When you visit a lot of lumberyards, you develop an appreciation for old family photographs. Whether proudly hung in the lobby, a conference room, or the president's office, most family-owned pro dealers have an affinity for the grainy black and whites that depict their corporate past. Even at Redmond, Wash.–based Lanoga—one of the nation's largest construction suppliers—the boardroom is decorated with reproductions of turn-of-the-century photos showing sawyers from the company's founding Laird and Norton families floating timber down the Mississippi River and cutting it to length at their Winona, Minn., mill.
While snapshots like this certainly provide a nostalgic walk down memory lane, they also can serve an important purpose in your modern-day business as a sales and marketing tool. Corporate heritage can be a vital link for customers and employees alike into your unique history of service and, hopefully, success. No doubt, the “mom-and-pop” days of residential construction supply are waning; however, a great many pro dealers still remain privately controlled by their founding families, and corporate pride in “who we are” and “where we came from” likewise remains strong.
Of course, pro dealers aren't the only firms in the construction world that are passed down from parents to children. Many home builders, particularly smaller custom home and remodeling firms, have passed the reins down to second, third, and fourth generations. In turn, these firms often find great success in selling to successive generations of their own customers, according to “Seconds Coming,” an article on multigenerational sales by Joseph F. Schuler in the December 2003 issue of REMODELING magazine, a sister publication of PROSALES.
“About 75 to 85 percent of the time, [existing customers] don't have to be sold [on new family owners],” says Tim Moore of Keating-Moore Construction, a remodeling firm in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. “They ask ‘How much?' and ‘When can you get going?'” Moore tells REMODELING that his company is now on the second generation of 10 or 12 customers, which adds up to about 35 percent of Keating-Moore's annual revenues.
Whether your company is family-owned or not, if you've been in the market for awhile there's a good chance you're beginning to sell to some of your customers' offspring, and there's no reason why you shouldn't leverage a little of that family value. Just make sure you live up to the past. According to Schuler's interviews with remodelers, attentive service is key to retaining the trust of the golden referral. “They already think highly of you—their parents had a beautiful job and it looks good—so they're expecting the same quality Mom and Dad got, and you damn well better deliver it,” Ed Shanblott of Home Beautifier in Duluth, Minn., tells REMODELING.
Only 12 percent of family-owned businesses survive for three generations, and only 3 percent survive for four, according to Joseph Astrachan, director of the Cox Family Enterprise Center at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga. If your company has been lucky enough to stay in the mix—you should relish the opportunity of selling into the next generation, as well—the success just might lead to your next photo on the boardroom wall.