Homebuilding in 2009 is challenging. New home starts have declined, and those consumers who are building expect more for their money. I recently talked with a close friend of mine who was lamenting the housing market. His sales have declined dramatically, and he was looking for solace from the onslaught of picky customers wanting more for less. In these trying times, what is it that separates those who succeed from those who fail? Is it possible to not just survive but thrive in a tough economy for home builders? The answer is an emphatic YES, but we will need to look outside the proverbial box to discover how truly successful companies made it big in tough times.
When I was in high school, my first “real” job was working for McDonalds. My first day on the job, this meek, if not terrified, teenager walked through the door of opportunity at my local McDonalds in Sioux City, Iowa. But, at that restaurant I learned the most important marketing strategy I’ve ever encountered. They called it suggestive selling, and it went something like this…”Would you like fries with that order?” Those words were ingrained into my young mind and three decades later I still haven’t forgotten them. But how does this simple marketing strategy apply to home building? It’s simple; to be successful in a down market you must make your customers aware of their options.
Let’s take a few examples from my area of expertise, stair parts. Why is it that builders insist on installing primed white “5015” balusters without making their customers aware of their options? We get hundreds and hundreds of calls from customers wanting to remove these relics of the 80’s and replace them with wrought iron or stained wood balusters. The sad part is that many of these customers have been in their new homes less than three months. Why didn’t their builder give them an option of the upgrade? It certainly costs the homeowner more to take out the installed balusters and have the new ones installed. The customer would have gladly paid for the upgrade at the time the original parts were installed. Almost anyone who could swing a hammer made money, and a lot of it during the first half of this decade, but now the tide has turned and only those who adapt will survive. It seems that not a day goes by but that we don’t hear from a customer in a brand new home lamenting over the fact that they were not aware that box newels, or iron balusters were available. We hear from customers who have been told that Brazilian Cherry stair parts just aren’t available anywhere at any price.
The time will soon come when home building will again flourish, but let’s not forget the important lesson that this downturn has taught us. Not only do we need to give our customers what they want, we need to make them aware of what is available so that they can make an informed decision. Only then are we offering our customers the value they deserve, and only then will we reap the rewards of happy customers, and a sound financial footing.