Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Selling and marketing in the building industry: what small or independent builders really want - Product Awareness

In this first interview as part of our series on selling and marketing to the small independent trades, we speak to an independent builder to gain further insight into what they really want in terms of support and communication from building products manufacturers and their stockists. 

For manufacturers of building products, reaching the independents is notoriously difficult. In most instances contact and new product information and benefits is via the merchant or retailer. It is, therefore, vital that the stockist is a major part of any manufacturer’s communication strategy. However, there are times when direct contact is needed as this can lead to a tradesperson’s decision to use a manufacturer’s product. 

Colin Banks Construction & Carpentry of Saffron Walden have been plying their trade across Essex, Suffolk, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire, for a number of years. Colin, the owner, is always busy: going from job to job, merchant to merchant, organising other trades and choosing, ordering and collecting product. The products he uses are as important to his success as is the quality of his work and could make or break his reputation. 

The scope of the building and interiors products he purchases is vast: concrete, bricks and blocks, timber, sand, flooring, plaster, insulation, windows, drainage, plumbing and heating, ventilation, roofing, tiling, slates, paints, sealants and coatings, tools, and bathroom and kitchen products. Quite a list!

With so many different products to buy, it can be difficult deciding which to choose and also be aware of new or enhanced products, installation benefits and any ongoing promotions. 

Colin, like most of us, wants a stress-free life and needs products, information, service and availability that he can rely on. These factors became clear during our conversation.

In part one of our discussion with Colin we cover the subject of finding out about and trying new products and what keeps him loyal to a product.

How do you find out about new products?
Colin: I rely mainly on the information and recommendations from the place I buy my products from. They often send me newsletters, magazines or details of promotions - these help keep me informed, but to really catch my interest any information must state a solution to an installation issue I have been experiencing, otherwise they all just blur into one. 

When I am at a merchant, I also rely on trade counter staff to advise on products to meet my needs. Their knowledge and experience is vital to my awareness and decision-making process when buying a product. Another way I find out about products in-store is through point-of-sale displays, especially if they include before and after samples, or illustrative images, demonstrations and leaflets to take away. If these are striking and interesting, I will investigate further.

I sometimes pick up trade magazines, like Professional Builder, from the merchant’s counter, especially if I see something on the front cover that is relevant. They often have product-testing features, which can be quite useful and might encourage me to find out more.

On occasion, manufacturers are present at merchants’ or retailers’ events such as branch openings or breakfast mornings, but I rarely attend these - I would rather be working and earning money. However, if I happen to be at the branch, they can be a useful opportunity to see new products or learn of price promotions – but I’d only be tempted by a price promotion if I needed the product at that moment in time.

KEY LEARNING POINT:  It is vital for manufacturers to support their stockists through staff training and provide them with information, knowledge and resources to sell. This will ensure the stockist can confidently and proactively sell.

What makes you decide to try a new product?
Colin: Sometimes it is as simple as the location of where the job is I’m doing and the merchant or stockist which is close by. I may try a different brand depending on the brands they stock. I discovered Superquilt insulation through a recommendation by a Buildbase branch because my normal brand was not stocked there. 

My regular merchant recommended Egger Floor Protect to me and I have been pleased with their product too.

I’m also more likely to try a product if it is recommended or if it has a clear solution to a problem I’ve experienced. If I can get comparable or better quality for a cheaper price I am also willing to try a new product.

Sometimes the homeowner will request I install a particular brand or type of product.

KEY LEARNING POINT: Awareness is very important through high quality point-of-sale and education of trade counter staff to pass on advice. The product needs to be stocked and its benefits clearly understood.

Have you noticed any recent trends on the kind of products homeowners want to use?
Colin: There has been a trend for people taking a longer term view, so lifetime running costs and sustainability issues are now much more important. However, I’ve noticed that as these kinds of products have an initial higher cost, these trends are mainly with those aged 45 and over. The younger householders normally just want the cheapest option that does the job satisfactorily, as when you are setting up home every penny counts.

KEY LEARNING POINT: Make sure you target the consumer too with understanding of product benefits, as the homeowner can be the specifier.

What keeps you loyal to a product?
Colin: I’m happy to pay more for a product if it’s reliable, has proven benefits e.g. simple installation and causes me no subsequent problems. In my mind some are cheaper in real terms, as I have peace of mind the customer is getting a good product and I won’t have to return at a later date to resolve an issue - this costs me time, money and damages my reputation.

Velux is one brand I am particularly loyal too, but I did once make the mistake of trying an alternative brand which alleged better fitting, this caused me many problems and I went back to Velux. 

Generally, if a product is easily available, of good quality with good support and at a fair price, then I am happy to remain loyal.

KEY LEARNING POINT: Quality, proven performance and benefits are worth their weight in gold. Ensure products are tested before going to market and listen to the needs of the installer. Ensure you stay ahead of your competition.

In part two of our interview with Colin, we look at the level of support and contact he expects from manufacturers and stockists.

Image: Floor Tile Installation" by sixninepixels / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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