SELLING TO REMODELERS: Knowledge Trumps Price

Remodelers are a loyal group. If you educate us, we will be loyal to you.


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I’ve been in this business for more than 35 years and own a full-service remodeling company, Don Van Cura Construction, in Chicago. I have worked with many of the same suppliers in that time period. Of course, sometimes, LBM dealers come and go, with some locations closing or consolidating and moving. But mostly, it’s the people who work there that drive the relationship.

I’ll give you an example. We have worked a lot with Evanston Lumber over the years. We can put a face to the name—we know the people. I’ve got my window guy, my lumber guy, and the guy I can call to ask a question on the strength of an I-joist. Bob Fischer, the owner, has created a great culture where he makes sure his employees know what they need to know to help us.

When I call Evanston Lumber, I’m not getting a recording; I’m getting a voice. They know our staff, and me— and that means a lot. People get back to you and they don’t give false promises.  “We won’t have that product until next month,” they will explain. When you tell me it will be in next week, and it’s not, nor is it the following week, that’s deadly. We expect and need honesty in the sales part.

There was another company that we used to use a lot, and our guys never wanted to go in there; it was like night of the living dead. No enthusiasm. Another company purchased them and there was a huge change in attitude. It’s all about the culture that’s created—sincerity.

I tell our guys they have the privilege of shopping where they want, but I want them to go to the specialty companies over the big box stores for lumber. I know I’m paying more, but I have greater confidence in quality and experience in the people working at the specialty yards.

Sometimes it’s the questions they ask that save us the most money. For instance, if one of the guys is buying joist hangers, and the guy at the counter asks if we need hanger nails, too, that saves us several hundred dollars in production time—because otherwise, someone would have had to leave the jobsite to track down the hanger nails while work ground to a halt.

I want the people at our LBMs to know more about the product than I do. I had an account at a lumberyard that has since gone out of business. One time, I asked for a piece of colonial casing.

The guy brought me a piece of ranch casing, insisting that it was colonial. To prove to me that it was not ranch casing, he took me to the back, to show me the sign on the rack that says colonial casing (with a know-it-all attitude). I told him it was racked wrong and had to show him what colonial casing was. I then spoke to the manager about the lack of knowledge and disrespectful treatment, then closed my account.

Remodelers are a skeptical bunch, and no one wants to be the guinea pig to use a new product. It takes us awhile to warm up to a new product. Seminars, such as lunch and learns, where we can sit down with a manufacturer’s rep and talk installation processes—that’s what will get us to try that product.