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Building Business

Building Business

How to Convince Customers Not to Go the DIY Route?

comments (3) November 8th, 2010 in Blogs
ScottG Scott Gibson, contributing writer

BossHog has a dilemma. He's met a couple who live in a small house in the country. They want to build another house next door that will give them more room. And here's where they part company.

The wife wants BossHog to build the house. The husband, who has some remodeling experience, wants BossHog to put up the shell and leave the rest of the job to him.

BossHog would like to get the whole job, but he wonders how to go about selling the idea to the husband. That's the subject of this Breaktime Business Spotlight.

Focus on the right person

The intrepid DIY builder may be the wrong person to convince, as several posters suggested.

"I'd compliment his ambition, all the time pushing for what the family wants/needs (more house now)," says PeterJ. "I'd be looking Mom in the eye when I paint the picture of Dad with no time for family 'cuz he's a slave to  'the house.' Plant the seed, let her do the 'convincing.'

JoeH has the same idea. "Build what he wants," he says. "After wife notices you did theshell in a (pick a day), she'll be your inside salesman."

"Yes," adds Piffin, "she is the lever."

Are women more realistic about the amount of time it will take to complete a project? And, more important, a lot more  interested in getting into a new house than dawdling over the job long after a crew of professionals could have finished? That's Robert's point.

"The answer is the wife," he writes. "Wives hate the amount of time involved in the project, and if she gets a realistic estimate of how long his part will take? His life will be hell until he just hires it out to completion."

Focus on tools and expertise

Professionals have specialized tools as well as experience, and those two factors can be the difference between a first-rate job completed on a short schedule and a disaster in the making. It's often tough for DIY homeowners to recognize how complicated a house construction project really is.

"Yes, time is the key," says John7g. "How many man-hours/day is the electrician, plumber, (probably hire out the HVAC) DWers, painters, etc., on the site to complete their tasks and the elapsed time for those tasks? On top of that focus on these guys are doing it day after day and [are] on top of the game.

"Not that he isn't proficient but they know the quick ways as well as what the inspector expects to see.  Compare all that to what the DIYer has left of the day after he gets home from work and how many hours he plans to spend on it during the weekend."

Gfretwell is a "pretty dedicated DIY guy myself," but when he or his wife want something done quickly, he hires out the job.

"Usually you can sell 'time,'" he says. "The biggest problem with converting DIY guys is they are not really sure what they want and they plan on designing as they go. If this guy is looking for a year (or more) long hobby you are probably out of luck."

Many of the tools pros use on the job are expensive. They make sense when their cost is spread over many projects, not when a DIY builder them for a single job.

"Remind him that there are often specialty tools often make the job go much faster," says DonCanDo. "It may not make economic sense to buy some of them for 1 house and renting isn't always an option... and it's certainly not convenient.

"Also, contractors can sometimes get material for so much less that their total cost is what the [homeowner] would have to pay just for the material."

Don't sell anything, just build the shell

Wait a minute. Aren't we forgetting something here? If the customer wants a shell, and only a shell, why not do that?

"You are coming at this from a pretty distinct position,  that you want to do the work, not them," writes Fingersandtoes. "Fair enough, but a dispassionate observer might ask: what is in their best interests? Should all DIYers be sold on getting builders to do their work? Should this couple?

"Maybe so--you know more about their situation than I do--but it might be useful to look at it as though you were their advocate rather than trying to sell them something. That's what I would try. You might not end up doing the whole job. Help them decide what they can do. You might get the rest."

Rviecell agrees. "Honestly," this poster adds, "not going to happen the way you want. Just build the shell and make sure you let the wife know you are always available to finish the job. I'm afraid that if you try for the whole job up front, they'll go with someone that will just do the shell."

"I think y'all are on the wrong track," says JimAKAblue. "The client is asking for a shell. Sell him what he wants. Dont try to sell him anything else. Meet HIS needs, not your own."

Building the shell alone also may be a good business move, JimAKAblue says. "Shells are great money makers. I'd much rather do only shells and never finish anything," he says.

"Let the guy buy a cheap nail gun and tank and tile saw and finish his house," advises Davidmeiland. "You can avoid the major hassle of dealing with all of the interior finishes, appliances, getting the owner to make all the selections, etc. The shell is the hardest part for a DIY who doesn't have a crew and probably only owns an old 6-foot wooden stepladder."

Our expert's opinion

We asked GBA advisor Jim Sargent, a custom builder and remodeler in Texas, for his opinion. Here's what he had to say:

Everything we build is focused on high performance. I was tired of seeing people building their own home and creating "one more gas guzzler."  I knew that wasn't what they wanted to do.  My partner, Vickie Anderson, and I decided that we would start a side business to  help people who wanted to build their own homes. For a fee we would teach them what they needed to do to make the home high performing (energy efficient). We ran an ad and had over thirty couples respond. Our true intention was to share our knowledge for a fee and to send them along their way. At least the homes shouldn't be gas guzzlers. A very strange thing happened. After they paid their fee and after we had explained what was involved in building a high performing home (directing the subs and not depending on the subs for high performance expertise), all of our clients got cold feet. We must have scared them. Almost every one of the couples asked if we would just build their home for them. I think we built 15 or so.  We laugh a lot about the incident.
One of the keys in building a high performing home is that the person in charge (superintendent) must have a passion for what he does. Just a good design does not guarantee a high performing home. It takes a good design to the site and care and understanding through assembly of the parts. I have found that homeowners who really want to build their own homes have the passion, but little real experience or expertise. A number of times we have had people hire us as the builder and we would hire them (he or she) as a junior superintendent.

They were on the job all day every day and took a lot of pressure off of the superintendent. It is definitely a learning experience for the home owner and I never get call backs when this arrangement is in place. The fee (reduction in our fees) comes out of the super's fees, but now he has a passionate (to get the work done right and on schedule) assistant on the job site at all times. On occasion, we have hired the homeowner to superintend his own job. He is free to talk with any of our other supers during the process. We will usually do the foundation and sometimes the framing if the homeowner has no expierence. It does require more management inspections. Again, we have done this with she or he. In this case they earn the full super fee for the parts of the home they supervise.
Even with our fees included, the home will cost less and perform better if they hire us to build it. We will even show them how to save money during the process. This probably only works if you build cost plus. Sharing the savings with a homeowner on a fixed price contract might come out of the builder's pocket. Saved money in one budget item often just gets shifted to another budget item in a cost plus contract.






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Comments (3)

DanMorrison DanMorrison writes: Back in the old days a guy I knew asked me to frame a garage for him on a weekend. I was a framer at the time, he was a writer. He wanted to save money by 'helping' me. I was skeptical, but I agreed because he was a friend. I 'let' him carry studs and nail off plywood.

At the end of the first day, we basically had the walls framed, sheathed, and stood. As he wiped considerable sweat from his brow and grinned at me he asked "So how'd we do Dan, was I a help?"

I told him "You did a great Job, You barely slowed me down at all."

The truth is when you interfere with a system that someone has in place, you slow down the process. I'm not saying that DIYers and builders can't collaborate, but builders have a lot invested in their system and when new variables are introduced, builders start losing money.

Clear and honest communication are extremely important in a situation like this because when people start losing money they get less tolerant.

I like Jim's method because it is honest, encouraging, and accountable.

Posted: 11:44 pm on December 3rd

DoorMartGarage DoorMartGarage writes: The article is interesting. I agree that the middle grounds approach is the best way to go about the situation. Both parties come out happy and isn't that the ultimate goal as a Business (besides making a profit)? However, finding that middle ground is difficult and especially during these economic times, it's hard not to bite the bait the moment you see it. In this case, getting the job is better than nothing. People rush into getting the job and thus bypassing this opportunity to see the middle route.
Posted: 1:43 pm on November 16th

cussnu2 cussnu2 writes: As I said in the original thread, everybody there was taking an either or approach. Sell the guy the whole job...which he didn't want or settle for the shell only. Neither one of those options works to the benefit of both parties.

The way both win is to do it the way my GC and I did. Set down and talk about what he can do and what you think you can do better. I finished my own trim. They installed it. The electrician ran all the wiring and put in the panel but I did the finish instalations. Hanging lights and putting in outlets ain't rocket science. The job site needs to be cleaned up so suggest he be responsible for that everyday. Suggest he paint but use your sprayer. Suggest he frame basement walls which he can do while you are working on the shell. Make him responsible for insulating and drywalling the garage.

There is A LOT of work on a house build that a reasonably good DIYer can do. Find those areas that he can do and show him what it will save him while still getting the majority of the job and completing it in a reasonable time frame. Shoot, you can order the trim the day you start framing and tell him to get started finishing it again offer your sprayer. There is a ton of time involved in that job and its far from difficult plus you'll have the trim ready to install when the drywall is done instead of days later after your guys get finished with it.

As GC you will still be in control of the materials and the budget allowances and you need to check your attitude at the door and look over his work just like you would your own.

Too many people focus only on either or solutions when there is a middle road that can work out just as well and make everybody happy.
Posted: 11:51 am on November 9th

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