Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Press On

Ten years ago, Chris Dreith, owner of The Home Improvements Group, in Woodland, Calif., couldn’t find a local publication in which to advertise. As a member of the SEN Design Group (a kitchen and bath industry buying group), she was introduced to the nationally distributed Signature Kitchens & Baths magazine. “I think I’ve gotten a job [from] every spread I’ve ever [placed in Signature], and I’ve been doing it at least 10 years,” says Dreith, whose company does design/build remodeling.

Think National, Work Local

Signature Kitchens & Baths, which publishes projects from any designer or builder (you don’t have to be a SEN member) as long as the project is attractive and the photography professional, is basically an advertising vehicle. Sold for $14.95 at bookstores and newsstands, the magazine is a four-color glossy with some editorial as well as submitted projects accompanied by staff-written advertorial. Each issue contains a buyer’s guide. A two-page spread is a $2,595 investment, and featured remodelers receive 160 copies of the publication.
Another, similar publication, is Home & Remodeling Trends. Also sold at bookstores, the full-color magazine is structured like a book with a table of contents and chapters. Advertorial is staff written and photographed. Although nationally distributed, clients pay a local or regional rate of $3,100 per page. Stories are repurposed online and get a unique URL; featured remodelers receive 20 copies. The magazine also will create e-brochures or printed brochures for clients.

So how can a national publication work for you?
Credit: David Sharpe
Remodeler Chris Dreith uses Signature Kitchens & Baths in several ways. The magazine functions as an extension of her showroom for clients to get ideas. “Each spread is actually someone’s home rather than a photo that promotes a particular product,” she says. “Clients start to learn the terminology of K&B remodeling … and it [also] helps me get to know what they don’t like.”
Dreith leaves copies of SK&B in doctors’ waiting rooms, salons, and high-end fitness studios. She even left a copy in a local bookstore, which displayed it with a sign noting that a local designer was featured on page “x.”
Other remodelers have used publication of their work inSK&B as a way to goad architects into working with them or as an entry into putting on remodeling seminars.
Brad Cruickshank, of Cruickshank Remodeling, in Atlanta, is often featured in Home & Remodeling Trends and says he gets “a really good response from the custom booklets Trends puts together.” He delivers them to prospects before the initial meeting and finds that clients are passing them on to their neighbors

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Major Overhaul: Address Weaknesses in Your Business

Mike Majors was stuck. Back in 2004, Majors Home Improvement, in Milton, Fla., had produced an annual revenue of around $1.2 million each year for several years, but Majors wanted to grow the business. Since he wore all the hats — sales, marketing, scheduling, production, human resources — as well as lead the company, he couldn’t dedicate the time to make the sales happen. Then, a series of hurricanes forced him to make dramatic decisions.
“Because of the hurricane damage, leads were starting to come in fast, but I couldn’t handle them because I was handling everything,” he says. “I had to make a change.”

Know Your Limitations

Majors decided to add staff. First he identified his own weaknesses: marketing and selling. “I could close sales but that was ... because my name was on the company,” he says. “If I was serious about growth, I needed good salespeople.” He was determined that once he hired good people he would maintain the revenue needed to keep them.
“I never ran help-wanted ads because I don’t want people who are looking for work; I want people who are successful in their current position,” Majors says. He spread the word, and a mutual acquaintance introduced him to Jonathan Wells, then working in a local advertising agency. With an MBA and years of experience in direct-response marketing, Wells turned out to be a great fit.
Next, Majors focused on sales. Again, mutual friends told him about Chuck Mepham, another MBA who had proven his sales success in years with Sears. Today he is Majors Home Improvement’s sales manager.

Let Go

In 2005, the company grew to $3.2 million and both new team members earned significant compensation. Now that the hurricanes are a thing of the past, volume has dropped but is significantly higher than before Wells and Mepham joined the team.
It wasn’t easy for Majors to hand over control of two major areas of the business. “It was difficult to give the responsibility,” he says, “but I think that the fact we were so busy and I had so much to focus on forced me to let go.”
Majors still keeps his finger on the pulse of the company with daily lead, sales, and production reports, and his key managers have earned his confidence. “Now, while they may run some things past me, I trust their judgment and know that they are better at their jobs than I ever was. This confidence lets me focus on other important aspects of the business.”

New Law Will Save Big Bucks for Small Businesses

A bill was sent to President Obama’s desk yesterday that repeals a small part of his own healthcare legislation. However, if it becomes law, it will make life a little easier for remodelers, contractors, and any other small business that uses its fair share of vendors.
By a vote of 87 to 12, the Senate approved the Small Business Paperwork Mandate Elimination Act of 2011 on April 5. The law repeals a burdensome tax paperwork requirement that was part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act approved last year. This would have mandated that starting next year businesses would be required to file a 1099 for every vendor that provided more than $600 in services or goods throughout the course of a year.
The annual $600 limit was for all vendors so contractors would find themselves sending out a stack of 1099s not just for their subs and vendors but also for mundane purchases such as coffee, office supplies, and even fuel.
No doubt the requirement — had it become a law — would have meant that businesses would have to spend resources on accountants and bookkeepers to adhere to the rule rather than on expanding their operation in a more meaningful way.
Aside from eliminating the 1099 requirements, the new potential law also repeals a component in the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 that stipulated that as of Jan. 1, 2011, landlords had to submit 1099s to vendors that supplied them with more than $600 of services.
Contractors, remodelers, and other small businesses can continue sending out 1099s as they have been in the past based on the IRS’s reporting procedures.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The State of the Kitchen & Bath Industry

At the recent Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) in Las Vegas, Karen Strauss, president of the Masco Cabinetry Group (which includes KraftMaid, Merillat, and Quality) in Ann Arbor, Mich., addressed a group of professionals about the state of the industry.
Strauss offered suggestions on how designers and remodelers can survive in today’s tough market.
First, she urged professionals to face reality. Kitchen and bath sales are down 30% since 2006, she said, but even with a few small rises in consumer confidence, the market is still “bouncing along the bottom.” Though the unemployment outlook has improved, professionals need to pay attention to the quality not just the quantity of new jobs on the market. With a 75% decline in sales of new homes, that market continues to be a “roller-coaster ride,” Strauss said, and tight credit will continue to affect these sales. All of these factors mean the rest of 2011 will be volatile and consumers will be reluctant to spend money on their homes.
However, there are reasons for optimism. With the low availability of new homes, as foreclosed houses are processed through the market, the need for homes will increase. Foreclosures also offer an opportunity for repair and remodeling — especially in kitchens and baths. Three positive factors that will influence the market are an increase in household growth, immigration, and the second-home market.
Strauss pointed out that K&B designers and remodelers are competing against other big-ticket consumer items such as vacations, so they need to “create a compelling reason to buy in our category.”
Reaching Today’s Consumers
In her presentation, Strauss stressed that the industry also needs to find out what today’s consumers want, citing some statistics that could help to define today’s top buyers. She said that homeowners see their kitchen as an experience and a “lifestyle support tool for what matters” to them.
And today’s consumers are the ones who control the message — they don’t wait for retailers to “push the message out to them.” They are connected in ways that most retailers never imagined. Strauss said that consumers:
• Want to participate in the conversation and be an equal partner in the process
• Are more likely to include their friends’ opinions in their decisions
• Want designers to bring them solutions worth splurging on
And, she added, there are 200 million blogs online, and consumers are using resources like this to make purchase decisions online — before they even set foot in a store. With all these changes, it’s important that the industry finds a better way to reach consumers from a distance, including phone applications and mobile sites. Strauss pointed out that the better you know your customer, the better you’re equipped to reach them, which means not just knowing their demographics but also their psychographics. She cites the example of a researcher who defines the ideal customer of Trader Joe’s grocery stores as a “Volvo-driving professor who could be CEO of a Fortune 100 company if he could get over his capitalist angst."
Designers need to ask their clients about the key triggers that prompted them to renovate a kitchen or bath. In addition, designers need to be innovative and inspire their clients. “No one cares about your products, they only care how your products will improve their lives,” Strauss said.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Having choices is essential to business agility

The economy shows signs of picking up momentum, yet unemployment, housing values, and world events remain unsettled. Funding is still elusive for our businesses and our clients, yet banks are reportedly hoarding cash. We are seeing more activity than we have since the fall of 2008 (yes, the double meaning is intended), but will it translate into actual revenue?
Mixed signals and uncertainty create more personal and business stress than times of clear direction. Is it better to hold onto our cash and live to fight another day? Or is it prime time to risk investing to gain market share and get a leg up on our competition? We all have responsibilities — to ourselves, our families, our teams, and our clients — and investing in the wrong areas at the wrong times could spell disaster.

Finding Options

In times like these, having all my chips on one uncertain investment or direction is too risky for my taste. I like options. I want to seize opportunities as they arise, but I also want the flexibility to pull back if those opportunities lose momentum. Think “nimble” — a mouse dancing in the moonlight.
Diversified services. Options come from looking at our business as a “portfolio” balanced to suit our appetite for risk. Large, design-intensive renovations such as additions, kitchens, and master bedroom suites offer great returns in good times, but they dry up quickly when clients are forced to focus on need-based projects and repairs.
To balance this risk, we try to serve our clients regardless of project size. Our smallest project last year was $78; our largest was more than $700,000. We have also balanced our business portfolio by offering services beyond just home remodeling.
Variable costs. Options come from making our costs as scalable as possible. We have blended more independent contractors with in-house labor over the last two years. We are using more temps in the office to fill short-term needs, and we have outsourced more elements of our business, such as payroll, hosting services, and graphic design. Hedging our decisions through investments in variable, rather than fixed, costs allows us to be nimble.
Team effort. Options come from transparent communication with a committed team. My goal is to have the entire team on the lookout, not only for risks and new opportunities but for creative reinvention strategies as well. To achieve that goal, they need the authority to think creatively, which requires knowing where the company is heading and understanding the decisions we make. And they need to be committed — to doing what’s best for the business, to breaking out of traditional boundaries, to wearing multiple hats. Team members need to become “utility players,” adding value in myriad positions.
Every business is affected by forces that it cannot control — competition, the economy, even the weather. Effectively positioning around these externalities, especially in such uncertain times, is a competitive advantage. We are following the path of flexibility through options — a mouse dancing in the moonlight.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Selecting and Designing a Home Remodeling Project

Embarking on a home remodeling project is an exciting and creative process. When considering your home remodel, take time to imagine, brainstorm, and plan.
Design ideas can be found in lifestyle magazines, online, and from experienced professional remodelers.
While researching ideas for your home remodel, think about some of the most popular room requests remodelers receive from customers.
No resource on home remodeling would be complete without a discussion of the most talked about room in the house--your kitchen. You may want to replace aging cabinetry, modernize appliances, update the style of your kitchen, or improve the floor plan for better flow. Today's home remodelers are experts in creating efficient kitchen layouts.
Following a remodel, home owners can enjoy a spacious and more lavish bathroom. Possible bathroom elements include modern cabinets, multiple vanities, and differently shaped showers.
Dreaming of a master bedroom suite? Home remodeling can update cramped and dark bedroom spaces, or refresh a child's bedroom into a more sophisticated space. Consider these questions:
  • What will you use the room for?
  • What other types of furniture do you want to include?
  • Do you have adequate storage?
  • Do you need an office or study space?
  • Do you need space for overnight guests?
Other Remodeling Options
Home remodeling projects are practically limitless. Don't fear creative thinking and soliciting others for advice. Here are some other potential remodeling ideas:
  • Home Office--If you're self-employed or a telecommute, you may need an efficient office space in your home. Think about the type of work space you need, including equipment, meeting space, furniture, lighting, and your preferred working conditions.
  • Vacation or Second Home--You may want to turn a weekend retreat into a more permanent residence. What type of renovation work needs to be done to create a comfortable living environment year-round?
  • Recreation Areas--Home owners are increasingly interested in spaces for recreation and socializing. Do you want to add a home theater, exercise room, library, sound system, or other features to enjoy recreationally?
  • Closets and Storage--When you assess your need for storage, look beyond closets. Every room in your house has the potential to deliver needed organization and structure. Maximizing all your space will help manage your storage needs.
  • Household Systems--Home owners are increasingly remodeling to improve energy efficiency. Traffic flow and floor plan improvements are another popular consideration. And others remodel to install security systems.
  • Remodeling for Accessibility--One reason for remodeling is the need to make room for an aging family member or person with a disability. Consider the needs of the individual, talk with them, and investigate solutions using universal design.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

NuTone Security Cabinets Protect Against Identity Theft

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), an estimated nine million Americans are impacted by identity theft each year. Victims of identity theft may spend months or more repairing the financial damage that occurs when their personal documents or credit information is stolen.
To help prevent identity theft, the FTC recommends storing personal information in a secure place in the home. NuTone® Recessed Security Cabinets provide an option to inconspicuously protect valuables and personal documents in the home without the hassle and cost of a cumbersome safe.
“If a break-in occurs, not only do homeowners risk losing their valuables, they also face the threat of identity theft as a result of personal documents being taken from the home,” says Julie Allongue, marketing manager, storage solutions, Broan-NuTone®. “To help prevent such a loss, a NuTone Recessed Security Cabinet can be installed anywhere in the home where a little peace of mind is needed.”
Perfect for storing and organizing legal documents, extra keys, credit cards, identification, medication and jewelry, NuTone Recessed Security Cabinets are easy to install and fit between standard stud distances, allowing them to be located anywhere in the home. Intended for a discrete location, the cabinets are ideal for use in the laundry room, closet, home office, work shop or anywhere extra security is needed. In addition, the cabinet door comes with a white heat-cured paint finish that can easily be painted or covered in wallpaper for enhanced concealment.
NuTone Recessed Security Cabinets are offered in two models, the Standard and Deluxe, as well as a smaller lock box that can be mounted in the wall and also fits in medicine cabinets with at least a 14-inch inside width for an added component of security. The cabinets and lock box feature a 14-gauge painted steel door, a rust-resistant painted steel body, a cylinder locking mechanism and concealed welded piano hinges to deter tampering. The cabinets also feature adjustable tip-resistant shelves and a reversible left- or right-hand door opening. Unique to the Deluxe Recessed Security Cabinet are a key/jewelry rack, a padded jewelry tray compartment and a document holder.
The Standard cabinets are available in an overall size of 16 inches wide by 26 inches high by 3 ½ inches deep, and the Deluxe cabinets are available in an overall size of 15 inches wide by 18 inches high by 3 ½ inches deep or 15 inches wide by 26 inches high by 3 ½ inches deep. The lock box has an overall size of 13 ¼ inches wide by 5 1/8 inches high by 3 ½ inches deep.  Additionally, NuTone Recessed Security Cabinets are manufactured and customer-supported in the United States, making NuTone the ideal brand for Americans looking for ways to contribute to strengthening the economy.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Remodeling Market Index Reaches Highest Level in Four Years

According to the National Association of Home Builders' (NAHB) Remodeling Market Index (RMI), the remodeling market is heading into recovery with an increase to 46.5 in the first quarter of 2011 from 41.5 in the fourth quarter of 2010. This marks the highest level for the RMI since the fourth quarter of 2006. An RMI below 50, however, indicates that still more remodelers report market activity is lower (compared to the prior quarter) than report it is higher.

The overall RMI combines ratings of current remodeling activity with indicators of future activity like calls for bids. Current market conditions for the first quarter of 2011 rose to 46.1 from 43.3 in the previous quarter. Future market indicators climbed to 46.8 from 39.7 in the previous quarter.
"Remodelers report a jump in activity so far this year and have been receiving more calls for work and appointments," said NAHB Remodelers Chairman Bob Peterson, CGR, CAPS, CGP, a remodeler from Ft. Collins, Colo. "However, many home owners are still slow to commit to remodeling due to feeling uncertain about the economic recovery and difficulty obtaining loans."
Regional break downs for current remodeling market conditions showed growth in all but one area: Northeast 46.1 (from 38.8 in the fourth quarter), South 46.1 (from 45.8), and West 46.1 (from 39.7). Only the Midwest experienced a decline to 47.1 (from 54.3).

All current remodeling market indicators increased: major additions to 50.3 (from 48.6 in the fourth quarter), minor additions to 48.0 (from 43.9), and maintenance and repair to 39.5 (from 37.0). Future market indicators also improved across the board: calls for bids rose to 53.1 (from 47.2), appointments for proposals to 52.4 (from 43.1), backlog of remodeling jobs to 49.7 (from 42.6), and amount of work committed for the next three months to 32.1 (from 25.9).
In an additional special question remodelers reported the top reasons prospective customers are holding back from remodeling their homes:
Customers think it is hard to get financing (90 percent of remodeler respondents)Customers have lost equity in their homes (81 percent)Customers are uncertain about their future economic situation (74 percent)Reluctance to invest in home when not sure home will hold its value (67 percent)Negative media stories making customers more cautious (62 percent)Inaccurate appraisals are making financing more difficult (54 percent)
"Home remodeling continues to slowly increase and continued growth through the year is expected." said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "The fact that some indicators are breaking 50 means remodelers are seeing improving activity in their markets. While credit scarcity and economic uncertainty continue to weigh down remodeling, signs of increasing consumer interest are promising."