courtesy Robert Foreman

Yes, today’s economy is tough, but tough economies are nothing new. In 1991, when more than 70,000 people from local military bases were deployed for duty in Iraq as part of the Gulf War, sales at my $3 million window and siding company — previously reliably strong — dipped drastically.

To help us through that period I took on a sunroom line because I needed a larger-ticket product to help make my sales numbers. Over the next decade, the sunroom product did well, but by 2003 the economy dipped again; telemarketing began to spiral downward and our leads suffered. It was time to take a good, hard look at my company.

To really prosper and grow for the future, the company needed a full makeover. I had to improve every system. But I had little idea of how to accomplish this goal.

I read a great book that helped me, Beyond Entrepreneurship: Turning Your Business Into an Enduring Great Company, by James C. Collins and William C. Lazier.

I bought into the concept that I must create a meaningful company mission statement that addresses financial goals, and a statement of core values that reflects how we want to behave toward staff, clients, and vendors. These statements remain the guiding light for how our company does business and goes to market.

Overhauling Systems

The creation of corporate vision, values, and beliefs documents — what you want your company to be — must come from your soul. We began by looking at all of our systems. We set out to improve and refine everything. We wanted more effectiveness and better efficiency.

Marketing. We decreased our number of telemarketers from 60 to eight and reinvested marketing dollars in print media, Internet marketing, Web development, and show marketing. We received fewer leads, but lead quality doubled.

Sales. We began to target a more financially qualified prospect, which required us to upgrade the sales team. To accomplish this, we stopped hiring independent contractors and built a terrific salaried sales team. Their income package includes benefits and various performance incentives.

Training. We enhanced our training so that representatives would be more qualified to work with upscale customers interested in a high-quality sunroom installation. (We focused mainly on the sunroom product because there is more to do in a sunroom installation than in a window or a siding installation.) Our sales team has prospered, turnover is practically nonexistent, and our business has grown significantly.

Financing. In a tough economy, a company has to go the extra step to find reliable financing partners. Our ability to finance customers’ projects is a strong competitive advantage and a great way to offer exceptional customer service.

Production. We ensure success in several ways: by having the finest sunroom product; only working with licensed contractors; obtaining all appropriate permits; and communicating with our customers throughout their projects. Actually, we stay in touch forever!

As we overhauled systems, we wrote our procedures into a production manual. Our core values statement is posted in most of our offices. We try to use it as an overall guide.

There are always challenges in the remodeling business: product shortages, lack of qualified contractors, the economy. But, if you have the right product, know how and to whom to sell it, have a strong vision of what you want your company to look like, and you do the work to implement your vision, you will succeed, despite the challenges.

In 2007, we won 18 “Best of …” awards, including “Best Contractor” and “Best Sunroom Company” in a number of our local community newspapers. With all systems now in place, I believe that we will continue to grow and provide quality products to people who appreciate a job done well.

—Bob Foreman is president and CEO of Energy Saving Exteriors in Virginia Beach, Va. In 2007, Joyce Manufacturing Inc. named Foreman and ESE National Sunroom Dealer of the Year.