One of the more difficult aspects of being in the construction business is that the product is very long-lived (if it’s built well) which seems to seriously reduce the likelihood of repeat customers. This doesn’t have to be the case, though, as Architectual Building Arts president Melinda Monroe has discovered. In an interview with Karen Rivedal of the Wisconsin State Journal, Monroe discusses how builders can cultivate a client-for-life relationship with many of their remodeling customers.
One of the first changes to make in cultivating a client-for-life relationship is looking at how the projects fit into the larger neighborhood and urban context in which the home is located. With the housing and job markets still in recovery, many homeowners are demanding whole-house renovations. “Last year was the year of the bath — everybody was doing their bathrooms,” Monroe notes, “This year, it’s very different. It’s a lot more whole-house remodeling we’re seeing, (doing) lots of different spaces in the house, and additions.” But it’s important for builders to realize that they aren’t just changing a home, they are “changing the urban fabric,” as Monroe says, and the work is “really about maintaining the homes in a certain area and updating them for the long term.”
Nowhere was this philosophy more clear than with ABA’s renovation of the master bathroom of a historic home built in the 1920’s that was designed by classic regional architect Frank Riley. The tiny shower and cramped vanity were transformed into a spacious master suite bathroom with steam shower and tub, yet the design flawlessly melds with the design sensibilities that are unique and original to the home. ABA’s remodel beat out six other finalists to won the 2015 National Contractor of the Year award from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. The award-winning work garnered many accolades, but it also won a client-for-life, as the homeowners are currently consulting for additional remodeling of their historic home.
Another aspect of the client-for-life relationship is maintaining a company culture that emphasizes fostering relationships through communication. As construction is a male-dominated industry, the business culture tends to emphasize practical, pragmatic, pointed communications both inside and outside the company. Creating a culture of connection means creating a business environment where are everyone enjoys working, and communication strategies foster “relating to” others rather than simply “informing at” them. This same strategy should also be used in company communications with clients. One of Monroe’s sure-fire plays to keep clients in the fold is to hold an annual party for every client on the ABA mailing list, to show their appreciation for their clients. “Clients are really the bloodline of our business. We have over 350 on our mailing list,” explains Monore, “and every year we throw a party for them to celebrate the fact that we wouldn’t be here without them.”
The third part of Monroe’s client-for-life strategy is identifying and embracing key building trends, particularly green-building trends. Market demand for green building and LEED certification has really skyrocketed in recent years, a trend that homeowners are wary of due to the higher costs associated with building green. Monroe says that although green building can be more expensive, it “doesn’t have to always [be that way]. It often depends on how long a product’s been out on the market.” New “building science and building products improve year after year,” says Monroe, with sustainability and longevity being key factors in what is developed for the market. The goals of green building are about “building to last.” Educating clients about the ways that building green is better for them and for “the next person who’s going to be in that space,” helps them come to realize that “longer-lasting is better for the environment, too.” This education process is part of the way that ABA creates lifelong relationships with their clients.