What is the best way to get countertops out of your shop and into the customer's home? Should you rely exclusively on dealers and building contractors to sell your products for you, or are you savvy enough to market your handiwork on your own?
For Chris Holtz of Countertops By Design in West Chester, Ohio, retail is where it's at. A former district manager for Burger King overseeing 500 employees, Holtz is used to dealing with the buying public. In fact, he thrives on it. But he is quick to point out the retail environment is not for everybody.
"It takes a certain breed to do retail," he explains. "You have to be willing to put forth an image and give great service. It probably isn't for the guy who is more interested in just building tops and staying in the background."
For Holtz, the name of the game is generating customers. Everything the company does — from designing and implementing a regular advertising campaign, to the look and feel of the showroom, to how salespeople and installers dress — reinforces a carefully crafted image. That image, Holtz believes, inspires confidence in his company with existing and potential customers. And that confidence translates into sales.
"We have a very high closure rate," he says. "I'd say between 80 to 90 percent of the people who walk into our showroom buy from us. I think it has a lot to do with our philosophy and reputation. More than half of the people coming in have heard of us before or know someone directly who has used us in the past."
Holtz also attributes his firm's ability to close a sale in the showroom to the way customers are pre-qualified when they initially telephone looking for information. By answering key questions, such as ballpark pricing, delivery times and product availability, the folks at CBD deal with tire kickers over the phone, rather than in the showroom.
"Just by having a personal phone conversation we can learn enough to know if the person is looking to do a job now or next year, or if it is pie in the sky," Holtz says. "We also encourage them to go to their local home center for a price and then send us a copy of the drawing, which we will price out over the phone. We save them the aggravation of driving all the way here. When people find out you are trying to save them time, you are halfway home."
According to Holtz, there are some distinct advantages to selling retail. "I find it easier to deal with homeowners because they can me tell what is they want. Lots of times a builder doesn't know or can't communicate his customers' wants, which makes it hard for us to satisfy the client. Also, retail customers pay when the job is done, which is great for cash flow — we don't have to chase anyone down for payment on a job."
CBD sells ready-made cabinets and solid surface, laminate and stainless steel countertops out of a 2,000 sq. ft. showroom, supported by two fabrication shops. The company employs ten people, including Holtz's wife, Janet, and two sons. Janet handles all of the marketing, and relies heavily on direct mail.