Marketing Universal Design

At one time the term professional certification made construction professionals immediately think of product installation endorsements given by manufacturers. Today there is a host of professional certifications bestowed by industry organizations to help prove an individual’s professional knowledge, skills and experience in a vast assortment of areas.

One professional certification that is growing in interest is the Des Plaines, Ill.-based National Association of the Remodeling Industry’s Universal Design Certified Professional, or UDCP, designation. According to the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, universal design is the idea that all new environments and products should be usable by everyone regardless of their age, ability or circumstance. Because universal design is not an entirely familiar concept, many homeowners don’t know whether they need it, so marketing universal design in a way that appeals to the masses can be a challenge.

John Tamer, MCR, UDCP, founder of Tamer Construction, Parma, Ohio, has had his UDCP for two years. He sought the certification because he noticed his team was completing many universal design projects. “People stay in their homes longer and are getting older and, therefore, need assistance, so we had been installing grab bars and converting showers,” he says. “I figured I should be formally educated about universal design and get the certification to help with marketing.”

Tamer markets his UDCP through all the traditional channels, including email, public-relations promos and print advertisements. He also ensures the acronym appears on his email signature. “We provide a customer packet that allows the homeowner to keep their receipts, our contract and other items they receive throughout the remodeling process,” he adds. “We include a copy of our UDCP certificate in the packet.”

Although Tamer does not employ a dedicated marketing professional, he has had success marketing his UDCP. Homeowners have called his company specifically because they have seen that his firm is educated about the nuances of universal design. In fact, the growing interest has spurred Tamer to open a new division dedicated strictly to universal design. “We’re working with a couple right now where he was in a car accident and is temporarily disabled, at least for another year,” Tamer says. “Their son saw my UDCP, and he referred us to them.”

Tamer says when homeowners know they need a universal design project, having the certification virtually ensures his company will win the project. However, many homeowners don’t fully understand what universal design is or whether they need it. In those cases, Tamer educates the homeowner. “A lot of people associate universal design with handicapped remodeling, so we’ll explain to them universal remodeling is not just for people with disabilities; it’s for everybody,” he says.

Because Tamer has been completing universal design projects for years, he has included pertinent questions in his initial client meeting questionnaire that help homeowners recognize whether they need universal design techniques. For example, Tamer asks whether there are children in the house that need to be able to open doors or whether anyone in the home has arthritis.

Tamer explains: “We ask these things because homeowners don’t usually think of it unless it’s a direct need. Once we bring it up, they often remember a relative has trouble entering the house when he visits every six months. We then explain universal design, what it is and how we implement it. We also explain we’re certified in it; we went through training and testing to receive the certification and must maintain it with continuing education every year. That gives them confidence in us.”

Although it’s difficult for Tamer to pinpoint which marketing tactic has generated the most interest in his firm’s universal design capabilities, he says there still is nothing better than face-to-face contact during which he has the opportunity to explain universal design and the intangibles the certification provides to the homeowner’s project. “Our questionnaire really helps homeowners realize what would make their home more comfortable,” Tamer says. “They may only be thinking of their immediate needs but suddenly realize by talking to us they need a universal design project.”