Retooling Your Business in a Tight Economy

There’s no question that selling today compared to selling a few years ago is a whole new ball game. After speaking with many of my peers in this industry about how the economy has changed the way they do business, it occurred to me that this is not necessarily going to be a short-term event.

In years past, we decided what projects we were going to do for customers. I know that a lot of kitchen and bath professionals only sold products that they believed would offer the highest profit margins. Many companies didn’t even want to talk to clients about such things as hardware for their existing cabinets, or replacement shower doors.

Unless your client was going to remodel the entire kitchen, you wouldn’t think of selling just new appliances, or doing a simple countertop replacement or some other “small” job. Well, times have changed.

As a business owner, I’ve always tried to help out any client who came to see us. Many years ago, a client came into the showroom saying, “I know you probably can’t help me, but I’m looking for a couple of towel bars and a robe hook for my bathroom.” The salesman said, “Sure I can help you,” and proceeded to show her what we had available. She picked the items she wanted, paid for them and we ordered them the next day. We had them shipped directly to her home.

Six months later, the same salesman introduced me to his newest customer. I thanked her for her business and asked the question I always ask our clients after a successful sale: “Can you tell me why you decided to buy your kitchen from us?” Her response was, “A few months ago, I was looking for some items for my bathroom. I had stopped in at three other kitchen and bath showrooms. When I told them what I was looking for, none of them would help me since I wasn’t doing a complete project. When I saw your store, I thought I’d give it one more try. When I walked in I was greeted by Bill and he asked how he could help me. I told him what I was looking for and, to my surprise, he said, ‘Sure, we can help you,’ and he did. I told my husband when I got home that I’d found the company that was going to do our kitchen.”

I’ve never forgotten that lesson, and it has been one of the many things that we do as a company for our customers.

Earning the Business

Today, we are all doing what we should have been doing in years past. We cannot pick and choose our customers based on our needs. I realize that there are times when we’re so busy, it would be hard to do some of the small projects that people are asking us to do. But, the truth is, these types of projects can and do lead to the big projects.

There’s no doubt that customers today are taking much longer to make a positive buying decision, and they are visiting more companies to see what they offer and how they work. The dollars are not as easy to get.

While we were sitting pretty for a while, we now need to regroup and look at other alternatives to doing business and earning our clients’ confidence.

Now that we are in a bit of a recession, what can you do to attract more business? Perhaps it’s time to advertise that you do small projects, countertop replacement, appliance replacement, floors, wet-water fixtures, shower doors, new toilets and vanity tops. Anything that goes along with your core business can become a part of your everyday offering.

Cabinets can go into every room of the house, but how often do customers come to you for the bookcase unit fireplace mantel? How about the home office that you could sell if your clients knew you had them available? Home entertainment cabinets and closet systems are just a few of the things that come to mind that you have available to sell to your clients.

Create a letter about your new offerings and mail them to all of your past customers. If you have e-mail addresses, you can go that route – anything to get the word out and create some new business opportunities.

Likewise, while other companies are cutting their advertising, now is a good time to look at available buys for print ads, radio, cable and television. You should take a look at how you can share in this opportunity and get your message out to the public. Ask for that special deal if you make a long-term commitment. See what you can get from your local magazine that you thought was too expensive for you to run an ad in. How about doing home shows to get your face and product in front of your potential buyers?

Closer to Home

You also want to give your business a good once over. What do you see when you walk through the front door? Do you like what you see, or is it stale? How about your Web site or Yellow Pages ad? Do they need to be updated? Look at what your competitor is doing and do it better. Find a better mouse trap.

Do you talk about ‘green’ in your projects? Do you create a reason for customers to want to see you or call you?

Times have changed, and you must figure out ways to get the business that is out there into your showroom. Ask your clients why they came to see you, or why they purchased from you. Maybe there’s something you’re doing and you don’t even realize it.

Try educating your clients about how to purchase a new kitchen or bath. Teach them what they need to know.

If you’re just going to be the cheapest bid, well, good luck. You will never outbid the lowest bidder.

Business is out there, but only for those who are willing to try new things to be just a little bit better than the closest competitor. Today you must work for your projects and give more than expected.

Ask for referrals and send out letters to anyone that you can. Professionalism has and always will outsell the lowest bid.