Suppose you meet another business owner whos in your industry, but not a direct competitor, and he asks about your marketing strategies.
Then, he requests information about your recruitment strategies.
Now comes the clincher: This brazen executive wants you to give him the names of your customers who might need his services.
Understandably, you might have the same reaction as Mark Root, president of Mark Roots Kitchen & Bath Co.: Were not going to recommend someone out there unless we feel incredibly strong about them being able to provide a level of service to our customer that we feel good about. Its just like a boomerang; its going to come back and slap you in the face if you plug somebody into another company and they fail.
It wasnt easy, but Ken Halloy managed to convince Root and 15 other local home improvement companies to share all those things. Halloy has made a business, All Pro Exclusive Inc., out of helping these companies work together for marketing, lead generation and general idea-sharing, which benefits each of them.
Making the cut
Halloy doesnt accept just any business into the All Pro family.
Our companies have to maintain a 95 percent or greater customer satisfaction level to be a client of this group, Halloy says.
And he doesnt just take their word for it.
We survey every one of the customers of every one of our members every day of the year, he says, noting that All Pro sends out 2,000 to 5,000 surveys a week and will attempt to telephone up to 2,000 homes a day.
New All Pro members must be unanimously approved by the existing member companies.
The reason is the inherent danger of what we do from our clients perspective, Halloy says. Our companies have to have the peace of mind of knowing every other member of this group shares the same philosophy of, The customer comes first; you do things the right way.
Like [group member] Atlas Butler theyve been around since 1921, Halloy explains. They need to protect that name they spent six, seven decades building.
Its a kind of scary thing, Root admits. As an individual company, when youre tying your wagon to 20 other companies, the fear is that you may do very well on your own ... but if they have a bad experience with an individual [customer], youre sort of in the soup with everybody else. So there have to be high standards.
The leading factor
Those companies that have met All Pros standards for membership say they are seeing results in terms of more opportunities to sell their services.
Because of the networking, were seeing an increase in the jobs to bid on, says Rick Grundish, owner of Collins Paving Co. Weve had probably at least another 30 percent over what we had been bidding on without them. And we have a chance to interact with the other members, of course, and get ideas on marketing and have shoulders to cry on sometimes.
Like many of the other members, Grundish previously got his leads through word of mouth, the Yellow Pages or home shows.
Halloy, on the other hand, generates leads for the group by keeping an extensive database generated from customer surveys. In addition to satisfaction ratings, those surveys provide the group with:
Demographic information. The survey includes questions about the customers age, the value of his or her home, and how he or she heard about the member company.
Potential leads. The survey also asks the all-important question: What is going to be your next home improvement?
We contact them down the road in a polite, nonsolicitous way, Halloy says.
For example, if a customer says she might install new windows in the coming year, he might give her name to All Pro member Champion Windows.
Customers also receive a 10 percent discount card for use on any future service from an All Pro company, Halloy adds.
Halloy is particular about the customer surveys. If someone tells the All Pro representative not to call again, he or she is removed from the list.
We will not share the database with anybody. We wont sell it to anybody. We have had credit card companies ask us for it, he says. The most treasured property of a home improvement company or any business for that matter is your customer list.
Worth the cost?
In addition to lead generation, All Pro companies receive marketing, publishing, Web site and trade show assistance from Halloy for a fee of $25,000 to $30,000 a year.
Its made it attainable because we could never really afford to do the level or quality of promoting ourselves as an individual company in a way that has been accomplished through the association, Root says.
The fact that member companies complement each others products and services, rather than compete directly, also creates a good synergy.
When member companies expand into new areas, however, potential competition can emerge. That was one factor that led to a founding members decision to resign this year.
Steve Weil, president of Able Roofing, expanded his product line to include windows, a move that would compete directly with Champion Windows.
He was actually one of the companies I built this around, Halloy says of Weil. Hes got a great name in the marketplace.
But to preserve the integrity and cohesion of the companies in the group, Weils resignation was imperative.
It sends a statement that the concept is bigger than any individual company in this group, Halloy says.
Weil says he also resigned because he didnt see the continuing value in All Pro for his company. He felt he had the marketing experience to use the membership fee on his own.
I think if somebody has $40,000 to spend and are frugal and savvy with their marketing, they can do better elsewhere, Weil says. But he adds, If theyre not marketing minded, basically this is a good program for them. It would probably be better for small companies.
Halloy, who founded All Pro in January 1998, plans to eventually expand the concept to other cities. Hes also adding business members in Columbus.
He says All Pro offers a win-win-win situation. Halloy wins because he expects All Pro, which has 10 employees, to be profitable next year. Homeowners win because they avoid the hassles of shopping around for different home repair specialists. The home improvement companies win because theyve got something unique and niche oriented. Theyre surrounded by similar business philosophies, Halloy says.
To them, it is kind of an association, and they do control the direction of how we run it.
How to reach: All Pro Exclusive, (888) 464-6273; coming soon, www.allproexclusive.com
Joan Slattery Wall (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.