In the previous months’ columns, we’ve talked about getting all of our inventory organized, and the planning of the new decking season that most readers experience in the spring months. Now that we’ve made sure that products are ordered, inventory is in place, and staff is trained, we need to work a bit on educating the first customers that come in. These customers are coming out of hibernation in April and are eager to get their decks built so they can enjoy the summer months.
Too often, these customers are focused primarily on cost. They’ll come in to the store, ask for an estimate, and also get estimates elsewhere. When they receive an estimate from us at The Deck Store, I make sure that our staff knows to explain to customers why quality decking products need to be installed with quality components and accessories.
We know that customers are price-driven, and we don’t blame them for that. But when these customers go to our competitors (big box stores and other less-knowledgeable retailers) and come back with lower cost estimates, it is important that we have already explained why our estimates might be seen as a bit higher.
Your customers should receive a professional estimate with components that all work together, and it’s important to explain why these components work together. A lot of manufacturer products will require certain fasteners be used for the deck build. If your customers think they’re going to save money by purchasing materials from you and fasteners elsewhere, they need to know why that isn’t a good idea, and why their deck will likely not pass inspection. Let’s face it, a lot of retailers in this industry have not invested the time to obtain the knowledge that is necessary to really understand not only decking products, but also the building codes.
It’s important to make sure that your customers under- stand why you’ve assigned these products for their project. For example, a Kiln Dried After Treated (KDAT) board is go- ing to cost more than a typical treated piece of lumber. So, of course, a consumer can buy treated lumber at a lower cost, but do they understand the difference between that and KDAT lumber, and why KDAT is priced higher? If not, then chances are they’ll be buying from your competitor.
With composite decks especially, regular treated wood framing is more likely to undulate. Or, customers may decide to take the route of metal framing with steel or aluminum framing with composites, and they get a bid for some inexpensive, ordinary treated lumber, of course they’re going to be different prices. But it’s our job to educate them on why the prices are different, so that we not only maintain our customer relationships, but help to build our reputation as knowledgeable retailers who recommend quality products.
With composite decking especially, there are different grades, kinds, types. So many times, I’ve had contractors come in and they’ve sold their customers a “Brand X” deck. It doesn’t specify if it’s the good, better, or best version of Brand X decking. It just says Brand X. Then we have to work with the customer and explain that not only are not all brands the same, but different product lines within the same brand are also different, and of differing quality. Many brands have multiple price levels of product. It’s important for the consumer to see that we’re bidding apples -to-apples on products. A competitor store’s Brand X “good” product is considerably less expensive than our Brand X “best” product.
Frankly, we don’t recommend the good version of the product right off the bat, because we’re concerned more with quality than price point. The situation is that we’re presenting the best quality products and our competitors are showing the lowest quality products and the consumer doesn’t know the difference. It’s our job to educate them. This is our opportunity to take the education we’ve gathered and make sure that the consumer knows why we pick this particular product for their project. There may be less ex- pensive options, but they’re not going to perform as well. It’s up to us to explain why.
If a customer is going to insist on a lower price, then I tell them we’ll have to make a trade. I like to say something like, “We can cut costs, but I’ll have to assign one of our new builder crews. They don’t have much experience.” Of course they won’t want to do that to cut costs, and that is your opportunity to remind them that quality is worth paying for.