A Bill of Rights — Not a Bill of Goods

A customer bill of rights is one of the elements of William J. Varian’s presentation to new clients, but it’s more than just another handout buried in a sheaf of material left with a potential customer.

For Varian, CGR, CAPS, CGP and president of Wm. J. Varian Construction Co., Inc., in Naples, Fla., the bill of rights “opens up another avenue of conversation” with the homeowner about the services his company can provide. It also serves to differentiate his firm from the competition, he says.

Varian notes that even though a lot of his business comes from referrals, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have competition. The bill of rights helps set him apart.

“I don’t like to be the low bidder on any project. I like to sell my services, and this [the bill of rights] is part of that,” he says.

Aside from being a marketing tool, the bill of rights also illustrates another important characteristic of Varian’s business — involvement with professional and community groups and learning from that association. He modestly admits that the bill of rights idea wasn’t exclusively his. Rather, it came out of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) 20 Club of which he was a member. Varian wisely embraced the idea and ran with it.

He relates that when he first started in the business, he attended local home builders’ association (HBA) meetings because he felt it was important to meet people in the industry. He was impressed by how involved and knowledgeable some of those people were. Years later, Varian is one of the people others look to for advice and industry insight.

Varian says he realized a few years ago that nearly 60 percent of his business resulted from his affiliation with the HBA. However, it wasn’t coming from homeowners who called the front desk at the association looking for a contractor. Rather, it came from builders who didn’t want to do a small remodel but who knew Varian welcomed such jobs. Or referrals came from subcontractors with whom he had worked and who knew what sort of work he did.

“When they couldn’t do it, they called me,” he says.

You can’t put a dollar value on such networking, Varian says, and it’s hard to explain to a new person just starting in the business. Varian relates he was president of the Collier Building Industry Association (CBIA) in 2005 but before that he served on a lot of committees and met a lot of people, he says.

“It [getting referrals] didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t get work the first day I became a member; it took years,” he says.

In addition to association membership, Varian also has been active in construction-related county government positions. He currently serves on the Collier County Development Services Advisory Committee, which is a citizens’ committee that oversees the county building department. He’s been on the committee for five years and has been chairman for three.

Varian also serves on the county board of adjustments and appeals, a body that oversees disputes between property owners and government.

The advantage of such involvement, Varian relates, is that one gets to know the policy makers and review people. You know whom to talk to when there is a problem or a question, and you learn what they are thinking, he says, “It makes you more knowledgeable in the sales process, separating you from the competition,” Varian adds. You can explain to prospective clients about permitting and how and what is done, he explains.

One of Varian’s passions is his involvement with a summer leadership camp for high school students run by the Florida Home Builders Foundation.

“To see the next generation of builders going through this leadership program brings a lot of joy to me,” he says.

Despite 20 years in the business, Varian still straps on a nail pouch, puts a pencil behind his ear and pitches in on the jobsite — a hands-on approach that impresses his clients, he reports.

William J. varian:

  • Company name: Wm. J. Varian Construction Co., Inc.
  • Location: Naples, Fla.
  • Years in business: 20
  • Association involvement: Member of the Collier Building Industry Association (CBIA) and the Florida Home Builders Association (FHBA); founding member of the CBIA Remodelers Council; CBIA president in 2005; CBIA Remodeler of the Year, 2003 and 2005.
  • Community affiliations: Collier County Development Services Advisory Committee, chairman, 2007-2009; Collier Board of Adjustment and Appeals, 2002-2004.