Here we are in December and for some in the industry the year has gone by quickly and profitably. For others, it has been painful and will not end nearly fast enough. Like it or not, we are ready to begin another year. What and where are your opportunities for commercial work in 2010?
The first step is to review your 2009 commercial business. Hopefully, you have tracked your business by type, volume and profitability. What is a good fit for your unique capabilities, profitable, and easy to handle? You might aspire to sell large volume commercial jobs to general contractors, but you may not be able to efficiently deal with this type of lower margin, slower paying client. This is the time to be brutally honest with yourself in where you excel and where you don’t.
Do a personnel audit. Do you need to add personnel to handle your commercial business? Have you been successful in efficiently delivering your commercial projects? Perhaps it’s time to add a project coordinator or a project manager. Nothing will damage your reputation quicker than a failure to deliver what you’ve sold. Do you have the depth in installation personnel to handle your sales?
Review your sales and marketing efforts. Are you missing out on the health care business segment because your company does not have someone with expertise in that area? Conversely, do you have salespeople particularly suited for a specific type of business? A team sales approach, using the strength of each member to maximize your chance of getting and delivering the job should be considered.
Now, with the understanding that each locality is different and has its own unique opportunities, here are some specific ideas to consider in your 2010 quest for commercial business:
Property management. In spite of the problems in commercial real estate, there may be some boom areas. Consider looking where weak or overextended companies go out of business and their management portfolios are taken over by others. Every year leases expire and come up for renewal or extension; if there is a good tenant, extra effort will be made to keep them, and frequently this means a space rehab or basic face-lift. You could really benefit from these opportunities if you make the right contacts.
Condo associations. Most condo associations are relatively immune from short-term economic downturns since they establish a reserve fund for refurbishment over a period of years including carpet and other flooring. These can be very large jobs (well into six figures) and if you are equipped to handle this type of business, you could have a $200,000 home run in 2010.
State and local government, schools. Most state budgets are extremely tight, but you may have success with local government and school systems. There are some projects that just have to be done for safety or environmental reasons, or perhaps there has been a bond issue to build a new building. December and January are ideal times to contact these potential clients. Look carefully in your region and set aside some time to scope out the potential.
Health care. Due to the long-term nature of this type of business, this should be a solid growth area. Working this segment may not mean immediate business, but it can become an annuity for you if you have the personnel and installation teams to handle it.
General contractors, remodeling contractors. Some have gone out of business or are about to go out of business, while others are barely hanging on. If they’re viable, they are looking to save money and be more efficient. Contractors are finding some business with various government stimulus monies being spent, and this should accelerate in 2010.
This is a very competitive arena with some contractors now taking jobs at little or no profit just to have cash flow. One caution: be sure and check their current D&B Paydex score (which measures how quickly they pay). If it sounds like you have a great chance for an order, it may be because he hasn’t paid his last flooring contractor. You know what they say, “If it sounds too good to be true….”
Major corporate clients and financial institutions. Most banks and financial institutions are keeping a low profile amid the government bailouts and bank failures. However, some regional banks will likely continue their acquisition of additional branches. When a bank takes over a competitor, there is usually a rehab of the branches, especially when there is a dramatic change in corporate look. Look at larger regional banks, find out how they’re doing, and call to find out their plans in your area. Other corporate clients who are making money will continue with budgeted replacement projects. Do an area survey of the top 15-25 local employers; that will give you a start.
General commercial. Do some networking among acquaintances and listen to what is happening in your area. Who’s making money? Perhaps a new manufacturing company is moving into town or you hear of a proposed remodeling project. Be especially wary of new businesses: restaurants and retail shops come to mind. Churches or synagogues are similar to some condo associations because they budget for flooring well in advance. If you make 10 calls, the odds are you’ll find at least one church that has plans to buy flooring within the year.
One way to make sure you survive is ramping up your sales training. Without regular review of the steps in making sales, such as prospecting, qualification, presentation, follow up, and asking for the order, salespeople can become sloppy and start skipping the steps that helped make them successful. The one thing I have seen over and over again is a failure to ask for the order.
Have a meeting with your commercial (or all of your) sales team and review their expertise in negotiation. Here is where you specifically review all of the steps leading to getting the order. Your agenda might be something like this: Start with a showing of Roger Dawson’s video, “Guide to Everyday Negotiating,” as an example. Then have each salesperson talk about his or her best or most satisfying sale. As each relates their experience, talk about what worked and why they believe they got the sale, and then you relate this to the principles of selling.
Also, have each salesperson talk about their frustrations when they’ve lost a sale. Have them list the objections they’ve had from clients, relate it to the video they’ve seen, and then brainstorm on how to answer the objections and negotiate for the order.
There is no question we are in a challenging business environment, and probably will be for some time. There is a saying that “when times are good everyone makes money, and when times are bad, the weak are eliminated.” Don’t be in this second group. Be successful in 2010.
If you’re looking for more tips and specific information, why not join me in my Surfaces 2010 workshop, “Expanding Into Commercial Business. What is Your Next Step?” MO01 – Monday, Feb. 1, 2010, 9 a.m. to noon.