Clients must know true costs of change orders, says Wendell Harmer of The Wills Co. in Nashville.
Photo credit: Photo: Wiff Harmer Photography
Owner, general manager, The Wills Co., Nashville, Tenn.
Year founded: 1991
Number of team members: 17
Years at company: 21
Years in remodeling: 21
Industry involvement: National Association of the Remodeling Industry, Remodelers Advantage, Certified Green Advantage
Community involvement: Rotary Club, Vanderbilt Alumnae Association, Westminster Presbyterian Church
When and why did you join Remodelers Advantage? What are the benefits of membership? We joined about 7 years ago. Undoubtedly the greatest benefit is working through issues with folks who know your company well and who are dealing with or have dealt with similar issues. You can’t put a price on that. Having peers in the industry who are intimately familiar with your business is just awesome.
What has been the most important lesson learned from your peers at Remodelers Advantage? The more you think you have figured out, the more you realize how much you don’t know.
What have you done recently to improve your company’s performance? We hired Chip Doyle to work with our sales team. Chip is a Sandler Sales Trainer who works with a lot of remodelers around the country. Having gone through Sandler Training in the past, we knew how important it was to selling. Then when you layer in his tremendous knowledge of our industry, it was a no-brainer for us. It was definitely the best decision of 2013.
Can you share a best practice or two that you’ll never abandon? Selling our jobs-fixed price. We hate surprises more than our clients. I lose sleep when no one knows the costs up front.
What is the greatest threat to the success of a remodeler and/or remodeling business? The single-source “retail tradespeople.” I call them the big-box plumbers or electricians. Their marketing-intense business models are attempting to shift consumers away from having a contractor administering the care of their house. It is like a patient eliminating his or her primary care physician and deciding which specialists they need to see. It works until you have an orthopedic treating your allergies, which we see happening to houses all the time. The consumers don’t realize the pitfalls of “self-administering” the care of their home, and if we remodelers don’t help them understand the contrast we are going to suffer greatly. However, I believe that remodelers who can get this message right, and who can help consumers understand this, will thrive. That is where our focus is.
Where/What are the greatest opportunities in the remodeling market? Smaller updating-type jobs. More people are approaching their home improvements in a more conservative manner than they did a few years ago. They are doing little projects one-at-a-time vs. the old way of doing everything at once. Our average remodeling job size has gone down continuously since 2009. The companies who can most efficiently capitalize on those job types will win.
If you could change one thing about the remodeling industry, what would it be? I would create higher standards for entry into the remodeling profession. I used to say all you needed was a pickup truck, but you don’t even have to have that anymore. Seriously, consumers hire unqualified beginners to remodel their $1 million houses and all too often get stuck with a mess when the job is done, if it ever gets done. And I hate that. Literally, if everyone had to join Remodelers Advantage before they could start their business, the industry would be a lot better.
How have clients changed, and how has this affected your business? Clients are so aware of the products that are available. In some cases they are aware of something they haven’t even seen yet. This makes it hard for remodelers to understand or test these products or even have an opinion on them.
As you were growing up, what did you want to be? An offensive lineman for the Baltimore Colts. Then I got serious about life and decided I wanted to be a professional bass fisherman.
What do you enjoy most about being a remodeler? Why? The relationships with people. Nashville is such a successful city with a diverse economy. Our clients are great reflections of that. I feel so fortunate to have so many loyal clients, and I also love our tradespeople just as much. Nashville has such a rich history of beautiful residential architecture. Our tradesmen really are a great reflection of that architectural history. I take a ton of pride in making my living by connecting those two groups together and doing my part to preserve and enhance this awesome city of ours. It is very rewarding.
What is the best advice you’ve received in your career? During a discussion about selling change orders Gary Marakol told me, in a very convincing way, to look a client straight in the eye and confidently tell them what it is going to cost. He said, “they don’t know what this stuff costs. They are looking at your delivery more than listening to the cost. If you believe in what you are telling them, then they will believe you.”
What is your most treasured possession? Our ski boat. My family loves water skiing. We all have a great time out on the river.
What’s an interesting or little-known fact about you? I completed the 2007 Louisville Ironman Triathlon.