Selling To The Homeowner

Growing a concrete business is not easy these days. The competition is stiffer, margins are shrinking, and more and more contractors are jumping into the business, especially the decorative segment.

An oft-overlooked business opportunity is selling directly to homeowners. Whether it's a decorative project or a simple walkway, homeowners can represent a lucrative market that smart contractors can use to get a leg up on the competition.

Here are a dozen suggestions that will increase the number of prospects you get and help improve your closing ratio of prospect-to-profitable new projects:

Do good work

First of all, no amount of advertising will help you if you do poor quality work! And your best salesperson will always be a satisfied customer, creating word-of-mouth advertising. So in addition to the overall quality of your work itself, think of the little things (often free) that will help make a big impression … like spending the last 15 minutes of every day cleaning up the jobsite, or wearing booties when inside anyone's home or business.

Uniforms for all your workers

As dirty as you'll likely get on many jobsites, whenever possible have every one of your workers in a professional-looking uniform. Even if your "uniform" is a T-shirt and jeans, bright colors for all your staff will set you apart from other trades on every jobsite.

Signs of the times

Make sure your truck(s) have your name, phone number and website address clearly visible on both sides and the back. (And for heavens' sake, keep your truck clean!) Additionally, have several wire-framed, lightweight weatherproof signs made up to place street side (with permission) on every job you're working on. Your local sign maker can handle both of these very reasonably, even creating logos or other artwork for you if needed. One word of caution – make the lettering very easy to read from a distance.

Do well by doing good

Scouts, school bands and kids' ball teams are always in need of fund-raising activities. Contact the adult leaders in your area and suggest donating a modest fee for distributing your fliers or door hangers plus a bonus (maybe $100 or so) for every lead from their fliers that turns into a new job for you. (Local school officials should be helpful in getting contact information.) Don't forget to offer special discounts to the parents of the organization doing your legwork.

The more you know ...

This is a rapidly growing, dynamic business. So much is happening with product development and techniques that you're really missing the boat if you don't make every attempt to learn. Check with your distributors to see if they offer classes or know of nearby seminars being offered by product manufacturers. In addition to what you'll learn from the content of the seminar itself, you'll also have a valuable opportunity to mix with other contractors and pick up some insight and pointers.

Look for ad bargains

You don't have to spend a ton on advertising, but you must make a commitment to always be easy to find when prospective customers are looking for you - or they'll find your competitor instead. That means at least a basic listing in the Yellow Pages directories. (There are probably three or more in your area.) Also, check out the smaller local newspapers in your market area and get rates for regularly appearing with a small space display or classified ad. The cost to run each ad typically goes down the higher your frequency. Make an initial commitment for at least 13 weeks and track the source of your leads by asking callers how they found you.

Ask your local car wash, real estate agents and other businesses in your area if you can place a supply of your business cards and/or fliers for their customers. In a few months you should be able to get a good sense of where your advertising dollars and efforts are paying off.

Be easy to find

In today's world, that means being on the Internet. There are several ways to accomplish this with only a modest investment of time and almost no computer knowledge. Your website address should appear on all your fliers, ads and jobsite signs. With your website up and running, make sure prospective customers can easily find your e-mail and phone contact information. Include a cell phone number if your office phone is not always answered during normal business hours.

Once you have a website where people can learn more about your business, a logical next step is to help generate additional traffic to your site through the use of paid search listings on the Internet. Even if you're not a techie, in less than an hour you can begin to generate new visitors to your website by registering the "keywords" that people would likely use to search for a contractor. By far the largest search engine around is Google, and setting up an account for their "AdWords" is really quite simple. All you need is Internet access. Type in Google.com/ads, and in a few minutes you'll be attracting people from your market area looking for someone just like you … and everything to make that happen is in plain English!

A professional presentation

If your marketing efforts are working, you'll have plenty of opportunities to sell your services. But this is a whole new area for most people, so you need to learn what your potential clients know ... and then ask questions to truly understand what they're specifically looking for with this project to provide them with the information they need to make a well-informed decision.

A well-scripted presentation can go a long way to help the learning process. Ask yourself "If I were a customer, what would I want to see from the contractor(s) giving me an estimate?" Then make a list and begin to compile the materials you need.

Use a flip chart presentation that includes big photos of projects you've completed, certificates from training seminars you've attended and your other professional credentials, letters from satisfied customers and a description of the process you go through when working on their property.

Develop a presentation binder for every type of specialty you work with … and bring every binder with you when you meet for the first time. For example, if you do acid staining, concrete repair with stampable overlays, stamped concrete and so forth, create a presentation that covers everything you'd like to show – and say – about your abilities in each of these areas. All this helps set the stage for upstaging lower-cost and less-prepared competitors.

Your nearby office supply store has the presentation binders, but you'll need to fill them with compelling information, so utilize your suppliers for help. For example, small trifold brochures from manufacturers showing the different products you have access to can be a great way to help educate a client at a first meeting. Then when you have reached a point where you want to make a recommendation, you can provide more information dedicated to that product or system by using the manufacturer's professionally developed brochures, color charts and the like.

Local home shows

Most major markets and even many smaller towns have home décor and builders' shows designed to attract homeowners. This can be a great way for you to reach hundreds of potential customers who were previously unaware of the potential of concrete. Have inexpensive fliers prepared offering a limited-time "Show Special." If your response is good from the show, you may want to look into other similar events where lots of people can learn about you.

Connect with local professionals

You may be one of the featured specialty contractors providing work on one of the "Parade of Homes" usually sponsored by the local newspaper or home builders association. But an even better opportunity for long-term business is to get to know the local new home builders in your area and every real estate sales office in your market area. These folks are the first to know who is selling or buying a home or business … an ideal time to consider "sprucing up the joint!"

Thank your customers

Most contractors never have any contact with their customers after the job is finished. That's missing a big opportunity. Each month, take a few minutes to send a short handwritten note thanking every one of that month's customers for the opportunity to work for them.

An extra special touch is to include a snapshot of the project (with your contact information on the back), letting them know you're proud of the work you do and hope they are satisfied. And because you do great work, they'll have a ready-made sales tool to show to others!

Barter your services

Consider trading your services with others that could help spread word of your business. Stain the floor of your barbershop in return for a life of free haircuts for your family. Use other local businesses as de facto showrooms for your skills by negotiating reduced rate or free projects in exchange for a small display about your business.

Angie Tittle is marketing coordinator for Superior Decorative Concrete Systems in Kansas City, Kan., a division of Dayton Superior. Bill Kimball is managing partner of Group 365, a Chicago-based ad agency specializing in construction marketing. For more information, contact Angie Tittle at (877) 416-3439, ext. 224.

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