Selling in the New Normal

The Des Plaines, Ill.-based National Association of the Remodeling Industry suggests that during initial meetings with remodelers, homeowners ask many questions, including: How long have you been in business? What is the time frame for starting the project? What is your approach to a project of this scope? And, how many projects like mine have you completed in the past 12 months? At the same time, Darius Baker, MCR, CKBR, UDCP, and CEO of the Sacramento, Cal.-based D&J Kitchens and Baths Inc., encourages remodelers to have the answers at hand.

These questions carry more weight as the economic recovery struggles to gain traction, and remodelers must fine-tune their answers. “I think the challenge for most remodelers will simply be that today’s consumer who has the money to spend on [remodeling kitchens and baths] is a lot more discerning,” Baker says. “Now, the consumer that has money tends to be a more conservative type of person than we’ve been used to dealing with in the past, so they spend a lot more time checking people out.”

One of the best resources, according to Baker, is to hand potential clients a list of referrals during initial sales calls. Making a list of references part of the presentation is recommended because former clients will likely include details the remodeler may not have thought to include.

“Here’s exactly what I say during an initial sales call: ‘The toughest decision that you [the client] have to make in this whole process is picking whom you want to do your job,” Baker says. “It is my job, or anybody else’s you invite into your house, to convince you to use my company. And, if I’ve done my job correctly, when I walk out this door you should be saying I could do business with that guy.’ ”

The post-recession new normal in the remodeling industry has changed the types of projects that many remodelers are seeing cross their desks. Baker finds that more clients are doing what he calls “remove and replace projects,” in which they are choosing to modernize a space rather than knock down walls. He does not see people sacrificing quality, though he has seen at least one case where a man did his own demolition, gutting, laying of flooring and remodeling of the bathroom before bringing in a professional for help on the kitchen to save money. “It can be a challenge to make things work within the price points [clients] are looking at, but there are a lot of products out there that are allowing [remodelers] to meet those challenges, too,” Baker says. “People are being very cost conscious, so you’ve got to really have your act together and be very budget conscious about the quality of the products you’re specifying or using.”

As a dealer for several different flooring products and two cabinet lines, Baker utilizes relationships that make sense for him and his business. Baker’s offices are for meetings and showing clients samples of products, like base cabinets and countertop materials. Although he does not have an official showroom on the premises, he refers clients to a local appliance store, with whom he has a 25-year relationship, or Ferguson, a nationwide wholesale distributor of kitchen and bath supplies.

“My goal when I get clients [in the office] is to help them through the decision-making process one bite at a time, says Baker. “I get them off of the often intimidating thought of trying to focus on the whole picture of what [the kitchen or bath] is going to look like all at once, when they don’t have the product pieces to put into their mental image.”

Baker has found that clients, when they are making their product choices, are more concerned with maintaining the current style of their home in regard to the color and material than selecting trendy products from the kitchen and bath market. The consumer may be savvier than remodelers when it comes to finding innovative products on the Internet, Baker says, but ultimately they’ll decide what they want based on what they think will work the best in their home.