Go Get It

by bkrigbaum@solagroup.com

SAN DIEGO — Torrential rain pounded the sides of Qualcomm Stadium, home of the San Diego Chargers and the Aztecs of the University of San Diego, and yet scores of remodelers, architects and builders braved the rain to attend the Pro Expo. The event is one of 30 hosted by Pella Corporation that will be held in NFL stadiums and other major ballparks and arenas around the country this spring. Even to me, a guy from Chicago who had escaped heavy snow to attend, the weather seemed bad. So I was impressed not only by the numbers but by the sense of commitment of this group to learn and do more to improve their businesses.

In a breakout session, I offered ideas to boost marketing effectiveness in 2010. My impression from the group of about two dozen was that marketing had been an afterthought for a long time, and they were now beginning to roll up their sleeves and tackle this topic.

This is telling.

A few years ago most of the people in this room were focused on anything but marketing. The remodeling market was cooking. Referrals and repeat business more than kept the home fires burning. Why market when the business comes to you? Today, more than ever, remodelers need to market. The phone will not ring on its own.

In preparation for this presentation and others that we will be giving this spring, we conducted a survey of our readers asking about the kinds of marketing that are working best right now. First question: Does your remodeling firm have a Web site? Seventy-one percent said yes. This is good, right? Not really. That leaves about 30 percent of you who have yet to put up a Web site. One recent study of homeowners said that fully 83 percent of them go to the Web to find or research which remodeler or home improvement contractor to hire. It is very hard to be found by those 83 percent of homeowners searching the Web, when you do not have a Web site. But you know this.

A good friend to this magazine, to the home improvement industry and to me, Todd Whitworth, CEO of Window World Inc., passed away in February. In 1995, at the height of the go-go days of remodeling when most firms were not focused on marketing, Todd and his father Leon were busy inventing a new replacement-window business model. It is a model that can easily be described as transformative. Over each of the past two years, Window World dealers sold and installed 1 million new windows annually.

Last year, in the depths of the financial crisis, when I visited Window World at their offices in North Wilksboro, N.C., Todd was beaming. He and the rest of the Window World team had made the right decisions well in advance of the recession. They had built a business that marketed well and drove new sales leads. Mr. Whitworth, who was only 40 when he passed away, had accomplished so much in a very short time. But aside from the great personal loss for those who knew him, his is a great example for others to follow. I know that Window World will carry on that tradition of marketing innovation. My hope is that many others in the industry will do so as well.

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