Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How to Win an iPad, Remodeling-Style

In January, your bathroom remodels competed to win an American Standard 5-Function Shower System.

In February, your kitchen remodels competed to win a $250 gift card from National Lumber.

In March, your kitchen remodels (the theme was a hit) competed to win a Delta Pilar Pull-Down Faucet.

In April, your 'exposed glulam' projects are competing to win a $250 Visa gift card from Rosboro.

In May? Send us your basement remodels -- the uglier the "before" ceiling the better -- and you'll be eligible to win an iPad 2 from WoodTrac by Sauder, whose new wooden ceiling system offers an affordable and stylish alternative to drywall ceilings. Especially in basements!

As with all d5R contests, entering is simple and free:
  • Email no more than two "before" pictures and two "after" pictures of a basement your company remodeled to
  • In the subject line, write "Ugly Ceilings"
  • Include a brief narrative explaining how you solved your client's ugly basement problem. If the basement had a hideous "before" ceiling, as many do, tell us about it!

We'll feature a different project in d5R each weekday of May, beginning next Monday (May 2). You'll get a website link and a lot of attention from your remodeling peers and potential clients, and at the end of the month WoodTrac by Sauder will hold a random drawing to select a winner of the iPad 2.

"Like" WoodTrac's Facebook page, while you're at it. This, too, will automatically enter you to win the iPad 2. But that's not as much fun as showing off a beautifully remodeled basement.

Looking forward to seeing your (formerly) ugly basements, and to sharing the remodeled results with the readers of d5R.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My 15 Minutes with Integrity Windows

The good folks at Integrity Windows (a Marvin product) interviewed me a couple of weeks ago for their BuildChat blog. It was fun -- refreshing -- to be on the other end of the interviewing line, so I'm republishing our chat here, in the viral tradition. 

Last year, you launched your site, which provides daily industry insights and a social platform for building professionals. What have you learned in the first year of operation?

We just passed six months of publishing, and I’ve learned that I love being able to communicate directly with my audience and finesse changes without having to go through a bunch of priority queues or levels of approval. Time moves too quickly -- windows open and close like lightning -- to wait for the perfect moment, at least when you’re a startup. Customers won’t wait for you!

I’ve also learned that it’s absolutely essential to have a nimble web strategy and a robust web platform. We publish at 6 a.m. just about every weekday, and I feel that my focus needs to be on developing excellent content, understanding how I can help my audience, and responding by tweaking the site and the content mix accordingly. That means I can’t be bogged down by last-minute technology breakdowns or inefficiencies, much less anything as drawn-out and vulnerable to the economy as the print process.

I’ve also learned that some of my instincts in starting this business were better than others!

I was right in sensing that remodelers want to be part of a virtual community of peers (even if they’re just ‘lurkers’ and not active commenters) and appreciate having their very own “daily” sent to them first thing in the morning, before their days get insane. We just had a brief publishing break at d5R, and one reader lamented that he “missed seeing his remodeling ‘paper’ on his virtual porch” each morning.

On the other hand, I’ve learned to it takes more time and patience than I anticipated to gain major traction within the huge but dispersed and somewhat tradition-bound remodeling industry. And that sometimes remodelers appreciate less information in their “morning paper,” not more! And that just because I enjoy talking to remodelers doesn’t mean I enjoy, or am particularly good at, selling to them.

On your site, you write, “I believe that sustainable small businesses are critical to healthy communities and national economic vitality.” What can smaller home construction and remodeling operations sustain in this unfavorable climate?

Most remodeling companies are small businesses by definition, and most remodelers, it seems, are optimistic by nature -- especially when it comes to their own companies. I actually think the climate is much more favorable to businesses that are nimble, close to their markets and not heavily burdened by debt or overhead than by those that may be much larger and deeper-pocketed but are hobbled by inventory, legacy systems and bureaucratic holdups.

As far as what they can sustain, one clear winner is the enduring fascination that people have with their homes and the desire, I think, to be closer to home in these somewhat shaky times. Remodeling can’t be outsourced, and our housing stock is aging and in need of constant attention.

The housing bubble has only reinforced the fact that it makes more sense for most people to make the most of their current home than to upsize to a fancy new community. We’re having a fascinating discussion on d5R this week about people who need more from their current homes but can’t think of moving without taking a huge loss. Plus, there’s no mistaking the McMansion backlash as people embrace their not-so-big-house existing homes and seek to reduce their own carbon footprints by walking more (re: older urban homes) and generally wasting less.

Finally, look at the rise of things like the buy-local movement. Due mostly to bad behavior from a handful of actors, “big business” hasn’t warmed many hearts lately. It just feels good know who you’re doing business with. An example from my own family: we can do our food shopping at Whole Foods or Giant, but when we want really great seafood or meat even my 10-year-old son knows we need to see Pam, the butcher at our local market.

Very recently, you published a survey revealing many in the building industry were involved in social media for business purposes (branding, lead generation, community engagement, etc.). Should builders be considering a digital marketing strategy?

Absolutely. I don’t know of many builders or remodelers who don’t at least have a static website and use email. Even if your clients still prefer doing business via mail and phone and newspaper ads, your future clients will not.

Having said that, I think the notion of “a digital marketing strategy” might be intimidating to some small companies. But the great thing about digital media is that it invites experimentation, is soooo much easier than conventional marketing (zap out eletter vs. print, pay postage and mail newsletter? no contest)  and costs little or nothing to get started.

It’s sort of ironic that social media is proving to be a wonderful thing for many remodelers and builders. At first many remodelers resisted Twitter and Facebook; they told me “my customers are in my town, so why would I want to do something that anyone in the world can see?” Now many of them tell me they love being able to have almost real-time conversations with their clientele on these platforms. You saw this article, I gather; one respondent was fairly typical in saying s/he uses Twitter “to connect with & understand our ideal clients, to connect with peer designers, to partner with designers whose talents dovetail with ours.”

Where in the past, new home builders would pass on remodeling projects, now, many are taking on the work to sustain revenue streams. Is that a viable long-term solution?

I can’t speak for any former new-home builders but my sense is that remodeling is a viable long-term solution for them only if they adjust their margins, training and expectations accordingly. Repeatedly I hear from remodelers that their “competitors” now include builders whose prices are way lower than their own. Sometimes remodelers are called in to finish or fix projects where these lower prices got the builders into trouble -- they ran out of money, or cut corners, because their prices didn’t account for “the unexpecteds” that happen in older and/or occupied homes.

Alternatively, it may be that new home builders will figure out a way to apply the efficiencies they sharpened in their previous lives to remodeling projects. I’ve seen an uptick of MBA-types leave their corporate jobs to become remodelers, and there’s definitely room for more business savvy within the remodeling world. But building new homes and remodeling existing homes are two fundamentally different beasts, or so I’m told.

How has the game changed for seasoned remodelers as more builders are now competing for business?

Seasoned remodelers made the switch from being “order takers” to active marketers a few years ago. Many of them are still struggling to articulate how they are different from the competition in any form, let alone how to project that message to enough of the right people. In general, though, I’ve known of remodelers to make a ton of small and large adjustments -- from reducing overhead, accepting smaller jobs and taking sales training, to becoming fanatical about job-costing and networking -- to reposition for the long slog ahead.

Many of them say they’re having their best years in several years.

But it’s a really good question. Why don’t I ask my readers to answer on d5R next week?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

"I believe in the power of social media"

The winner of the March d5R Snapshots contest and the Delta Pilar faucet is Matt Urbas of First Class Construction, of Painesville, Ohio. Click here to see his winning entry.

Matt's entry was really wonderful -- a beautiful kitchen, for sure, but also a well-constructed example of how design can influence well-being. Of the "before" kitchen, he had written in his entry, "the partition wall between the kitchen and living room was like a barricade to happiness."

In 1,161 people voted during this month's contest. I asked Matt what he did to rally his troops and he wrote the following. I'm sharing it with his permission.

Our method was not complicated. Having friends and family send out emails to their freinds, family and coworkers and handing out many business cards with your webite name written on the back both may have contributed a little but I would have to say most of our votes probably came via Facebook. We held a "giveaway" contest earlier this year to announce our presence on FB and in turn acquired almost 100 followers or people that "like" us. This gave us the beginnings of a voice. A voice that we used to get the word out about this contest.

Once we were entered into the d5R contest we posted the link on our business and personal pages. The response was immediate and awesome. The validity that you gave by selecting us was something we could now market online. Once the voting started we reposted the link and asked for everyone to "share" it. I know of at least 10 that shared it. Those that did share it seem to be the more active FB'ers and in turn they have connections to many friends, 500-1000 or more, Thats a lot of new faces to put some of our best work in front of. That's how they know us now.

To win is fantastic and the Homeowners and I couldn't be happier. We knew it was a phenomenal project but going up against some of the other projects I have to admit I had my doubts. The creative ideas that some of those projects showed was really amazing. In the end though it's all about the client and their participation in "owning" the project. Their constant input from day 1 up through this contest they have been a dream to work with. Putting their personal touches on the different selections is what made this kitchen. I am so happy for them.

FYI we are planning on including the faucet as part of our next "giveaway". A way to say thanks to those who voted as well as another round of exposure. 3 rounds? Selection, voting, giveaway. Not bad for one project. I believe in the power of social media.

This is the third consecutive month that social media has driven the Snapshots contest. It's great that these remodelers and their clients are so thrilled by the win, but it's equally affirming, I think, that these remodelers have such a strong base of community support. Ask, and they'll help.

We're onto exposed glulams in our April contest. Not many residential remodelers use glulams (glued laminated timber), and the hope of the contest sponsor Rosboro is that more remodelers and builders will become interested in glulams' tremendous functionality and green qualities.