“Throw out some big numbers!” What to expect when you call a remodeler;

Nov 14, 2023

I recently read an article by the editor of a large remodeling magazine. She had been wanting to add a room addition to her home for quite some time, so she shared the overwhelming process of getting bids from a few contractors. Now this was someone in the industry – and very knowledgeable – but she ended up putting the project on hold, mainly because of the wide array of estimates and information she received during the process. Having been behind the scenes of this process for most of my life, this story made me wish I could have helped, because I knew exactly what she was going through.

I’m not much of a salesperson, but I am an expert. What I try to do is offer advice as if you were one of my close relatives, and if you heed that advice and move forward, then fine. But if you don’t? Also, fine. I spend the same amount of time with the $20,000 project – initially – as I do the $200,000 project. This philosophy doesn’t get you any “salesmanship” awards, but it’s all I got. Having said that, I sold three million in projects last year as an independent consultant for the various contractors where I place my projects. Having the consumer forefront in my mind, allows me to put people with the contractor that fits them best, and that – to me – is more important that the salesman-of-the-year award. So, when the aforementioned editor shared all the different approaches and processes to which she was exposed, I certainly sympathized, and recognized one predominant sales tactic in particular that makes me cringe… “just make sure you throw out some big numbers on your first visit to the homeowner!” And this reminded me of a story…

When the remodeling business I worked for was sold to a nationwide company – a business which I had started up in my garage – I found myself looking for something to do and decided that after umpteen years, I didn’t have to be the “boss” anymore. I could just find an established remodeler in the area and be a sales consultant. So that’s what I did.

After I started at this new position, I remember all the sales advice I received from the sales manager and from many others over the years, and of course, I decided to ignore everything and just do what I’d always done; be the expert, treat prospective clients like they’re family, and let the chips fall where they may. I might sink or I might swim, but that’s all I could do.

After eight months of calling on remodeling clients I hit a million in sales, which for a design/build firm, was pretty good. (Design/build is a very slow process.) On the exact day that I hit one million, and I expected a small statue to be erected in my honor, the company announced that a fellow salesperson just sold a 2.3-million-dollar project… one sale. It took me around 27 sales to get to a million. To make matters worse – in my mind anyway – my “close rate” was around 35%… and his was 10%.

He was a much better salesperson than me. He knew that it was a much more efficient and prosperous sales approach to have a process where you could find out – not just if they’re buyers – but if they’re on board to buy at your price point. He didn’t care about his close rate, he was looking for a certain individual… and he found one!

There are many sales processes, and having someone out to your home to review a project is like rolling the dice. If I could have talked to the editor ahead of time, I’d have given her this advice;

1. Make sure you’re heard. Are they listening to your wants and needs – or – are they telling you what they have to offer? Even if their product is trying to get a square peg in a round hole, are they still offering it as a solution?

2. How much work are they willing to do before you write them a check? Are they paying attention to enough details to adequately price out your project? Have they measured anything? Have they looked at your breaker box? My fellow 2.3-million-in-one-sale salesperson would sign a design agreement with a monkey if he could, but he’s not going to spend ten minutes estimating or working to give a real number for your project. He’s going to throw out big numbers and if you don’t “throw him out of your home”, he’s golden.

3. Don’t just hire the largest company. As long as they have enough staffing to keep the job going even if the owner is incapacitated, they’re big enough. In my opinion, that’s the only precursor to hiring a business instead of an individual in this industry.

4. Don’t just ask for references, ask to go by a jobsite they’re on right this moment. When I’m vetting a subcontractor, I ask where they’re working and can I stop by right now. You find out a lot about a remodeling company by looking at their jobsite.

5. Request a reference from a homeowner they’ve completed in the past month or two.

6. Of the estimates you received, were they written well? Were they detailed? Did they list categories of expenses for your project? The only way you can legitimately estimate a project – at least it’s the only way I can – is to pull out a master spreadsheet with every single aspect of expense for a remodeling project. I do this every time for every client, and it takes at least a couple of hours. But it’s necessary. And this is only an estimate! The real work comes later. This first price is absolutely critical in the process, and I take it very seriously. And for this reason, I am not going to be the cheapest, because I didn’t forget anything, and I listened to your wants and needs. Expect no less.

7. Finally, is their price the real price or is it subject to change order after change order. What is the average percentage of their total sales that are made up of change orders. Even though change orders are part of doing business in remodeling, if item #6 above is done haphazardly, expect many change orders, totaling many dollars.

If you have a project, and would like some help, please don’t hesitate to contact me – it’s what I do!

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