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Elevating Home Remodeling Standards: A Case Study of an Industry in Need

Background Information: We recently wrote an advertisement that poked fun at Tom Brady’s move to Florida. Our founder’s name is also Tom, so our take was that he wouldn’t head down south when the weather got cold. We said this jokingly of course but the ad only works because so many people have reported an experience like this when calling us to help. In a quick, casual conversation with our consultation team stories of “just yesterday” were astounding. “Just yesterday” Dave Jr. met with someone whose house was half sided, and the contractor had taken off. “Just yesterday” his dad met with someone whose contractor put down the wrong decking after the customer had paid for different material and the contractor took off before the railings were even installed. “Just yesterday” Adam sold a job that had been covered in Tyvek for six full months. The down payment was lost and it had covered more than just the Tyvek.

Presenting Problem: There are challenging customer-service issues in the home remodeling industry in many of the “best” cases and an earned fear of contractors in the “worse” cases. Every job we go on, we are working to overcome a negative stereotype of the “dreaded contractor.” Our mission statement, in part, is to elevate industry standards so that good people aren’t being taken advantage of. We can’t believe the stories we still hear on a daily basis. But as noted above, “best” cases often lack customer service (particularly communication), have scheduling issues, and/or surprise pricing changes. They are categorized favorably because they are weighed in relation to the “worse” case experiences. (Essentially, either way, remodeling has become synonymous with “What a headache!”)

Diagnosis: Smaller contractors are overworked and understaffed. They are trying to build a business and a house at the same time and that’s overwhelming. Smaller companies that take money upfront are often using that money to pay staff and purchase materials. If they fall behind, there isn’t money for the next round of purchasing. If material prices increase, it can result in an increase to the customer (even if they signed a contract months ago). This is because the company doesn’t have a buffer to cover the difference or a relationship/buying power with manufacturers to hold prices when orders are placed. The volume of a small contractor isn’t always enough for a manufacturer to justify this kind of service. We don’t necessarily agree with the system, but we also don’t agree with the situations honest customers are left in.

Some contractors do literally just move to Florida, but most, we believe, are doing the best they can. Still, the best can leave home owner’s in troubling situations. Homes left half finished, money lost, lengthy down-time between project-segments leaving customers in a long-term state of construction. Surprise start dates (or delays) and extra charges leave many people feeling like they were taken advantage of. There can be a lack of communication about scheduling, leaving customers feeling uneasy, stressed, and sometimes with the need  to take time off work unexpectedly. In most cases, where customers are engaged with other industries, they expect more — way more. They deserve it too.

Plan: At Marshall, we want customers to know that the cases where your house is simply finished, is not a “best case” scenario. To accomplish this, we’ve built the customer experience into our entire process. From the first call to the final cleanup, we work alongside our customers to make their dream homes a reality. We do this with a team dedicated to good communication, starting with the first point of contact. Our consultative approach (versus pushy sales tactics) works to educate homeowners on their options and then leaves them to make a decision about which contractor they’ll choose. We are committed to communicating scheduling dates and any changes (if/when necessary). We do our best to avoid changes at all, with an understanding that people adjust their schedules in order to accommodate. We have a point of contact in-house and a dedicated field manager for each job. Homeowners always have someone to reach out to. We close out each job individually, with a final walkthrough, followed by a call, before we invoice.

And most importantly, we believe in relationships built on trust. We know the negative reputation exists so we do our best to make sure every member of our team is working to an elevated standard to make up, best we can, for all of the bad experiences. This is why we never take any money down, we have extended warranties, and our customer referrals are our number two source of lead generation. Lastly, we added the goal of elevating industry standards to our mission statement in an effort to impact the industry as a whole. We believe that an authentic team and customer-focused process is the approach that can change the standards of the home remodeling industry. You don’t have to settle for less. You can have experienced work, great communication, and fair prices.

Discussion: This case study was exploratory and observational. Our consult team collectively has over 100-years’ experience to draw from and our company has 40+-years’ experience doing its best to change the way home remodeling is perceived in the local community. The stories from the consultants are true and were all reiterated to them “just yesterday.” Other conversations support this data. Unfortunately, our consultants hear stories like these regularly…still.

We want anyone seeking work in home services to know there is a better process out there and long-term protection is available at a fair price. For projects that aren’t limited to exterior work, or customers outside of our service area, we suggest taking a look at our learning center to find articles related to vetting contractors. If you are looking for an exterior remodel or install in RI or southeastern MA, you can always call Marshall or fill out the form below. We’re happy to offer advice or an honest opinion and our quotes are always on the house.

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Customer Q&A:

How do you define “fair pricing”? Is that a fancy term for high pricing?  – Sara B. Swansea, MA

Andrew Marshall, CEO of Marshall Building & Remodeling: “Fair pricing” is very subjective. For some people, fair pricing means cheap but that just isn’t the case. It can be very costly to do the same project twice, as a result of a mismanaged project, technical issues due to an incorrect install, or the result of one of the stories you noted earlier. Companies have to charge enough money so they can operate efficiently, but balance that against taking advantage of people. We call it the sweet spot. Typically it lands us right in the middle of our competition. There’s no gimmicks of free this or I’ll give you that if…. Unless a contractor is a credit risk, they should not need any money down to buy materials etc..

When offering a service, not selling a manufactured good that has a base retail price, there are a lot of factors that are used to calculate. Operating expenses for some consumers, seem immaterial to their specific project, but it makes a difference to have vetted installs, a place to call if you need anything (like fulfilling the warranties or replacing a panel after they hit it with their weed whacker). And it makes a difference to have honest people on the job, who are happy, enjoy what they do, and are well taken care of with benefits and a good living wage. The other factor is the installation, the best installers come at a premium and we know, as an industry, that installation makes a huge difference in ROI and the overall aesthetic. Plus, most manufacturer warranties don’t cover workmanship. So if there is an issue with the way something was installed, the “lifetime” warranty that sold you on the product, is no longer applicable (even if you can get the installation company on the phone).

When calculating fair pricing, we offer customers a number that is not so low where we can’t efficiently operate a business and not so high where we would detract people from doing business with us. We don’t want to take advantage of our customers or our workforce. There are a lot of companies who fall to either end of the spectrum and not too many who operate in “this sweet spot.”

What do you mean by consultative approach? And how does that differ from what you call pushy sale’s tactics?   -Tony H. Warwick, RI

Adam Park, Marshall Building & Remodeling Senior Consultant: “The Marshall consultative approach is an effort to educate home owners versus selling them. The first step to that is determining if a customer actually needs our services. There are times where I leave an appointment just letting someone know they have a few more years before they need to replace their roof or siding. So that’s our first step, we consult on a needs basis.

From there, we offer advice that isn’t primarily sales driven. A traditional sales approach is focused on a singular end goal. Get a signed document. The consultative approach is focused more on education and value, relationship building and honest guidance. For us, we would rather hope you’ll come back when you do need something versus sell you something you don’t need.

Our guidance comes in the form of design consults. We discuss your goals for your home and then offer advice on what products might help you get there. We keep your budget in mind as we go. We have 3D renderings so your home can “try on” different products and colors. We also offer phased approaches, where we address need-based issues first. Our team is also great at keeping the communication going, and that ties into the consultative approach. If you have questions, we have answers. I suppose it’s also about the layout of what comes next. We want customers to feel supported.

This no-pressure approach and the lack of gimmicky, huge discounts also allows us a true honest pricing system. I’ve never worked anywhere else with this much transparency and willingness to offer expert advice at no cost (all of our quotes are free).

I would define Marshall’s consultative approach as knowledge-based, honest advice from an expert without pressure that leads to an informed decision on a project by a homeowner.”


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