As a means to seek different ideas and to share insights for today's remodeling industry, Lebanon, Indiana-based Festool USA recently hosted a round table discussion with four professional remodelers from around the country. Moderated by Festool's vice president of marketing Michael Williams, the conversation included: Blue River Cabinetry Kitchen and Bath owner Annette Mercado, custom carpenter Dan Rush, expert remodeler and builder Mike Sloggatt and sustainable designer/builder Joshua Weir.
Powered by Festool, and published by Qualified Remodeler, this is the first in a series of quarterly round table discussions.
Michael Williams: First and foremost, I'd like to thank everyone for participating today. In a roller-coaster economy like this, how do you differentiate your business?
Dan Rush: We're a small shop now — a "lone wolf" out there. We primarily focus on high-end cabinet and carpentry, and the way we've kept busy over the past few years has just been service, service, service. We didn't lower prices; we don't advertise; but we provide the best service possible. Our success has been based on that. That's how we differentiate.
Joshua Weir: I don't really compete with contractors because I do all my design work. I do all of my own plans — everything from permitting through welding and fabrication. It's a really hard thing for my clients to understand, so I show them why it's less of a headache. I have yet to find one outfit that is a package deal like ours. And that's where our selling point is. We haven't had a day off for the past three years as a result.
Mike Sloggatt: First of all, we do higher-end jobs. We're a lot faster than our competition because of what we use. We keep a clean job site; we pay attention to the details, and that's really been the way we've gotten our reputation.
The most important factor is customer satisfaction. We've been in business for 30-odd years, and I have zero complaints against us with the consumer affairs department.
Annette Mercado: About three years ago, when we noticed the economy was changing, we took a look at everybody in town that did what we did, and we created a way to really differentiate ourselves. We'd go on to talk radio and the home shows, giving presentations about how to fix something. Pretty soon, we were the experts in town. When you do take the time to differentiate yourself, and when you see a change in the marketplace, you can avoid it hitting your pocketbook hard.
Michael Williams: How do you do that? Are you doing that just at the home shows and on the radio or are you doing this through the Web or just one-on-one when you engage with the client?
Annette Mercado: We do it every time, one-on-one, when we engage with clients. But we go on the radio about once a quarter between two local stations. You have to establish a relationship with them. You become the go-to person for questions, whatever your field is. And it makes a really big difference.
Mike Sloggatt: I did the same thing years ago. I used to write an ask-the-contractor column for a couple of local papers. It was very time-consuming, but I did get a lot of recognition as an expert. So, I agree with Annette's method; it can be a very effective way to differentiate your business. People know your name. They know who you are. They trust and respect you, even if they've never met you.
Dan Rush: When I first got started, the local library had a program where experts would come in and give a seminar, and, just like Annette and Mike, I found that by doing a presentation three or four times during the summer, I got a lot of calls. That turned into a cable access program that I did for a couple of years, and it legitimized us. There's value in setting yourself apart from the competition and not competing on your competitors' terms, but competing on your own terms — whatever they may be.
Michael Williams: Have any of you had any negative experience with any sort of advertisement or promotion or outreach?