Remodelers are trained to say yes from the day they start in the industry. “Yes, I can complete the job. Yes, we can come in at that time. Yes, we can add that change order.” “Yes” is an important word, but perhaps a better word to keep in your vocabulary is “no.” Specifically when it comes to saying no to a sale.
That might seem like heresy, especially for remodelers who got started in the wake of the housing crash when jobs were scarce, but knowing when to say no to a sale can save you headaches, time, and yes, even money.
“Every lead was golden five years ago,” Ward Hampson, owner of Classic Remodeling NW in Everett, Wash., tells Remodeling. “Even though I knew it was the right thing to do, it was hard to give up leads.”
Today, the market is stronger and more homeowners have the resources and inclination to remodel. Remodelers can afford to be more judicious when choosing who to work with. But as with all skills, learning who to say no to comes from experience.
“I’ve been doing this job for 10 years,” says Matt Millsap, owner of Charlotte, N.C.-based Building Co. No. 7. “I’ve just now recognized that I don’t want every single customer. I think there’s some things you can look for: when they start asking a lot of questions, questioning your experience, and if they’re stuck on budget.”
Millsap described one job with a client who was insistent on price, but the changes just kept stacking up. Millsap broke even, but estimates that he conceded thousands of dollars just to get the job done at his normal level of quality.
Adherence to a specific price point with no flexibility is something that Hampson takes as an early warning sign as well. “We ask a series of questions initially,” he says. “How they heard about us, budget, [and] what’s most important: quality, timeliness, or price. If they say price, my possibility of landing that job goes down to 2%.”
Hampson also visits each customer in person before signing a client, and that visit can reveal personalities that just aren’t a good fit for his business. “I don’t want to be a marriage counselor,” he says. “I can tell if the husband and wife are arguing, I don’t want to get in the middle of this. If they’re being disrespectful to one another, I’ll bail.”
Hampson has a template for an ideal client already in his mind when he makes his first visit. Personality is just one of a laundry list he looks at, which also includes how long the client has been in the home and if they have equity in the home. After years on the job, he has an idea of which clients work best with his personality and team.
Jess Fronckowiack, president of J2 Solutions in Venice, Fla., says the answer on when to say no is simple—just apply best practices from commercial remodeling to residential and you’ll weed out those that you don’t want to work with. For J2 Solutions, that means a fee for pre-construction. It’s rare that he has to turn down a job once they’ve paid for that first service.
“We’re a service, not a commodity,” says Fronckowiack. “Usually, only the bad customer gets into how I run my job. I don’t have time for that. They get into the numbers, arguing the how before we’ve done the job. We’re looking for a client that appreciates the service. [The job is] dealing with the headaches, not eliminating them. They don’t have the right to demean us.”
For Ed Chmar, president of Homelife Remodeling, based in Towson, Md., it’s simple: His work is on the line, and he wants to control that deliver the best customer experience possible.
“I’m not a sales guy looking for a commission,” says Chmar. I’m the one that’s responsible when things go south. There have been times when I’ve said, ‘We’re not going to be able to satisfy you.’ [One client] made an arrangement for a roof and then all of the sudden they wanted to supply their own materials. That one I walked away from.”
As for how to turn away a client without upsetting them, Erik Block from Hadlyme, Ct.-based Erik Block Design Build suggests remodelers avoid making excuses and be honest—but tactful.
“I think the industry standard is to say, ‘I’m too busy,’” he says. “[Saying no] is super important and very hard to do. Depending on the situation, you could be insulting the client. The best way I’ve handled it is [to say that] it wasn’t a good fit. I said, ‘We’re not the guys for your job. You’re not going to get the best value out of us for the job you want to do.’”