Production builders don't always want to bother with decks — at least not elaborate ones,” says Mike French, owner of Virginia Decking & Remodeling of Fredericksburg, Va. “If they offer them at all, it's a plain-Jane rectangle, and it's not cheap. It's rarely what the homeowners had in mind.”
French offers first-class decks, including models with multiple levels, curved railings, and a choice of materials — from durable composites to elegant hardwoods — all packaged neatly as a “home builder service.” This means his company will hire on as a subcontractor with a production builder to construct the deck. As the general contractor, the builder handles the permit and the inspection, and buys the materials, while Virginia Decking provides the material list, the design, the labor, and the key ingredient: marketing support.
“We've been successful because we take all the headaches out of it for the builder,” French explains. So far, Virginia Decking & Remodeling has provided its deck services to Van Metre Homes, Washington Homes, and K. Hovnanian Homes, among others. “It's important to understand the production builder,” French says. “They need a streamlined service — simple options that match their models. Decks aren't always simple, but that's our problem. From the builder's point of view, it has to be simple.”
Marketing Support The heart of this service has been the marketing assistance Virginia Decking & Remodeling provides. French begins by developing a brochure with 3-D illustrations showing one of three deck styles on each of the builder's model homes. The brochure includes photographs of the decks in attractive settings and of details that demonstrate a high level of craftsmanship. Each brochure includes a unit price list for different deck sizes, different material options, and add-ons such a flower boxes, benches, and tub platforms.
The goal is to make it easy for the builder's sales team by presenting the deck in clear and compelling terms as a model-home option. “The production market revolves around options,” French says. “We break it down so a salesman can pull out a brochure and run through the list with the homeowner.”
This way, French gets an entire sales-force working on his behalf. He argues that in return he provides a commodity that sets the home builders apart from their competition. “We've been told that our decks often make the difference. We help sell more homes.”