We’re finally doing it. We’ve committed to “the deed.” And though I’ve been dreading it like getting an amateur colonoscopy, we’re finally redoing our kitchen.
When we moved into our lovable and creaky 1911 house, it had been “updated.” But that was when Seinfeld was the rage, most women’s hairdos appeared to be the result of electrocution, and cell phones were the size of microwaves (little known fact: Early models did cook bacon).
Like most guys, my kitchen needs were limited to a 48-quart cooler and a toaster oven, so I didn’t really notice any urgency to the cause. Yet after some nagging threats and knives being pulled discussions with my wife, I finally admitted that Formica - an indestructible product first used in Jane Jetson’s kitchen - may be slightly out of style.
At this moment, I was doomed.
Within seconds, designers and contractors swarmed my house. My silly question: How did countertops trigger a major renovation?
Because, you idiot, the cabinets upon which the Formica is cryogenically fused are stupid and clash with everything in the world. The new cabinets will then horribly outclass the wretched appliances including the Harvest Gold HotPoint Double Oven which has grease stains older than Larry King. That’s how.
This is when you get a look that basically says, “I’m surprised you still remember to swallow after chewing.” I was dying a slow death here. A tip to those of you who still have Formica: move. Save your marriage and just move.
When the swelling went down, we met with a registered kitchen designer. Of course, the unregistered ones are all in jail - or should be - for putting the trendy farm sink outside of the “preparation triangle.” You just don’t do this.
Within moments, the designer had suggested moving doorways, installing thousands of can lights and updating to a stove bigger than my college apartment. It had big red knobs. Something called a “pot filler” was mentioned (a second uninvited college reference resurfaced, which I kept to myself). Lastly, white marble was to cover every surface, which I think was to include the windows. I glanced at my wife who was in full kitchen lust. Tiny but appropriate froth formed at the corner of her mouth. I began scanning the classifieds for a night job.
Cue The ContractorLast summer, we added a bathroom for my daughter and the contractor was excellent. Good quality, on time, on budget. We “mentioned” the kitchen then. Wisely, he was semi-regularly in touch, even though he stays booked when many contractors aren’t (take note).
Make another note: “Call me if you decide to do something” isn’t good enough anymore. He knows there are many skilled contractors around; several prowl our neighborhood. Once the appropriate lip froth was wiped away, he got the next phone call.
After he saw the initial plans, it was determined that we’d need every subcontractor in the tri-state area, including those for trades that hadn’t been invented yet. Then things got interesting.
The designer had her list of subs, clearly influential here (take another note). The contractor had a list (note again). Now if your note-taking hand isn’t cramped … we did too.
Only one subcontractor was on all three lists. Yet there was a parade of subs, some below $2,000 in work. At least two were more than $20,000. Not big money for many of you guys, but multiply it by all the work going on in your town now. Somebody’s getting it, because somebody’s on “the list.” My advice:
Be On 'The List'So what did this contractor do differently than the others? Not that much really, but he remained visible, recognized and, thus, differentiated from the competition. Here’s how:
• Six times a year this contractor attended local, notable meetings. One, for example, was at a trade school where the company sponsored a dinner and/or gave a public speech to students. Another was offering partial scholarships to trade students. It was recognized at those meetings and always got top choices among graduates. (All for a $500 donation. Not bad.)
• Four times per year, each general subcontractor and customer got the contracor’s newsletter. They get out like clockwork and are never late. The company wisely included the media in its mailouts. Guess who gets called when the media needs a story? Then…
• Two times per year the contractor sends winter holiday cards and summer (July 4th) cards. These were primarily “thanks” in nature, but really a “name recognition” piece.
• And on every job, the company mailed an actual thank-you card. With an e-mail address, it began a similar sequence of follow-ups, one per month. And the cycle repeats.
Add ’em up and these things get noticed. They’re “automatic” and each of the three people mentioned what they got from this company. Yes, the company is skilled, but there are many skilled, forgettable and bankrupt companies out there.
Oh, and they are also the most expensive of their competitors. Price elasticity exists as long as you are both good and memorable. And if you’re “on the list,” chances are you’re both.
Three Things You Can Do Right Now1. Put a customer retention program in place. If you don’t have one, you’re cheating yourself out of repeat customers and recurring revenue. Is that something you can afford to lose? These days, that’s not smart. If you don’t have a program to keep customers, eventually they migrate away. This is too important to overlook any longer.
2. Start networking. And not just with other plumbing contractors. Kitchen designers, home remodelers - anyone and everyone who has anything to do with refurbishing homes should be on your must-contact list. Remember, in this economy, more people are redoing than relocating. Take advantage and add the profits to your pockets instead of your competition’s.
3. Get ‘back to the future.’ Or at least stop dwelling on the past. What worked then isn’t going to cut it now with your marketing. It’s time to work smarter, not harder - and that means duplicating the steps of successful contractors like the one in this column. Learn, act, repeat - that’s the formula for success.