January-February 2003


Beefing Up Business
With Stronger Competition, Many Jobbers are Crafting Interesting Ways to Entice Builders to Shop 
at Their Companies
by Samantha Carpenter

Consider this hypothetical situation: Steve Brown has been a custom home builder in the Atlanta area for the past ten years. He recently relocated his company to Nashville, Tenn., so he could be near his elderly parents. He has not yet chosen the vendors he will use from his new location. In the next couple of weeks, he will be measuring what each distributor in the area offers and how they will entice him to be a customer.

As a distributor, you may think you have your entire market pegged. However, there are always new customers, like Steve Brown, you can encourage to shop at your company—as opposed to your competition. You may be out of new ideas on how to entice builders to shop or buy from your company, so SHELTER asked distributors to give some ideas on how to beef up business with builders.

When asked how companies entice builders to buy from them, an overwhelming number of responses were customer-service-oriented.

Mark Reasbeck, owner of Legend Windows in Las Vegas, cautioned that builders can buy windows from anybody, so he works to distinguish his company from the others. Reasbeck tries to promote himself as a consultant rather than a peddler. As a consultant, he can help with design, find errors in the plan and remain involved in the process of building homes, instead of just showing up with the products.

Reasbeck feels taking on the role of consultant produces more long-term relationships with purchasing agents and project managers. "They know they have a 'go-to' guy when they have a question with design, codes or the pricing evaluation. When they eventually move on to another company, you have earned their respect enough for them to take you with them," he said.
"I am not the low bidder, so I have to offer something of value that my competitor doesn't offer, such as expertise, knowledge and an interest in the project, something other than my monetary gain," said Reasbeck.

He believes acting as a consultant rather than a peddler works, plus it allows him to shape the sale to his benefit. For instance, if Reasbeck's product line has an advantage in having a lower-priced single-hung than his competitor, then Reasbeck will try to influence the builder by offering him bottom-line savings without altering his design of the project. “It also helps to know your competition's strengths and weaknesses in their pricing structure,” he said.

Mike Nowell, production accounts manager for Robert Bowden Inc. of Marietta, Ga., says his company is extremely customer-service-oriented. "What we try to do is be value-added to our customers whether that's through new products or vendor meetings on topics such as stair installations," said Nowell. Nowell believes that by being value-added builders feel like they are part of the marketplace. 

Nowell says his company also spends a lot of time team selling, which means that even though a salesperson may be assigned to a specific region he can lean on other salespersons for answers to questions.

The Houston-based Detering Company uses a unique program to entice builders to do business with its company. "The biggest thing that we do is a box-lunch program," said Carl Detering, president. "We invite the builders and their superintendents, we give them a tour of our facility and introduce them to all the products we sell and we serve them a box lunch," said Deterring.

After everyone is finished eating, The Detering Company brings in some of its administrative staff, such as the sales manager, general manager, credit manager and product manager. They take this time to ask customers how they feel about what the company is doing and what the company can be doing better.

The Detering Company sells both brick and millwork at its facility. Detering says one thing comes out of almost every tour. Someone will say, "I didn't know you sold millwork or I didn't know you sold brick."

Builders have many vendors to choose from when shopping for windows, so distributors need to set themselves apart. The company doesn't entice builders solely with its box-lunch program; it also organizes company hunting trips, bringing 40 or so customers together for a deer hunt at the company's hunting lodge.

Reputation is Important
Tony Kostusik, president of Mid-States Millwork in Lenexa, Kan., says that his company is fortunate because it has a good name. "I want builders to buy our products, not just shop our company. Word-of-mouth is how we are drumming up new business," he said. Kostusik says that his company is also fortunate because many of its salespeople have been there many years and have a lot of contacts. "My super sales force is how we sell to builders," he said. Kostusik says that they use airplane banners at the Kansas City Chiefs' games solely for name recognition, but they are still mastering the art of picking the winning games.

Larry Ray, owner of Great Homes Gallery (GHG) in Tupelo, Miss., says that his company sees itself as a specialty distributor. Many of the company's customers are custom home builders. What he says to these custom home builders is, "Let us be your showroom and selection point." 

Ray says his company does not try to be everything to everyone. For instance, the company doesn't mix the beginning home-building products with other products. 

Builders, alone with their customers, are able to come into GHG and pick out everything for their house, according to Ray. Not only does the company showcase its products at its facility but it also rents out space to a brick company and cabinetry company.

Whether you have a monopoly on your market or you are looking to gain a substantial amount of new business from builders, you should think about how your company could better entice builders to shop with you. The Steve Browns of the world may not walk through your door unless you give them a reason. 

Borrowing Big Box Ideas
Another aspect to consider when looking to drum-up business with builders is to check out what the big boxes are doing to encourage contractors and pros to shop at their establishments. The big boxes may be offering a service that your company could also offer to builders.

According to the Home Depot website, the company is offering contractors the following services:

•Express fax and phone ordering;HOME DEPOT

•Will-call order pick up;

•Fast delivery;

•Guaranteed low prices;

•Incomparable selection;

•Extended store hours; and

•A hassle-free return policy.

The website states, "Every Home Depot has a commercial desk staffed with a team of knowledgeable associates whose top priority is to help you get your jobs done on time and on budget."

Lowe's also touts that pros shop at its company because it "has added services that save you time and money and generally help your business run smoothly."

Some of the ways Lowe's feels it tries to make pros' lives easier are with:

•A dedicated commercial sales staff;LOWES

•Flexible credit services;

•Extended hours;

•A commercial catalog;

•A maintenance supply rack program; and

•Phone and Fax Orders.


Samantha Carpenter is the editor of SHELTER magazine.



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