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Every day as contractors and custom deck specialists, we seek out new ways to not only make ourselves better, but also to set ourselves apart from the masses. Clients will do their searches and call on half a dozen or more local (and sometimes not-so-local) companies to get their price quotes, estimates or proposals in an effort to maximize their purchasing dollars.
The reality is there will always be someone cheaper, generally offering the same prospective client a lower value, while leading them to believe they are getting a better deal. As we get older and realize that that there are only so many hours in a day and a limit to what we can accomplish, we too must maximize our time, efforts and offerings to garner the most we can as we turn labor hours into profits.
Most companies have set their own business philosophies of competing, whether it be competing on price or selling their product as a high quality investment. I always say, “Do what works for you.” Every town has companies that are extremely successful in either of those categories, so I have absolutely no judgment on what makes various businesses succeed. Personally, I don’t concern myself with price battling every young pup in town—instead our focus is strive to outclass our competition.
Being the best that you can be has nothing to do with acting like you’re better than anyone else; it’s just simply holding yourself to the highest standard possible. Striving to raise the bar on team members, crews and of course yourself on a daily basis.
As you do this, you also need to remember to reward the people around you for their efforts. A little bonus here and there—pizza lunches on Friday, and a “thank you for a job well done”—goes a really long way.
I’m also a big believer in entering our completed projects into local, regional and national contests. When your crew knows you thought enough of their work to put them up for an award, it becomes a tremendous morale booster, not to mention a great way to keep people focused on excellence. You don’t have to win, just participate—you really never know which one of your projects will gain recognition. Recognition will set you apart from the competition.
On that note, I want to give a big shout-out to our main crew leader, Rob Blanton. This year, Rob won our local builders association award as Outstanding Craftsman of the Year. Needless to say, his crew feels like they are in competition with the world every day to be the best crew in town. On top of that, having an accolade of that nature and being able to put it on your marketing paraphernalia really helps substantiate your proposals and your position when explaining the difference between what you and “Bob in his Beater” are offering the prospective client. Anyone with a lick of sense would want to have the top guy in the area build their project. Combined with other awards, families will begin to seek you out since you have something better to offer. Your standard of excellence will have already received validation by recognizable entities before the client has even made first contact. In short, do yourself a favor—pull out those photos and get them entered in any contest you can find.
For the last 12 years, we have also participated in our local home builders association’s spring show. Each year, we spent thousands of dollars and hours upon hours of labor, and when it was over, we donated the display materials to a charity. We reap a good 20-25% of our annual sales from the show, so it’s something we always look forward to doing. The only problem was that when we went on the appointments and would refer to something in our display at the show, customers often said they didn’t remember the specific item, just that they liked us. Although flattered that they liked us, it was a little heartbreaking to spend time and money on what we thought were show-stopping displays, only to find they had not left an impression after all.
So a few years back we decided to shake it up a little. Since the day I started the business, I always wanted an antique truck. Some old Walton’s era-looking work truck with bubble fenders, a flatbed replete with all of the nostalgia that goes along with it. We envisioned an eye-catching rolling billboard that would grab the attention of everyone it passed, young and old alike. I always thought it would be a great way to make us stand out in a crowd. After doing some number crunching, we reached the conclusion that for what we spent on two home shows, we could purchase something really cool and actually come out financially ahead in the long run.
We contacted the local home builders association and obtained permission to use the truck at their spring show. After an arduous search, we found a truck that had potential. After some hard work and long hours during the winter doldrums, we were able to get the truck going as a “rolling project.” We then contacted our local sign shop, and commissioned them to create a decal/wrap that emulated an old-style brush-painted logo in a style that matched our main vehicle. Everything fell into place. The truck was transformed and looked amazing.
The truck display was an absolute hit at the spring show. Thankfully, we had the foresight to invite my friend Tony to come along with us to the show, whose sole purpose for the weekend was to discuss the truck. He may have actually been busier than the rest of us. It was fascinating to realize how many people who needed a new deck were also into the truck. Some spoke of how it reminded them of when they were young, or of their father or grandfather. It was great. We gained more potential clients than ever before as a result of that show. A lot of the families asked me if I would drive the truck to the appointment. Naturally I agreed. We even offered to take them for a spin around the neighborhood when we got there. No more forgetting what was in our display—it was a great big 1937 Ford truck. Almost every one of those leads turned into a sale for some rather significant projects. It was truly our best show ever.
After two years, the bubble-fendered vintage vehicle has morphed into an iconic symbol of old school craftsmanship and longevity in a world where mediocre is fast becoming the millennial standard. We now drive our beloved antique truck with its original flathead V8 puffing and chugging all over town. We take it to appointments, out to dinner, or even just the grocery store. It’s amazing when you come out of the store; there is a always a crowd around the truck, people are taking photos (more free advertising) and trying to climb around on it. We have friends who want to use it in local parades, and we are regularly asked to bring it to car shows. Every time the truck leaves the driveway it is marketing our company and it sure as heck looks a lot nicer than some clunker with a magnet on the door. We can’t drive it more than a block without someone waving or stopping to chat. This was a magnificent investment.
Let’s move on to the contractor’s daily work vehicle. Like so many of you, I have a rolling office. I need it for everything from carrying about 100 different decking, railing and framing samples along with lighting, pergola, fasteners and tools, to making runs for special supplies, more lumber, and other miscellaneous project materials.
Since a large part of my daily routine consists of sales calls, I personally like to show up in a big clean truck decked out with my logo as bold as I can get it, along with my slogan, phone number, website, some brand affiliation, and, last but not least, the NADRA logo proudly displaying my membership. When my clients see my rig pull up, they know they have a proper Deck Specialist, a businessman, and someone who pays close attention to details, all wrapped up in one package. They know the advice and designs are coming from someone who is intimately familiar with making it right. Again, the look and style leave them with a memorable impression. Rare is the visit where a client doesn’t make a comment.
The cost of a really nice wrap, decaling or, like in our case, the antique truck can be far less than that of a missed opportunity.
One little side note: I’m compiling a picture portfolio of all the creative ways our colleagues have “decked out” their vehicles and trailers, so please send me copies of yours.