You can slice them, dice them, and divide them into subgroups of subgroups. No matter how you cut the data, one thing is certain: They’re your next major customer group. As boomers retire and younger contractors—older Millennials and younger Gen-Xers—rise in the ranks of their own companies to assume decision-making roles, dealers must adjust their sales tactics to meet this group on common ground.
We talked with four remodeling contractors ranging in age from 27 to 40 who represent operations known for their quality of work and use of technology. We asked them what they want out of a relationship with a building-material supplier. Here’s what they said.
Andrew Schroeder, 31
General manager, Schroeder Design-Build, Fairfax, Va.
2012 Sales: $1.8 million • Employees: 13
Andrew Schroeder spent summers as a kid in the field, helping out in his family’s remodeling business. He joined the company in 2004 after graduating from college, and he soon found a home in sales. Now he works with the company’s production manager to oversee projects—most of which involve two-income households or retired couples who want to open up their floor plan or add a room.
“An email out of the blue or a LinkedIn message from a supplier isn’t going to get very far. But if I meet somebody at an industry event, we’ll swap cards and go from there.
“I usually don’t sit in on vendor meetings. They meet with my designers. I just want to know the outcome of that meeting: Are these products that we want to carry regularly? Should I start selling these products to clients?"
“The economic crash was horrible and tragic but a blessing in disguise because it made everybody reevaluate their operations. For any business that came in the door, you had to find the best-quality product at the best price. Some supplier allegiances were broken down a little bit."
“Suppliers’ timeliness in returning information is important. The attentiveness of showroom staff and the quality of those appointments is a concern, too, since we’ll be sending clients there. Product quality is key—what are their standard products and do they mesh with what we offer? What are the company’s ethics? And then price, of course.”
David Hamtil, 36
Owner, Hamtil Construction, St. Louis
2012 Sales: $315,000 • Employees: 2
Hamtil Construction is raising its technical aptitude and hoping its suppliers will follow suite—although so far, David Hamtil admits, few have bitten. “I think everyone [who we deal with] is just kind of behind the times,” he says. “A lot of the suppliers are represented by older men and most of those people are just not tech-savvy.”
Hamtil likes his local yard for the personalities of the sales reps and the quality of the product. And he admits the suppliers aren’t the only ones to blame: “It’s a little bit of a fault to my generation. We’re not very personable. We want electronic communication where the personality is removed.”
Hamtil and brother Paul, 33, have been running Hamtil Construction in St. Louis for more than five years after spinning the operation off of their father’s remodeling company. Starting out, he says, the pair had to be more accommodating of vendors who used outdated communication platforms. They quickly found faxing back and forth to be a time-suck.
“We started realizing that it’s not just the product they’re selling or the service they’re offering,” he says. “A huge part of the vendor relationship with us is how they communicate. If they don’t email, they’re probably going to be nixed in the long run. If they’re not into electronic communication, it’s probably not going to work out very well.”
His biggest peeve? Poor email etiquette that spans not checking inboxes frequently, to failing to respond to queries, to not changing the date when modifying and returning documents via email.