As I’ve traveled the country visiting numerous kitchen and bath professionals, I’ve become keenly aware of how many companies have been forced to close their doors over the past few years. In many cases, these are companies that have been in business for many years, and some with impeccable reputations.
I was recently on the East Coast at some NKBA chapter meetings where we talked about marketing ideas and selling strategies. As we discussed these topics, I wondered if the employees and the company owners were fully aware of how their businesses are really doing in today’s economy.
I’ve listened to salespeople say they’re getting less commission than in years’ past, but at least they have a job. I’ve heard many claim that they are working less than before the crunch, because customers are more likely to be dreaming than actually buying. I’ve heard others say that if a better job came around tomorrow, they would leave their company in a heartbeat because they’re not confident that things will get better any time soon.
So my question is, do you really know what’s going on in your business?
Have you taken the time to talk with your co-workers and/or employees to see what’s on their mind? Have you looked at other ways to increase traffic flow into your place of business? Have you taken the pulse of your business to see how you can get through this slump in sales and bring in bigger and better projects going forward?
We’ve all felt the downturn over the past 24 months, and we know we must make changes in order to get through this. But generalities aside, do you really take the time to evaluate what you do and how you do it to get the most out of what you have?
This month, we’ll explore how we can better understand what’s going on in our businesses.
First of all, if you’re not the front line person – the one who’s talking to the customers who walk in your doors – then you probably aren’t getting the whole picture of where your business is.
If your front line people are not aware what your company is willing to do to generate business, then you may be losing sales opportunities daily.
As an example of this, a few months ago I was visiting a showroom and we were discussing how the business had changed. The owner said that today they were willing to do jobs that they never would have considered just a few years ago. He mentioned a recent customer who wanted some work done in the garage, including the installation of some cabinets and work counters. The owner sold the project for $18,500. While the cabinets and the counters were a small part of the project, he generated income and sold some products. A salesperson who was standing by said, “I thought we only did work in the home, like the kitchen and the bath.”
The owner just looked at him and said, “Today we will do anything to keep the doors open.”
The lesson here is that if you’re willing to do projects like this, be sure your whole staff knows about it. And make sure your customers know about it as well.
Do you realize how many customers you’ve done kitchens and baths for over the past five or 10 years? Do you think that they might be interested in doing other projects around the house? If they don’t know you’re capable of and willing to do other types of work, they probably are not going to call you to get a bid.
Customer service is also critical in tough times. For many years, we’ve used a survey form to get feedback from our customers concerning how everything went with the project. We’ve found that by doing this, most clients are willing to share the good and the bad. But if you don’t get this information, how are you going to be aware of what’s going on in your business?
Now the question is, what do you do with the information once you have it? I really believe that this feedback should be acknowledged by the owner to the customer. Thank them for the information and ask more questions if necessary. You may be surprised what information you will get from talking to the customer after a project is completed: things like attitude, tardiness, lack of clean up or follow through from someone who represents you in the field or in the showroom.
A number of years ago I had a call from a vendor of ours letting me know that a customer had asked for a referral to another dealer because she was not happy with how she was treated by my salesperson. I found the name of the customer and called her. She told me that the salesperson she’d dealt with was always late, did not have the information that was promised when they got together and seemed not to really care about her or the project.
I asked her why she didn’t contact me and let me know about the situation, and she said, “You never invited me to.”
Because of that, we developed a letter that I send out to our clients asking them to let me know if there is anything they are not happy with concerning the project. From the very beginning stages, I want our customers to know they have someone to call to help make a situation right if need be. In the letter, I include both my home and cell phone numbers.
This is one way I can keep the pulse of my business and know what is happening. It also allows me a means to correct a problem situation. By the way, we did not get that customer back; they bought elsewhere. I did, however, find out something that I was not aware of and that was worth a lot.
There are many other areas where you can track the pulse of your business, things like having the owner sign all of the checks, having all the orders checked to make sure the pricing is accurate, or holding weekly meetings with all active personnel.
Some of the topics that should be discussed include the types of leads that are coming in, how to turn those leads into sales, and what the company’s policy is concerning the type of work the firm is or is not willing to do.
Of course, the most important thing you can do to keep a pulse on your business is to talk with the customers. And make sure you’re doing everything right the first time so you don’t either lose customers or lose profits. Ask lots of questions, and ask for referrals. Today, more than ever, you must be on top of your business.