There is an old saying that if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. Similarly, in the remodeling industry, if you don’t know what your business focus is, any client will do. In today’s marketplace, where finding remodeling jobs can be a struggle, accepting clients you avoided in the past may be a necessary evil. However, a group of remodeling contractors in Cincinnati stresses the importance of staying true to your business and yourself.
Qualified Remodeler had the opportunity to talk to Paul Bauscher, president of Bauscher Construction and a member of the Ohio Valley NARI chapter board of directors; Andrew Glasgow, CR, vice president of H. Glasgow Construction and president of the Ohio Valley NARI chapter; Neal Hendy, MCR, GCP, president of Neal’s Design-Remodel; and Steve Zimmer, CR, president of Remodel Cincinnati, to learn how they know when to walk away from a potential job.
The Phone Call
Zimmer: We have a general approach when clients call in to qualify them. Like everyone else, I don’t want to drive out and look at something I have absolutely no chance of turning into a project. I start probing to find out whether there is something they’re willing to do within their budget that I can turn into a job. There is a certain script, but I don’t stick to it very well. I know the information I want to get, and everybody you talk to is going to be a little different. Ultimately, I think we need to adjust for each individual call.
I just had a guy call whom I determined pretty quickly was not somebody I wanted to fool with. Part of it was the part of town he was coming from and part was the list of stuff he had: fix a railing and garage door, install new kitchen cabinets. When I probed, I found out he’s going through a divorce and has to be in court next week with an estimate to put the house in sellable condition so he and his wife can settle on it. He has dragged his feet and now he wants somebody to race in and give him an estimate he can take to court. He really isn’t interested in getting the job done. Although everybody offers free estimates, it would’ve taken me all day to work out the numbers and then write something he could take to court. I told him the reality of it is it probably won’t turn into a job for me so I can’t work for him for an entire day for nothing. In the end, he said he understood.
Hendy: I commend you on that, Steve, because I think all of us try to ask the open-ended questions to make sure we know as best we can—without offending a client—what he or she is looking for. Essentially, we’re saying, “Help me qualify you as you’re qualifying me.” You got to the crux of the matter that probably a lot of people with less experience wouldn’t have gotten.
Zimmer: Even though I don’t have a lot of money coming in the door, I’ve gotten really tired of working for nothing. I’ve come to the point where I feel I’m allowed to tell someone that to do a good estimate with a valid number I’m going to invest this many hours so I want to be sure he is a viable client. Some people don’t take that well; others say they completely understand. For those who don’t take it well, I figure those are the ones I probably wasn’t going to get along with well anyway.
The Budget Numbers
Bauscher: The conversation has to be crafted to get you to that budget question eventually. I have conversations with people they think have nothing to do with their project. I learn things like what kind of car they drive; I don’t just ask, but there are ways to find out in the conversation. You must craft the conversation in a way that helps them understand why you need their budget to help them. Remember, their defenses are always up. They’re thinking, “If I tell you I can spend $50,000, you’re going to make the bid $49,000.” What they need to understand is I really can’t help them until I know what they want to spend and what they want to accomplish.