QR: How did you get into the home improvement business?
TH: I started by knocking on doors for Ohio Energy, which is now Improve-It Home Remodeling. It was a part-time job. I was a student at Ohio State. It was intended to be beer money initially. I got sucked in because I really loved the face-to-face interaction with consumers. It was fast-paced and challenging, and after about a year of canvassing pretty effectively, they asked me to go into sales. I started selling in the home for about a year. Then there was a need to take over the canvassing program because the manager of the program had left the company, so I managed the canvassing program for a few years in Columbus, Ohio.
During that time there were periods where, because of bad weather, we would work the telephone. We would participate in trade shows and events, and we even used the canvassing team to staff big-box stores. But I had a lot of experience in various capacities for the home improvement and remodeling industries, from lead generation and canvassing; to shows, events and retail stores; to confirming and rescheduling calls; and then selling in the home. So I had a pretty good background on the front end of the business.
QR: You eventually owned your own company, Consolidated Builders, and grew it. But when did you get into consulting?
TH: While I was operating that business, a number of other company owners would come and visit us because we had a very effective canvassing program and grew the business very quickly. I was getting a lot of phone inquiries because of the Do Not Call list—that was a big factor in my consulting practice taking a big leap. There were a lot of successful remodelers who knew they were going to have to make a change, so they started reaching out to new people, ramping up shows and events, and going door-to-door. When I got to know a lot of contractors who had reached out over the phone and come visit, they would ask me to come visit their organization. They wanted to get a canvassing organization going because they knew big changes were coming down the line.
QR: What types of consulting services do you offer?
TH: It is still heavily focused on lead generation. The shift has gone from the more tactical, technique-driven and transactional to a more strategic approach. We talk about all the best practices you want to employ in order to have success developing a new program for your business or revamping an existing program that is not working well. So the shift initially was to get individuals to work better at their task-oriented positions.
A good example of that would be on the trade-show side of things—helping companies drive traffic to their booths, as opposed to answering what to do after somebody is already there. We have done things like handing out keys at the entrance to a home show. People can take that key to your booth and test if it opens a treasure chest. Perhaps the treasure chest has a $1,000 gift card to Bed, Bath & Beyond, Ace Hardware or something home-related. The idea is to use strategy to drive people to your trade show booth, so you are not having to pursue them as much as attract them.
QR: We had a downturn in the economy from 2008 to 2010. Are you seeing a change in the business?
TH: The industry is always changing—that’s the fascinating thing. That’s what keeps people so riveted by this business. When I first got into the business, one of the big changes was the Do Not Call list; then there were changes to lending laws. Tax credits came in, and the stimulus plan really helped a lot of companies that were energy-focused. Then those tax credits went away, and lead-paint laws came in and changed some things. So there is constant change going on. Reputation management has become a huge factor in this day and age, where it had never been a huge factor in the past. There are always new things that business owners are facing and asking us about. But at the end of the day, leads are the name of the game.
The companies that have the leads make the rules. You mentioned 2008 and the downturn. That was the second major event that helped me move my consulting practice to another level. At that point, people realized the economy had taken a turn for the worse, and the phone was not ringing anymore; if the phone is not ringing anymore, what are we going to do in a more proactive manner to go out and manufacture leads? That’s when people kind of reverted back to the basics: canvassing, home shows, events and calling campaigns.
QR: Are you seeing the business change in other ways, too? A little more professional perhaps?
TH: Big time. That focus on reputation management is forcing businesses to operate with the utmost integrity, even beyond integrity. Even in those cases where you are not wrong, you see businesses grinning and bearing it. You are buying gift cards and providing them to homeowners proactively before they might complain, as opposed to reactively after they have complained. We know our target client, millennials, go straight to the internet to read reviews and things of that nature, so the internet has been a huge factor in improving the overall integrity of the industry, which I think is great.
QR: Do you see anything new coming into view over the next couple of years that remodelers and home improvement companies need to be aware of?
TH: Recruiting top talent has always been a challenge, and is something people contact me about on a daily basis when they are trying to grow and take their businesses to the next level. It is always difficult to find good people and to find people with the skills necessary to lead this type of business. There is really only so much good talent out there, so finding ways to attract and retain it is something I don’t think will ever go away.
QR: We’ve seen a lot of companies come up and grow quickly, like Power Home Remodeling, Universal Windows Direct, Bath Fitter, LeafFilter, etc. My question is this: These organizations in the past tended to be driven by individuals and, as soon as that person or team moves on, the business changes a little bit. Are we moving past that point where now there are more professional management transitions in the business?
TH: Yes, I do see a trend toward companies that are more professional, have layers of management, and are system- and culture-oriented. As a result of building systems and cultures, owners are able to move on or even step back and have the business still run effectively. I think that’s a trend that has certainly been notable in recent years, particularly with some of these businesses mentioned.
QR: When did you first know the home improvement business was a business you enjoyed?
TH: It started out with lot of positive affirmation. There were a lot of high-fives and pats on the back. There was a lot of encouragement, and that really got me hooked. It’s been said many times that ego is the name of the game, and money is just the scorecard. I was certainly attracted to the position because of positive affirmations, and I saw an opportunity for increased compensation based on productivity, which was really appealing to me because I knew a lot of other positions have a stagnant salary or periodic reviews, and that was not nearly as appealing as having the ability to control your paycheck. The whole idea of the process—from the point of generating a lead through to closing a sale and seeing the work be processed, ordered and installed—is a fascinating chain. And it all starts with the lead. None of these people—the administrators, the installers, the service techs—have jobs if the lead is not first generated. Being a part of that is gratifying to me.
QR: What would be your advice to young people just starting out in the home improvement business?
TH: I would tell them that sometimes fast is slow and slow is sometimes fast. As eager as we may be to grow the business, doing it foundationally and in a way that is conducive to long-term growth and long-term reputation has to be foremost. You cannot compromise that. Young bucks tend to be very aggressive and very monetarily focused. Once you’ve had some success building a business, then your focus shifts to creating opportunity for others and creating a legacy. My objective would be to try to share that insight with them about building a good culture and building solid systems; the rest will come.
QR: Would you say that lead-gen is your No. 1 area of expertise?
TH: I would say lead-generation tactics and strategy are my No. 1 area of expertise. I think recruiting would be a close second. It all starts with leadership—if you don’t have the right person to run that canvassing program, trade-show program or whatever it might be, then we have to go out and get that person. That program will hinge around the individual in charge of that department. Their results will be a direct reflection on how well that leader does their job. | QR