Mike Pierce, president of Hughes Kitchens & Bath, Canton, Ohio, is one of the two-thirds who look forward to advancement in 2012. “Our goal is to grow,” he says. “It won’t get anything but better, and I want to take the opportunity to expand our footprint.
“I’m not looking to stay in a holding pattern,” he continues. “I think this is the time to move forward if you are able to.”
“People are still spending money,” Pierce posits. “The key is positioning yourself to be the person they choose. It’s not the best of environments with the current state of the economy, but people still want good value,” he says, stressing the need to educate customers the lowest price is not always the best value. “We don’t compete on price,” he adds.
Pierce sets out to differentiate Hughes Kitchens & Bath from the very first contact. He sends a small gift before the first appointment to set the firm apart and to make the meeting an event. “Then it’s just about communication and finding out what the customer wants,” he says. The initial conversation is vital to determining what potential clients are looking for and whether Pierce wants to take the job. “We’re not a fit for everybody,” he says.
Potential clients are more knowledgeable about products and prices than ever before, Pierce relates, but he is quick to discourage them from purchasing products themselves. “You have to have good warranties and really back the product,” he says, “but if I can’t supply the products, there is no way I can back them. I have no idea what they’re buying.
“We don’t get into fear tactics; that’s not the point. It’s just about peace of mind, which is what people want. They don’t want to redo their kitchen or bathroom [because of product failure], but they don’t want to pay an exorbitant price, either,” Pierce says.
“There are a lot more customers who will have a big printout. They’ll try to set their budgets by looking at every plumbing fixture they want to put in their kitchen or bathroom and then ask me for the labor cost. It’s like asking to buy a car by the pound,” Pierce says.
“We’re not selling a cookie-cutter product; it’s customized and it’s backed by a warranty. Customer service has to be bar none,” says Pierce, who reveals he once contemplated a career as a chef or a position in hotel-restaurant management. “I love five-star treatment,” he adds.
Pierce aims to deliver just such an exceptional experience to his remodeling customers. “Most people can deliver a beautiful kitchen, but the ride a customer takes from the time they call to set an appointment to the time the job is cleaned up and they have a beautiful kitchen is very important. That’s what the customer remembers, and that’s where you’re going to get your referrals,” he says.
He notes potential clients are researching companies as much as they’re researching products. For Pierce, the legwork done by potential clients is a good thing. Nearly 80 percent of the leads he receives are “ours to lose; they are very qualified leads,” he says.
What patrons are saying about a business has always been important, and social media and blogs have made those sentiments more important than ever. “Most bloggers are upset,” Pierce observes. “You cannot drop the ball. Things are going to break, but it is how you deal with the customer and how you rectify the situation that keeps customers happy. It’s the reason they’re coming to my door and setting appointments,” he says.
Looking forward, Pierce doesn’t expect new construction to pick up soon. “The gods are not making any more property, and there are a lot of older homes and people who are staying in them longer. Aging-in-place is huge and is growing by 30 percent a year,” Pierce says. “There are a lot of people still sitting on their money, but there are millions of dollars out there, and people are buying every day.”
Although Pierce says he doesn’t compete on price, many remodelers object that customers are unwilling to pay realistic prices for work or are cutting corners wherever they can. “I think people are setting arbitrary numbers for their projects and then finding builders who will build them for that amount. They’re less concerned about the quality of construction and what goes behind the walls,” says Jonathan Kantar, principal of Sage Builders LLP, a residential design-build company in Newton, Mass.