It's true. People do get ripped off by contractors. Here's how to present your integrity and put customers at ease.

How many times have you seen this story on the tube? Consumer gives a large down payment to a local contractor to renovate the bathroom, the work area is torn apart, and then the contractor either leaves town or goes out of business - leaving the consumer with no money, no materials, and no way to complete the work. The TV reporter stands in front of the family in the middle of the mess.

The distraught husband and wife with tears in their eyes look on in disbelief. The images are very powerful and very damaging to the industry.

The biggest fear that people have when it comes time to signing a contract is that they, too, will be starring in one of these stories.

If you are in the remodeling business, you need to have a consistent marketing plan in place to calm the customer's fears from the first visit to the closing room.

One of the best ways to give consumers a sense of confidence about your company is to work out of a neat and legitimate place of business. Even if your showroom is small, if it is kept neat and current, the first impression will be positive.

I strongly recommend that phone shoppers come in to see our facility before we schedule a visit to see them. We teach our staff to always say over the phone that "most of our past clients have said that coming into our showroom is the best way to start the remodeling process." By using the words "past clients," you give the potential customer an opportunity to become part of a group of people who have had successful projects done. That is where their comfort level is, and that is where you need to put them with every meeting and conversation.

Once in the showroom, your sales staff should be trained to greet clients, listen to what their needs are, help them tour the showroom, and explain how your company works. A good operation will have on display not only fixtures and product, but information about remodeling procedures, too. Display on a wall or in a presentation binder examples of contracts, job schedules, purchase orders, check sheets and other documentation on how your company can effectively and efficiently remodel their space. Having before and after pictures of completed projects of varying sizes will also help narrow down the scope of the design.

In addition, examples of floor plans, elevations and detail plans will give the customer an idea of what is involved in some projects, and helps you build the value of your services. People have no idea what amount of preparation goes into every remodeling job. Take the time to explain all the steps that need to be done beforehand, and your customer will know just how much of the total cost is in the preliminary planning stages.

Document Every Step

In order to help you present your case, take one remodeling project you're about to begin and document every step of the job with pictures, contracts, schedules, and a recommendation letter (I hope) at the end.

Have the plans reduced and framed along with the job contract and the job schedule. Hang them all on an open wall of the showroom so that when you are explaining your process, you can point to every frame, and literally walk customers through a project.

Make sure that the recommendation letter is also framed and read it to the potential clients. Everyone knows a picture is worth a thousand words, but an actual note of thanks from a happy customer is worth much more.

Another marketing tool that works for us is to display a list of our suppliers and subcontractors with phone numbers and contact people. First, call your suppliers and find out who is the best person for potential clients to talk to. This person may be your outside rep, or one of their inside people. Explain to them that people will be calling to check on how you conduct business. Give your supplier permission to relay your good purchasing history. Just be sure to check every three months to make sure the contact person still works there.

Your subcontractors can describe how well organized your remodeling process is. Again let your subs know that they are on your list, and make sure that your contact person stays current.

These third-party endorsements can be the difference for some consumers. By having the list and making it available to all of your clients upfront, you can put your customers at ease. Essentially, you're telling them that you have nothing to hide - you run your business well.

Another thing that this list does is to differentiate your business from the competition down the street. If your competition does not offer this list, the potential client may ask, why not? What are they hiding? By being proactive with this information, you set yourself apart from the competition.

Will It End?

Consumers have another fear beyond that you will complete their projects. You also need to address the fear that once the project starts, it will take forever to complete. Here are the two best ways to remove this fear:

  • Provide a complete detailed day-to-day schedule from start to finish before the job begins.

  • Promise not to start a project until all of the material is in.

Every project you do is unique, and every project deserves a good tight schedule. If you can identify the number of days each trade will need to complete his rough and finish, putting together a schedule from start to finish should not be too difficult.

By writing the schedule from start to finish before you start, you have the ability to discuss any conflicts with the homeowner before you start, and you also give your subcontractors the time they need to schedule your job. It also eliminates the need for you to call them the night before and beg them to show up the next day.

We even build into our schedules open days at critical points, such as after rough-ins are scheduled to be completed, or after ceramic tile is completed. That way if any unforeseen problems do come up, we're still able to complete the project on time.

We also advise our clients that their project will not start until all of their materials have been received in our warehouse, and that everything is the correct finish and free of defects. If the faucet is shipped incorrect, we need to replace it before we start.

Because of this promise, it's impossible for us to determine exactly when we can start. As a result, we do not put dates in our contract. This unorthodox step is explained by pointing out that the time to find a mistake is not the day that a finish product is scheduled to go in. That would only cause more delay waiting for the end of a project than any time spent waiting for a job to start.

Again, by being proactive, you are helping clients see that you have set up systems that are proven to work, and it is easier to promise a successful remodel of their bathroom.

If you can take the fear factor out of the decision process, or even shift the fear factor to your competition, you will become more successful, and close a greater percentage of deals.