For Atlanta’s Exovations, Success Has Been Anything But Accidental
authors Patrick O'Toole | October 28, 2015
To call Roone Unger and Bitsy Lee “customer-focused” is, perhaps, an understatement. The two have built their Atlanta-based exterior-renovation company, Exovations, from the ground up, based on a laser-like attention to customer relationships – and that effort has paid off. They made yet another appearance on QR’s Top 500 list this year (for the 10th year in a row), and online customer reviews repeatedly stress the company’s professionalism, courteousness and promptness.
Planning for success
Exovation’s popularity with its customers is no accident – it was planned from the company’s earliest days, when Unger developed a customer-relationship management (CRM) program as the company transitioned from a siding subcontractor for production home builders to a direct-to-consumer exterior-remodeling firm. Unger’s process isn’t a secret, and you can see it for yourself on the Exovations website. Instead the company’s “secret sauce” is its dedication to that process and its customers with each and every project.
“I’m just kind of a systems guy,” Unger says, describing how the company’s seven-step CRM approach came to be. He began by considering homeowners’ most common contractor complaints – such problems as starting late, leaving early, and abandoning jobsites for days at a time – and how to address them. Even more ambitious was the goal to eliminate any upfront-payment requirements, beyond deposits for custom-ordered materials. This potential cash-flow challenge required a steady project pipeline.
“We had to develop a system that could make that happen,” Unger says. The foundation of that system is a schedule that’s developed – and followed – once a contract is signed. Homeowners are given a final walk-through appointment with their initial, written project schedule, and daily project-manager updates let customers know what to expect for the length of the job. “Until it’s done, we have somebody there every day.”
Now, maintaining adherence to aggressive and detailed project schedules requires more than the company’s own dedication. Suppliers, for example, have to commit to getting materials to jobsites at specific days and times. Similar commitments are required from subcontractors and other onsite workers, though these team members have seen advantages in knowing when and where there next job is coming from.
“Our crews bought into it and our contractors bought into it,” Unger says. “They know what’s coming from us weeks ahead of time.”
To keep the Exovation’s pipeline flowing, Unger and Lee have been active online marketers almost since the company’s founding. “We started years ago developing our Internet marketing, which is SEO, pay-for-click and very targeted social media,” Unger says, throwing out the common jargon for keyword-based search-engine optimization and payments to search engines for high placement in any user searches that include those keywords. “We’ve been doing it seven or eight years, knowing Google would be our biggest lead source, and it is.”
Of course, developing a successful exterior-remodeling business requires more than marketing – it also depends on knowing the local market and the cladding challenges its homeowners likely face. In the Atlanta area, Unger says, stucco, cedar and hardboard siding are the most prevalent targets for replacement. All popular during the area’s expansion in the 1970s and 1980s, the materials now are showing their age.
Recognizing that it can be difficult for some potential clients to visualize just how much an exterior facelift can add to their home’s curb appeal, Exovations offers several modeling options, drawing on the services of the company’s own in-house architectural designer. Ranging from partial sketches to full 3D models, these illustrations require an upfront payment that can be credited against project costs if prospective customers opt to have Exovations do the work.
Finding the right product partners
As one of the Atlanta area’s leading remodelers, Exovations is often asked to evaluate new products for possible inclusion in the company’s extensive lineup of exterior materials. Unger says he takes a cautious approach to such decisions.
“We sell our reputation as well as the product’s reputation,” he says, citing issues raised when a major window supplier went under during the recent recession as an example of just how important manufacturer selection can be to their own customer-satisfaction ratings. Exovations was challenged when forced to inform customers that window warrantees couldn’t be honored because the manufacturer had gone out of business. As Unger notes, “It was a good reminder.”
One manufacturer Unger is pleased to represent is James Hardie Building Products. His company offers James Hardie’s full line of plank and shingle siding, along with accompanying trim and accent pieces. “Having a masonry product that looks like wood on your home has a lot of advantages,” he says, including insect and fire resistance, and even potential home-insurance benefits.
“We’re a good fit together and we couldn’t be happier that we’re a part of their Contractor Alliance Program and selling their product,” Unger says of the relationship Exovations has developed with James Hardie Building Products. In fact, the company has put time and effort into becoming one of the manufacturer’s Elite Preferred Remodelers, which requires both upfront training and audits to ensure contractors consistently deliver high-quality service and installation.
“People understand that, especially in construction, you need to have the manufacturer’s backing,” he says, explaining the significance of the Elite Preferred recognition to Exovations’ marketing efforts. When customers see the Elite Preferred logo displayed prominently on his company’s website, Unger says, they can trust his company, “understands what needs to be done to install the product properly.”