Don't Sell. Teach!

After spending 25 days or more per month straining mind and muscle to sell, build and finish kitchens, baths or other projects, why would remodelers consider adding another weekend morning or weekday evening to their busy schedules? The answer: to hold workshops for prospective clients and/or seminars for tradespersons, like designers, decorators, architects and other subcontractors.

Although this has not caught on with all remodelers, those who do offer workshops are true believers in the value of these educational and promotional efforts.

Different Approaches

Remodelers who have begun implementing workshops have tweaked their approaches until they find what works best in their area. Some choose to host workshops for homeowners about educational topics, hoping to create a level of trust that may lead to sales. Others prefer to host workshops for trades who may become partners, leading to joint job opportunities.

Kitchen and Bath Focus

Jeremy Hussey, sales and marketing director for College City Design Build, Lakeville, Minn., explains, “The success of our consumer-oriented workshops can be seen in how they help us get our name out there, help us convert leads into sales and help us get new leads.”

When College City Design Build began its workshop program, it offered eight to 10 workshops per year but now conducts four or five. Hussey says: “We don’t want our staff to burn out. We have to make sure they are fresh for the customers in the morning.”

The firm also modified its presentation. Instead of reporting about the whole array of projects the firm does, the meetings now concentrate on kitchens and baths, the areas in which attendees have shown the greatest interest. The events are held at the showrooms of two College City Design Build vendors.

“Typically, I am one of the speakers at the workshops,” Hussey says. “I talk about how to choose a remodeler, explain our process and give a history of the company. Then I turn it over to our designer who goes over design trends and case studies. Then we have the attendees go with one of the in-house reps from the showroom to look at appliances or plumbing fixtures to show them options and what the latest trends are. We wrap things up with a question-and-answer session. And, of course, we allow time to talk with customers about their own potential projects.”

Typically, a session will last from 90 minutes to two hours. “There’s no charge, and we even provide refreshments,” Hussey says.

He adds: “We promote the events with e-blasts to all of our past customers and current and past prospects. These e-blasts go out shortly before the sessions, as well as at the beginning of the year and at the end of the summer, when we want to remind people about our fall schedule. We also do ads in the local paper. Our host vendors will do co-op advertising with us and have info in the store about upcoming seminars.”

Although the results of each workshop are independent of all others, Hussey estimates that, on average, about 10 couples come to each program with about 35 percent of these converting to projects.

Professional Focus

For Milwaukee’s TimothyJ Kitchen & Bath Inc., which runs programs aimed at professionals, the key reason for workshops is to develop long-term friendships and connections that someday may result in working partnerships.

Timothy J. Benkowski, president, says, “Our specific goal is to bring industry people into our studio so they become familiar with the location and, more importantly, to tell them how we are different from our perceived competition.”

Benkowski has a co-sponsor for its workshops: M, a Milwaukee lifestyle magazine, provides advance promotion and moderators for the panel discussion format favored by Benkowski. Benkowski says the audiences average about 25 percent designers; 25 percent interior decorators; 25 percent architects; and 25 percent other trades. Homeowners are not discouraged from attending, but because of the way the programs are put together, the general public hasn’t participated. “We get upwards of 25 and as many as 75 people to an event, depending on the popularity of the topic, the time of year and how much networking the panel members do to bring their own people in,” Benkowski explains. “The program lasts two hours, including a catered lunch, and there is a charge for admission—usually $20 to $30. We always hold it at our studio since the main reason for having the event is to get people into the studio that might not otherwise have a reason for coming.”

Benkowski says the workshops help set his company apart. “We are the only one in our area reaching out to the design community. That differentiates us. We are more open to working with allied professions than anyone around here. We gained recognition as being a resource for our partners and have slowly built on those connections. It’s not a ‘once and done’ kind of approach.”

For example, Benkowski recently connected with a remodeling contractor he has been in talks with for about two years. “We reconnected through an event,” he says. “We’ll have to see how successful it turns out to be, but this is exactly the opportunity we’re looking for in exchange for our continuing efforts.”

Targeted Areas

At Irvine, Calif.-based Sea Pointe Construction, which focuses on residential kitchen and bath projects, workshops are held monthly except during busy periods, when, typically, there are two workshops per month.

Sea Pointe Construction charges attendees $20 per household, but everyone getting a direct-mail invitation receives free tickets in the package. “We do this to give value to the workshop,” Andrew Shore, president, explains.

Sea Pointe Construction’s workshops consist of two 40-minute sessions with one 15-minute break in between. “When we started, each workshop was based on a different topic. We have since switched to a ‘Remodeling 101’ format and have been much more successful. There is one basic presentation with an outlined script that we use for each workshop,” Shore says. “Since we change location and audience, we have no need to alter it.”

According to Shore, the workshops typically draw around 50 attendees, although some have attracted as many as 90 or more. From that, Sea Pointe Construction will generate about five to 10 appointments within the next week or so.

“There also is a residual effect.” Shore adds. “Over the next six to 18 months, we will continue to receive calls from past attendees. These calls will bring us another five or 10 appointments, bumping the total up to between 10 and 20. We’ve also noticed that we achieve a slightly higher close ratio from these leads, as we’ve had conversations and face time with the prospects. Typically, we have a close ratio of about 35 percent of workshop-generated leads, as opposed to 25 percent of standard leads.”

A Long-term Investment

Despite the varying formats, each of the firms agrees workshops are long-term investments that with persistence and patience will pay for themselves.

“It takes many ‘touches’ before someone will remember you,” Benkowski notes. “We’ve reached out to as many people as we can and continue to do so. We purposely do not try to sell anything, nor do we talk about products or ask a lot of sales-oriented questions. Rather, we’ll establish a friendship or find a common connection to build on. We’d prefer to have a long-term friend than try another sales technique.”


Alan Richman writes from Morganville, N.J., about remodeling.