Make Your Phone Ring

A couple of years ago, a cartoon in the New York Times Magazine offered timely commentary about how difficult it was back then to get a contractor of any kind to take a phone call. Remodelers and contractors were so overloaded with work that many potential clients felt privileged to simply get a slot on a remodeler’s dance card. In the cartoon, two neighbors are leaning against a fence. The caption reads: “I’ve got a better chance of getting [former Federal Reserve chairman] Alan Greenspan on the phone than I do of reaching my contractor.”

Indeed, stories of disappearing remodelers or contractors who had, for sheer volume of work, been missing in action on the jobsite began to take on a mythic quality. Ken Kanline, owner of the Chrysalis Awards, and a singer/songwriter, always gets laughs at the Chrysalis Awards dinner when he sings, “Missing My Remodeler Tonight.” In the song, a homeowner is begging to get his remodeler back on the jobsite by apologizing for his annoying wife’s micro-managing: “I will gladly divorce her, if it helps make things right. I’m missing my remodeler tonight.”

Along those same lines, an advertising agency for the National Association for the Remodeling Industry (NARI) proposed an entire consumer awareness campaign around the concept of AWOL contractors, pointing out the professionalism of NARI members who would not be AWOL. One ad featured the picture of a remodeler on the side of a milk carton under the word “Missing.” Another ad showed a digital highway sign posting an “Amber Alert” for a missing contractor.

My, how times have changed.

The economy started slowing in December of 2007, but for most remodelers business continued at a reasonably brisk pace until the September banking panic hit and Lehman Brothers was allowed to fail. Since then it’s been a whole different ball game. Every week since then has seemingly provided more fodder to dampen the sentiments of already fearful consumers.

Gopal Ahluwalia, an economist with the National Association Home Builders, in a recent seminar at the International Builders Show remarked about the number of times he’s heard remodelers now make quips about their phone not ringing. In the verbatim section of a survey conducted by Ahluwalia, one remodeler wrote: “Here is my phone number. Please dial it. I want to make sure that the line is working.”

Initially, we had planned to run a story in this issue relating to improving your bottom line. It was to consist of ideas for enhancing profitability. We decided that there was a more pressing need for quick, actionable ideas to generate leads. Some of our “40 Ways to Make Your Phone Ring” are tried and true, while others will be completely new to you. But there is, I think, a benefit to using the story like a checklist. Maybe you’ll find three or four ideas that you’d like to explore for your company.

After all of the easy-come business of the past decade, I think it is safe to say that now is a good time to get back to the basics of marketing. It is also safe to assume that the myth of the missing remodeler will quickly be a thing of the past.