It’s been said the more things change, the more they stay the same. Remodeling without a doubt has changed in response to economic conditions during recent years, and no one knows when or if it will return to its former state — or even if it should.
Yet, remodelers, at first glance, seem not to have changed a lot. They still rely to a surprising degree on word-of-mouth marketing and on a reputation based on quality work, according to a recent survey conducted by Qualified Remodeler.
But while word-of-mouth may still be king, that venerable marketing tool is not what it once was. Where word-of-mouth marketing used to take place between, say, past clients and potential clients, remodelers today are less shy about joining in that conversation or even starting it. That may be where the real difference lies.
Word-of-mouth used to mean passively waiting for the phone to ring. Now it means making the phone ring. Remodelers keep their names in front of past and potential clients in any way they can, from old-fashioned postal mail to e-mail. Their brochures today are increasingly likely to be digital online documents rather than ink on paper, but while the medium may be different, the intent is the same: Create an identity and make sure existing customers remember it and new ones are introduced to it.
Taking traditional brochures to another level, Web sites and social media are high on the list of things remodelers are doing to market their businesses. Old or new media, however, is secondary to doing more of whatever works and doing it more enthusiastically and consistently than ever before.
With that in mind, our survey didn’t set out to quantify how many remodelers have Facebook accounts or how many still prefer direct mail. Instead, we asked what was most effective for them. Following is a compilation of their responses.
1 Host a home improvement show. Opportunities are often available on local radio or TV. It boosts name recognition, keeps your name in front of potential and past clients and helps establish you as an expert in the industry.
2 Target specific demographic groups. One reader has launched “Operation Geritol,” which includes mailings to retirement communities and ad placement in local “mature living” publications. One of the most effective has been a tiny ad in the newspaper’s obituary section, he says.
3 E-mail newsletter. Many remodelers do this, but one respondent notes that he sends out his e-mail newsletter every two weeks — not just when he gets around to it. Consistency and frequency are keys to success.
4 Not your father’s Web site. Web sites are de rigueur but today they must be more than just a digital place to post your print brochure. The goal should be to drive the maximum number of qualified leads back to your site and capture demographic information. Link everything together: Outbound (e-mail, webcasts, etc.) with social network activities, referral service initiatives and your updated Web site. Each must refer to the other to gain maximum synergy.
5 Search engine optimization (SEO). That’s what’s under the hood of your Web site — embedded key words that speak directly to the search engines that steer the bulk of all Web traffic. These key words play a huge role in how high your company appears in results that your clients seek. Professional assistance is suggested.
6 Social networking. Often referred to as Web 2.0, this includes applications like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and many others. The goal is to expand your brand and drive traffic to your Web site. Best of all, they’re free.
7 Creative inserts in local newspapers. Direct mail and holiday cards are among the ways one respondent keeps in touch with potential clients. All cards are designed in house.
8 Word-of-mouth. It may be old-school, but many respondents insist that word-of-mouth is still the best way to market their businesses. The lesson is: Don’t look for new ways to market for the sake of doing something new; sometimes what works is right in front of you.
9 Network, network, network. While word-of-mouth marketing is fine, sometimes it needs a little push to get it started. Networking may be another old-school tactic, but it’s a proven method, even if results are hard to quantify. Network with the obvious industry professionals but also develop contacts with the local media, bankers, realtors and local officials.
10 Company vehicles and signage. Creating a strong visual impression was cited by a surprising number of respondents as an important marketing tool. Keep your vehicles clean with large creative signage, says one remodeler. Trucks and jobsite signs are his third most effective lead generator after word of mouth and a Web site, says another.
11 Talking house jobsite messaging. This is a variation on tried-and-true jobsite signs. The method uses a low-power AM radio transmitter to broadcast prerecorded messages to cars that stop at the jobsite.
12 Home shows. Home improvement expos are an obvious way for remodelers to meet and talk to homeowners who are considering home improvement work. One respondent says that the majority of his work comes from home shows. “We believe in face-to-face marketing,” says another. Make sure you have an easy way to capture prospect information, and promptly follow up on leads.
13 Nontraditional media. One remodeler’s mix of media included a hot-air balloon with his logo on it and CD business cards. Try something different to grab homeowners’ attention.
14 Gift baskets and “snack towers.” Again, this is not a new idea, but one remodeler sends food gifts to the client’s place of business so that co-workers, employees and customers will ask about it. The answer is sure to include the name of the remodeler who sent it and a conversation about the project he’s doing for the recipient.
15 In-house media staff. One respondent lists among his marketing initiatives a Web site, newspaper articles and TV shows facilitated by an in-house multimedia staff.
16 Relationship marketing. This is the core of one remodeler’s marketing plan that relies on seeking referrals and repeat client business. He stays in touch with former clients with direct calls, handwritten postcards, e-newsletters and community involvement.
17 Consistent advertising. Advertising in a local newspaper has greatly increased his business, one respondent says. The key here is consistency. The ad is simple, with a signature green border and a promise to beat home center prices.
18 Radio. Radio is his best marketing tool, says one respondent, other than referral and the Internet.
19 Give something free. One respondent reports donating services for charity at a silent auction, with brochures, business cards and Web site information available at the sign-up table.
20 Event-based marketing platforms to drive business. More than one remodeler mentioned cooking classes, and one reported a substantial increase in traffic to his showroom as a result.
21 Logo-dressed, stylish employees. Make sure they have business cards and IDs to create a lasting image and help market your remodeling business, one respondent says.
22 Press releases to local media. Announce new professional certifications of team members, awards and other recognitions. “Recently our business was featured in a free weekly advertiser, and we were amazed at how many people mentioned without prompting they had seen the feature,” one remodeler reports.
23 High-end jobsite signs. The intent is to create a positive professional impression, and it’s not an area where you should skimp. It’s part of the visual graphic image package that many respondents cite as a crucial marketing element.
24 Belly-to-belly marketing. This is the term some remodelers use to describe marketing that is personal and face-to-face. Many contend it is a very effective way to reach new prospects.
25 Local professional directories. Getting listed in local directories such as those published by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and others, is effective for some remodelers. National directories, by contrast, generally are not as effective.
26 Existing client base. Not all old marketing ideas are passé. “We spend nearly 70 percent of our marketing budget on our existing client base in some fashion,” reports one respondent.
27 Referrals. They continue to produce results for one remodeler, who says that while potential customers may check him out on the Web, they still find him the old-fashioned way.
28 Free handyman services. Offer services in return for referrals instead of cash, gifts or vouchers. This gives customers a strong sense that the remodeler is committed to them and cares about them, which is reciprocated.
29 Doing quality work. This is another oft-repeated adage that remodelers should not lose site of. Along with it is attitude. “Make sure the crews go out happy, and make sure that attitude is conveyed to the customer — and clean up at the end of the day,” one respondent says.
30 Community involvement. This is a specific variation on the network theme. Joining a service club such as Rotary or Kiwanis or volunteering for a park committee or a library group is a great way to meet new potential clients, says one respondent.
31 Working relationships. One respondent recounts establishing a good working relationship with an interior design and home furnishings showroom. Many higher-end remodeling jobs were born out of the relationship, he says.
32 Direct mail. Don’t count out the post office in this digital age, according to several respondents who still find it effective. For one remodeler, the best results come from letters in envelopes rather than postcards.
33 Open houses. “We send direct mail letters from our customers to 300 neighbors inviting them to open houses,” says one respondent. “We get a 4 percent return on the mailings and pick up an extra three to four leads on drive-bys,” he says.
34 Not just home shows. Other possibilities where potential clients gather include agricultural shows, business expos, lifestyle and green expos, one respondent advises.
35 Go green. Evaluate your services as they relate to green. Educate yourself on sustainable and green building products. Offer green where it makes sense, such as energy efficiency audits, eco-friendly home design, remodeling and renovation.
36 Volunteer, give back to the community. Work with Habitat for Humanity or similar organizations; speak at schools about the profession; sponsor youth sports teams; and promote everything you do.
37 Build your credentials. Join and participate in professional organizations related to your business, such as the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA). Enter design and business award competitions. Earn professional designations and promote them.
38 Internet-based referral services. These were cited by some remodelers as effective marketing tools, while others wrote them off as bad ideas. If using one of these services, follow-up is crucial. Make sure every lead is contacted and response is quick and consistent.
39 Co-op advertising dollars. Piggyback on advertising or marketing funds already being spent in the market by manufacturers and distributors.
40 Know your limits. Web sites, truck sign and public relations are great, but they can backfire when not executed well. If you don’t have the in-house talent or the time, consider outsourcing these tasks.