Marc Villeneuve (right) and assistant Michel Lizotte at Viltec Masonry take care of our long-standing home masonry project. Villeneuve won the work through references from his masonry supplier, and showing up when he said he would show up.
This posting won't help you if you are a large multi-national corporation, but could be your vital survival solution if you are a small or start-up trade contractor in the residential environment.
Last week, after a years' frustration finding someone to do the job, Marc Villeneuve of Viltec Masonry completed a simple $750 job repairing the masonry at our home's rear deck window.
Hardly an earth-shattering contract, but, in context, the story can tell you about the marketing reality (and opportunities) within the construction industry.
We noticed the problem in the home exterior a couple of years ago. Perhaps unfairly, my wife takes the lead role in dealing with household issues (I am most definitely not 'handy'). But this one had her stumped. She didn't know who to call or ask, and when she called contractors they either failed to return the calls or when they showed up to inspect the project, failed to provide a quote, or return any communications. One contractor finally committed to do the work, but, again, failed to show.
Frustrated, she turned to me for advice. I didn't know anyone, but, surely, I could help. After all, I publish construction industry newspapers -- including Ottawa Construction News in our home city -- and this blog. So I thought: Longstanding advertising Merkley Supply, a masonry supplier for the industry, must know good masonry contractors willing to handle the work and maybe Robert Merkley could help. So I took a digital photo of the problem, and sent it to him.
Merkley passed the request on to an employee who provided three contractors' names for quotes.
Vivian called two of them, who showed up, and offered quotes. One said he would come back and do the job, but then, again, nothing. She handed the list back to me.
I called Marc Villeneuve. He apologized, saying, sheepishly, he had lost our phone number. He asked me to call a residential phone number (he was on a job site) with our number and he would get back and complete the work the next week.
On schedule, as promised, he showed up, took the time to do the work properly, and invoiced us.
As he prepared to pack up his truck (and I prepared to head to Vancouver), I took his picture and asked him about his business.
"I get all the work I can handle through referrals and through Merkley," he said. "I felt bad about not returning your call," he acknowledged. His problem is not finding enough work -- it is finding qualified employees who will stick. This restricts him to smaller residential projects, but he has plenty enough of these to keep him busy. He handed me his home-made business card with one border missing: "Bricklayer * Stonework * Repairs", the card says. "Quality One Brick at a Time!"
No website, no fancy marketing packages or brochures, an invitation to leave messages at a residential phone number . . . and more than enough business to keep him and an assistant busy, consistently. And he solved a problem that we couldn't resolve in more than a year of searching. Did we worry about his price? "His quote was a little higher than the other person who bid the job," my wife said, but we are happy to pay.
Listening to Marc, I sense he could grow his business through some advanced marketing systematization, first in the recruiting of employees, and then, in co-ordinating job processes. But he doesn't need to do any of that to earn a satisfactory living. He simply needs to do his work well and (at least on second try) return his calls and show up at the time specified. "Merkley won't give my name out unless I do the job really well," he said. "So I keep doing the work properly." Of course, he purchases his brick and supplies from Merkley Supplies so that relationship is healthy as well.
Consider these elements if you are not the largest in the business and wish to succeed or get started properly:
- Make sure you do your work to the highest standards;
- Return your calls;
- Check with your major suppliers and see if they can refer some business your way. If you are new, this may be your important break. Do the work with exemplary quality, and then provide feedback to your suppliers. Encourage your clients to do the same. This will result in more referrals and word of mouth.
- Remember, there may be good opportunities in handling smaller jobs -- these may keep food on your table in slow times; if you are working large projects, work out a schedule that allows you to handle the smaller jobs and revisits (without jeopardizing your relationships for the major projects.