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Build customer loyalty through in-store classes

As building material retailers, we spend a good part of our winter and early spring making sure our employees are up to speed on the latest products. But as much as we focus on the product attributes, the truth is a lot of dealers in our industry do not have employees who can offer customers specific advice on installing a deck.

Still, it’s important that we educate our customers even when we don’t have the staff on hand who know the ins and outs of deck building. Our salespeople know our products, they’ve been trained to sell them, but do they know how they’re installed? This is a great opportunity to involve some of your contractor customers in an installation class.

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I’ve written in this column before about how we’ve offered some classes for our contractor customers that were put on by manufacturer reps. The classes I’m referring to today, however, are more geared toward your DIY customers, yet your contractors are still involved—they’ll be the ones teaching the class.

You probably know some deck builders who are specialists in certain areas. Consider having them come in and teach a class on behalf of your store. I suggest inviting three or four contractors to teach classes. This will help strengthen the bond between you and these valuable customers, as well as build relationships between your employees, the deck builders, and the DIY customers who will take the classes.

Maybe Contractor A is really good at design. So, have him give a presentation about deck design. Contractor B has done some of the most elaborate stairs that you have seen, so you’ll have him teach a session on stairs. Another may be very skilled with railings and you’ll have them teach the railing session. Getting them together and having them teach a part of the class, (or one class in the series if you’d rather) will also be valuable to them, as they’ll no doubt be installing the decks for some of the DIY customers who discover they’re in a bit over their heads.

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If the class is promoted well enough—local newspaper, radio, social media, etc.—you’ll have a lot of customers and folks who are thinking about building decks in your store. That’s the common denominator—they’re all in your store.

I recommend having customers register at your store prior to the event (or on your company’s website) so that you can collect names, addresses, email addresses, etc. from potential customers. This will help build your marketing database.

You might want to consider staggering the timing of your deck building classes. Many of the materials we sell are seasonal. Even though the entire decking industry is seasonal, there are micro-seasons inside of that. Right now, we’re still designing a lot of decks. We haven’t generated a ton of sales yet, but some.

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We know more will come based on the number of designs we’ve done. So, deck design could be a class in itself. The next class could be on framing. Concerns on risers and footings could make up the third class. Keep in mind that the attendees of the class may not retain the information long enough for it to be useful in their project. If you try to teach them how to install railing and they haven’t even put their footings in yet, then they’re going to forget a lot of what they’ve been told.

For one of the last classes, you’ll want to offer information on stair stringers. It’s one of the most in-demand topics that we teach customers at The Deck Store. Fortunately for us, it comes at the end of a project and as long as we’ve helped the customer along the way, we’ll keep that loyalty throughout the build. We always tell people that as long as they’re buying their lumber from us, once they get the footings in, if they bring us a few basic dimensions, we’ll draw your stair stringers for you.

Much of this information will vary from market-to- market. Only you know best what kind of information your customers need most, but I really recommend in-store classes as a great way to build customer loyalty and to grow your reputation as the decking expert in your community.

Remember to follow up after the class with a review sheet. It is important to seek feedback and to continue the relationship with customers. You can ask them to review the builders who taught the classes, and use that information to make it better next time around.

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