Prior to launching their company in 1996, Roone Unger, Mary Battle and Bitsy Lee worked together at a privately held lumber and millwork supply firm in Atlanta. When the company was purchased by a publicly traded corporation, they felt the timing was right to branch out on their own. They chose to offer vinyl siding installation services to production home builders.
Builders Exterior Design, as the company was originally called, thrived during a robust period of production home building in the region. Almost immediately, however, many of their construction industry contacts began providing leads for exterior replacement jobs. Today, the company, Exovations of Atlanta, bills approximately $12 million annually, 35 percent of which is exterior replacements in roofing, siding, windows and decks.
Next month the firm will take the giant step of offering Exovations franchises in other parts of Georgia and the Southeastern United States The reason for the big step, says Roone Unger, is the firm feels confident that it has developed a winning brand with the systems and processes to back it up.
“The specialty contractor has really never been recognized,” says Unger. “We feel like that is what we are doing. We are changing that. We want to expand it to other markets.”
Another part of the desire to franchise have been the investment the company has made in branding its name throughout the Atlanta metro area. Radio, TV and other marketing has been regional from the beginning. With 2 million people living in a dozen far-flung counties, their current service area is suboptimal.
“If we had it to do over again, we probably would have chosen only the ‘northern crescent’ for our advertising and service area,” explains Unger, referring to a swath of fast-growing suburbs north of Atlanta.
A Low-Pressure, Full-Service Approach
Exovations differs from the typical exterior replacement firm in several important ways. First, the company has taken a holistic approach to the exterior needs of the entire house. To that end they pitch their prospects on a 12-point inspection process that “helps customers uncover which areas of their home’s exterior are of highest need and priority,” says Mary Battle, who acts as the company spokesperson in all advertisements.
“Starting with the front door, we inspect 12 areas of the home for proper product performance, condition and aesthetics,” says Battle. “We also learn the age of the home and the homeowners’ future plans, which allows us to choose the perfect solution for that home’s exterior needs.”
The Exovations 12-point inspection includes: 1.) front door and trim, 2.) windows, 3.) siding, 4.) overhangs 5.) roofing, 6.) gutter system and protection, 7.) garage doors and trim, 8.) all other entry doors; 9.) chimney accessories, 10.) basement walls/foundations, 11.) decks, 12.) decorative architectural accessories, which include window and door pediments, columns, shutters, etc.
The second point of differentiation is in selling. Like most specialty remodeling firms, company representatives do full presentations in the home, but they don’t push the one-call closing.
Unger says that 10 to 20 percent of their business is closed on the first appointment, but they don’t place a premium on getting the business that day.
“Our people are trained to ask for the business,” says Battle. “We just don’t stay there until you have to call the police to get us out of there. We think that we are going to meet with people with whom we want to do business. And we’d like to be able to hold our heads up high and look them in the eye the next time we see them.”
A Marquee Project
Of the 400-plus builder and exterior remodeling projects Exovations completed last year, none has garnered as much favorable attention as the total exterior remodel of a ranch home in Cumming, Ga. on Lake Lanier. The project won a CotY Award from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. It won a Chrysalis Award. And it won a Master Design Award for Best Exterior Renovation from Qualified Remodeler magazine.
“We are very proud of that house,” says Battle. “We showcase everything we do on that house. We did windows and siding and garage doors. We did trim.”
By focusing on its “12-point inspection process” and every type of exterior remodeling service, Exovations is forging new ground in its market area to attract customers to whom enhanced curb appeal is particularly important. And for this project, this was especially true. The customers wanted an updated look and were willing to go in an entirely new direction for their exterior.
“The neat thing about the project was the client’s openness to new ideas and that she was looking for an entire face-lift on that house,” says Battle. “Some people are fearful of change. They like looks on different houses, but when it comes down to their own house they like the style and color they have. So we were very glad to have had such a huge impact on the house, to do so much.”
Nationally, customer motivations for embarking on a specialty remodeling project vary, but the top reasons are typically needs based. They need to replace leaky windows. The constant upkeep of an old deck spurs the purchase of a maintenance-free decking material. Only a small percentage of consumers undertake whole-house exterior renovations for purely cosmetic reasons. Exovations has found that many of its customers will expand their project to include other exterior products once a need for windows or siding occurs.
Much of the success of the project can be attributed to Exovation’s willingness to provide a number of options in terms of materials. The client wanted cedar shakes for siding and Exovations delivered it. Exovations also provided a design that included a variety of alternative materials. The client was very pleased with the load-bearing PVC columns as well as the manufactured stone pediments and retaining wall elements.
Fast Facts About the Company:
- Exovations of Atlanta LLC
- Headquarters: Cumming, Ga.
- Established: 1996
- Original name: Builders Exterior Design. It was changed to Exovations to be more memorable in marketing campaigns. The name combines the words Exteriors and Innovations.
- Web site: www.exovations.com
- Company tagline: “We’re Changing Home Exteriors”
- Total 2005 revenue: $12 million; approximately $4.2 million from exterior specialty remodeling
- Total jobs: 400-plus for both the builder services and remodeling divisions Supplier designations and awards:
Alside Marketing Award of Distinction
Royal Building Products Certified Contractor Proclamation of Excellence
Alcoa Master Contractor/A+ Siding Installation
Wolverine’s Award of Excellence for Design Innovation
Contractor of the Year, 2001, Royal Building Products
Certainteed Window Master Craftsman
James Hardie Preferred Remodeler
Habitat for Humanity Home Building Participant
GAF Certified Roofing Contractor
- Recent industry awards:
2005 CotY Award:
Best Exterior Project Under $100,000
2005 Master Design Award:
1st Place for Exterior Face-lift
2005 Chrysalis Award - Best Project: Exterior Face-lift