Building a Future for Distributors and Dealers of Building Products

Volume 44,  Issue 7                                        September  2005

     Supplier Know-How
         Advice for Your Business

Facing a Bilingual Market
We Have a Lot of Work to Do!

by Art Ramey 

As a person who has traveled well over two million miles in my working life and felt good about marketing and selling to the multilingual population, I have now convinced myself that my efforts in this area are less than crawling, not to even think of walking.

I am not alone ... Our building products industry, as large and sophisticated as it is, is still lacking in this area. The situation may be this: the approach has been reactive or defensive rather than proactive, and we haven’t seen the real opportunity.

A simple visit to a builder’s jobsite or walking through a big-box home center should offer a real awakening. Consider making changes in these areas at a minimum:

• product idea literature;
• carton markings, clearly, especially on the labels;
• installation instructions;
• warranty information;
• training meetings (plant and customer) for comprehension;
• multi-language personnel in customer service; and
• more action drawings to eliminate confusion.

We expect a lot from the people who may be reviewing our products to order, to make a purchase or install a millwork product.

A quick walk through your warehouse, plant or a home-center store or jobsite can be a real eye-opener. Some products are difficult to understand in their traditional methods.

Place yourself in the position of a person who may not be able to read the language.

Picture yourself in a country where everything is undecipherable, whether the words are written or spoken. Now you have been presented the assignment of installing electrical components, or a window, door unit, flooring, mouldings, wall coverings, etc., using only “hieroglyphics” for direction.

Depending on Barcodes
We live in a barcode world—granted it is productive and needed for the purpose intended—but this dependency has us losing touch with the end user.

When a person (homeowner, builder, remodeler) has a great experience with our products, they buy again and again. A home is a work in progress for the life of the dwelling; we are constantly needing new things, replacing old things and requiring preventative maintenance.

As manufacturers and marketers, we are only now starting to see this as an opportunity. This is much more than a basic opportunity. It is immediate and long-term growth. It is growth that will help shield you in a general new housing or remodeling downturn.

Statistics on Minorities

Allow me to present you with some forecasting and statistics:

By 2009, reports from the Selig Center show that the combined buying power of minorities (African Americans, Asians, Native Americans and Hispanics) will jump by 242 percent.

Another interesting statistic by the Department of Commerce looks even further down the road. Minority share of the total U.S. population will increase from 29 percent in 2000 to 46 percent in 2045. Minority share of the U.S. economy will grow accordingly from a projected $1.3 trillion in 2000 to $4 trillion by 2045. It looks like by 2060 or so the minority will be the majority.

A study by the Joint Center for Housing of Harvard University regarding the state of the nation’s housing for 2004 shows how powerfully this homeownership growth is represented—and this is only a ten-year period ending in 2003! From 1993 to 2003, homeownership rose 5.8 percent for the Asian demographic and other rates went up 4.6 percent.

In June 2002, the Bush Administration introduced its goal of increasing minority homeownership by 5.5 million by the end of the decade. According to a HUD report, if this happens, it will stimulate $256 billion in economic activity, in the form of construction and remodeling jobs, spending on household goods and other benefits to the sector. Of the predicted 5.5 million new homeowners, 825,000 will purchase a new single-family home and one million new homes will be needed for homeowners who sold their houses to minority buyers. One hundred and ten thousand manufactured homes will be assembled for minority buyers. If the government’s goal is reached, spending on home improvement, appliances and furnishings will also increase by almost $36 billion, including $17 billion for remodeling and alterations.

Getting Started 
When you’re ready to develop your marketing plan, start with the first step:

1. Believe this is a real opportunity!
2. Define the market—targeted segments. Today the groups are primarily African American, Hispanic and Asian. Each group has a lot to offer in the way of culture and different ways of accomplishing things.
3. Define the products. Each minority segment has varying preferences of colors, designs, and styles that create the feeling they want in their homes. The Asian population prefers a different type wood, as well as design and color than Hispanics do.
4. Define the relative prices for the markets. Study the income levels of each segment. Focus the product and price where it has the best chance of meeting the affordability basis.
5. Define the communications. Provide brochures, literature and ads in customers’ and employees’ own language (even if English is spoken). Work with professional agencies proficient in the language. Keep in mind and targets the differences and subtleties of cultures. One word or incorrect emphasis can send the wrong message. Because of those differences, vary your marketing and selling style.
6. Change the images. Feature the people you want to attract in your literature. Advertise in newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations, choosing media that supports the people you want to attract. Place multi-language stickers on your product units with installation instructions.
7. Get involved with people and organizations within the minority country. Talk with members of your local Chambers of Commerce, realty companies and Home Builders Associations. Hold installation clinics and hire interpreters. Hold home shows in minority sections of cities.

I must admit to not doing everything I should fast enough. The eye-opener for me personally came as a result of creating one small, very focused moulding product line. The colors, selections, price and literature were all done after reading the research information. In 15 months, the product line became 5 percent of gross company sales, all new- growth business with very little extra promotional expense. 

Try layering an additional 5 percent on top of your existing annual sales increase—this makes for better corporate meetings. Many minority buyers are very loyal to brands they trust, making it easy to keep the sales increases rolling.

Doing all we can as an industry to make this an easy and great experience for others is a great business growth opportunity.

Author’s note: This column cites research from Harvard Research for Housing, U.S. Government Bureau of Statistics and Hanley-Wood.

Art Ramey is the President & Chief Operating Officer of Royal Mouldings Limited.

© Copyright Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.