Recently I had the privilege of conducting some in-depth seminars with a group of employees from large remodeling companies from different areas of the country, all of whom were interested in improving and growing their businesses. All of these companies were focused on the residential market, and all cared deeply about the quality of their product.

The group was divided, however, into two camps: Some were full-service remodeling firms oriented primarily toward a design/build approach, while others were specialty firms geared toward window replacements and basement systems.

Customized Approaches Although the fundamental language of remodeling and some of the building components were the same, this single important difference changed the rest of the rules of the game in some interesting ways.

For example, specialty firms are marketing driven and generally spend between 7% and 15% of total sales revenue to generate leads. Full-service firms, on the other hand, rely heavily on personal referrals and their existing client base for future work and generally budget between 2% and 6% for marketing.

The difference in this expenditure forces the specialty owner to look at leads as an investment that they spent a lot of hard-earned dollars to get. That means qualifying is discouraged and every lead is pursued as a potential sale. By contrast, full-service remodelers are more concerned about qualifying leads to avoid wasting valuable time on a prospect who may not proceed with the work.

When it comes to sales, specialty remodelers are running a sprint. Their well-defined sales process is oriented toward closing the sale at the first visit. Full-service companies are running a marathon. Their sales process is geared toward developing rapport with the customer and sustaining a long-term relationship.

The background of the sales staff differs, too. Specialty salespeople typically come from other fields, such as auto sales, whereas most full-service sales folks have their roots in the remodeling business.

There are other differences between specialty and full-service remodeling companies. The specialty firms deal with recision rates of 20% to 30%, while full-service companies are accustomed to less than 3% of their clients getting cold feet.

The length of the sales meeting varies, too. A specialty salesperson spends as many as four hours selling a project that will cost between $7,000 and $15,000 and take one or two days to complete. Compare that with the two or three hours the full-service consultant spends selling a job that could be many times larger and take weeks or even months to complete.

Learn From the Other Side What can we learn from these differences? First, next time you are speaking to other remodeling professionals, keep in mind that although your projects may be a common denominator, your business models may be very different. Second, the fact that your company is successful in one type of business is no guarantee of success in the other. Switching from one to the other will require taking a very different approach to the new business.

Finally, there is a lot remodelers can learn from each other. Full-service companies can, for example, benefit from weaving specialty sales or marketing strategies into their mix. Likewise, specialty contractors might be able to reduce recisions by gaining some true rapport-building skills, which are second nature to full-service remodelers. This kind of knowledge exchange leads to success on both sides. —Mark Richardson is president of Case Design/Remodeling and Case Handyman Services, Bethesda, Md., and the author of 30-Day Remodeling Fitness Program. He can be reached at (301) 229-4600 or