"Ease out on the clutch and press gently on the gas. No, not that way!"

Mike Butts The truck lurches forward and stops. "As I said," I repeat as calmly as I can, "ease out on the clutch, press gently on the gas." But what's supposed to be a smooth transition from stop to go becomes a series of small explosions of lurching and stopping. I am sitting in the passenger's seat, trying to teach a teenager how to drive a manual transmission truck for the first time, and the whole time I'm wondering, "Why am I doing this?"

Then the thought (or perhaps it was something flying off of the dashboard) hit me: How many installed sales programs have gone through this? Many look like a series of mini explosions–sudden bursts of energy when first starting out, then stopping dead in their tracks a few weeks or months later, then starting up again. Some companies have experienced this over and over, only to stop offering installed sales altogether. Others finally get a program that is running smoothly and offering quality service.

So everyone goes through this phase, but some give up while others eventually get the hang of the installed sales business. What makes the difference?

In my opinion, those programs that stop before reaching full potential are the victims of poor planning and a lack of true commitment during the development stages. I've seen countless starts: An LBM dealer will be approached by a customer asking to have his or her windows, doors, or cabinets installed. Or maybe it's the salesperson working at the counter or kitchen department who recommends installed sales as a way of increasing business, claiming that the homeowners in their particular market are walking away if they cannot get a particular product installed. So, without giving it much thought, the owner/manager says, "OK, line up some installers and let's offer the service. Everyone else is making money at this, so why can't we?"

And without much more thought, a program is launched–lurching away from the curb, only to proceed partway down the road before shuddering to a halt. All due to lack of planning, commitment, and a full understanding of what is really involved.

Strategic planning requires a clear vision of where you are, what assets you possess, what skills you need, what specific products/services you want to offer, and where you want the program to go. These key issues are missing in many programs that fail.

Before getting into installed sales, ask yourself some serious and thought-provoking questions:

  • If this program or service is readily available elsewhere, why are we going to offer it?
  • Is there a strategic and valid reason for subsidizing this activity during start-up?
  • Do we allocate all costs to this program or activity? If we did, how likely would we be to continue it?
  • If we devoted the resources required to support this activity to another initiative, would our customers be better served?
  • Will we still be offering this program in five to 10 years?
  • And finally, after a thorough strategic review, do we really feel a need to start this program?

Just like a teenager learning to maneuver a clutch, dealers can quickly get the hang of things until the procedures required become second nature. In the coming months I will lay out the planning necessary to help you to not only start your program, but move it cleanly through the various business development phases all the way to a fully developed and profitable program–one that provides a true service to your customers. So buckle your seat belt, hold on, and get ready to change the way you view installed sales. Ease out on the clutch, gentle on the gas.

–Mike Butts is president of LBM Solutions, a DeWitt, Mich.-based LBM supply consulting and training firm. 517.668.0585. E-mail: [email protected]