In the early 1990s, New York City interior designer Chris Prince plunged into the world of finials and faucets when she joined (and later became a partner in) Simon's Hardware, a decades-old decorative hardware store that had just emerged from bankruptcy. Though renowned for its specialized merchandise, the store itself was drab and dark, and the employees unprofessional, Prince says. “There was no look, no focus, no brand, not even a logo.”
What Prince knew then is what she teaches now as a business consultant (About Design, 212.772.3894). That is, to excel at the upsell you must upscale your business.
“I wanted Simon's to look like a boutique,” Prince says. Over time, she commissioned a logo, instituted a dress code, trained employees, eliminated low-end merchandise, decorated the windows, expanded the name to Simon's Hardware & Bath, and created evocative “vignettes” — showroom displays that embodied how appealing a bathroom, kitchen, or other room could be.
The effort paid off. Simon's revenues had soared by the time Prince sold the company in 2003.
How can remodelers build on Prince's example? Short of overhauling your entire brand, even small changes can upgrade how clients perceive your business. Outfit employees in clothing that features the company logo; upgrade your Web site and your stationery; repaint your trucks. Keep your offices clean, and if you have a showroom, “make your vignettes interesting and unique,” Prince says. “Show every bell and whistle,” such as designer cabinet pulls and tiles, and refresh vignettes often.
Most critical is customer service training, which you should frequently reinforce. High-end clients expect more service.
The Web sites of Michael Matrka Inc. (www.michaelmatrkainc.com) and Anthony Wilder Design/Build (www.anthonywilder.com) project an upscale image, but their beauty is more than Web-deep. Wilder's sleek black vehicles stand out sharply from the bland white vans used by many remodelers. Even his office —a converted firehouse, itself a work of architectural whimsy —is immaculate. “Clients say it smells clean here,” Wilder says.