factor,” Mazmanian says. “[In many cases,] if you can prove you’re a producer generating at least $60,000 in commissions for the last three years, I will get you a salary.” More companies offer salaries, or “draws” on future commission earnings, which is part of a trend away from commission-only sales that began even before the recession. Younger candidates are especially inclined to value a base salary. Nardo says he guesses that’s because many job seekers don’t have the financial resources to get through two or three months without income before their commissions on sales kick in. “More and more candidates responding to our ads want guaranteed salary and a car allowance,” Kenyon notes.
  • It’s important to get back to job seekers immediately. In a world where job seekers read online ads and respond on-the-spot via mobile phone, it may be too late when your sales manager finally gets around to responding to that message at the end of the day. Job seekers who can’t reach a live body, says Seattle sales and marketing consultant Vaughn McCourt, often simply dial ahead to the next opportunity. “The key,” he says, “is to get them in the door and have a face-to-face and then you can convince them to come and work for you.”
  • And it's important to recruit constantly. A home improvement company sales manager’s job includes recruiting. But with activity stepping up, “my managers are expected to recruit every day,” Magden says. Specifically, that means posting an ad on recruitment websites every other day and actively responding to callers in the meantime. Reborn Cabinets holds its group interviews every six weeks. McCourt says that a good sales manager recruits “when they stop at the drive-through, when they go to lunch … they’re always keeping an eye out” to build a file of potential recruits with phone numbers. “And nobody does that,” he notes.

What Sales Recruits Want to Know

Hiring salespeople? Be prepared to answer these questions, says Grant Mazmanian, president of Pinnacle Group International.

  • What is my territory? How far will I be driving to meet a homeowner?
  • What is the source of company leads? Are the leads qualified?
  • How long has the company been in business?
  • What happened to the salesperson I’m replacing?
  • Will I be measuring the job?
  • Will I be paid for training?
  • What will I be reimbursed for?
  • How do I get paid?
  • Is there a bonus program?
  • Does the company supply a car or truck?
  • How much business will you do/commission will I make in the off-season?
  • What is the company’s marketing plan?
  • Why do salespeople leave the company?
  • How long does the average salesperson stay?
  • What kind of support will I receive?
  • Does the company handle many customer complaints (referral factor)?
  • What is the average project price?
  • What is the average commission?
  • What is the average close rate?
  • How many people in the company sell?
  • Does the owner sell?
  • Who will I be managed by? Does he or she have time for me?
  • Who is the company’s ideal customer?

—Jim Cory is a Philadelphia-based contributing editor to REMODELING .