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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Passion first, marketing second

New GOHBA Renovations Council president Jason Labelle, president of Dalton Corporation, after the monthly council meeting.

Yesterday, I attended the monthly meeting of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders' Association Renovations Council, in two roles -- as a journalist/writer for the association's newsletter, The GOHBA Impact! and to address the second item on the meeting's agenda -- providing a progress report on Ottawa Renovates!, the magazine project our consortium won through a wired bidding opportunity to promote renovation services in the region.

At meeting's end, newly-appointed council chairperson Jason Labelle, president of Dalton Corporation, outlined his business experience and effectively described the qualities that underlie most people who enjoy success in the construction business:
"As far as my company goes, I really believe in doing it right," Labelle said. "It's the artwork -- when we walk way at the end, it's the feeling, 'wow, we created this . . ... we built it.

"I truly believe in the renovation business, I think there's a big artsy side to me, and I get to do it -- to create it, build it, mould it, and share it."
His business, not surprisingly, relies on word of mouth and referrals, but there is some intelligent marketing as well. The annual Christmas greeting creates a 'keep in touch' with former clients, and he follows up six months to a year after each job, to ensure the client is satisfied and any follow-up maintenance is done.

And, like most successful business people, he has built a team of employees and sub-contractors who share the same values and passion for their work. "My foremen won't let me get away with 'just good enough' -- they'll catch me."

"In some places, we'll do a job and then someone across the street will contract with us, then down the block, all by word-of-mouth."

Do these attitudes describe you and your business? Then you've won more than half the battle when it comes to marketing.

Labelle, like other local renovators in Ottawa, has yet to feel the economic pinch of the current recession; despite some major layoffs and business consolidations (including the bankruptcy of former high tech high flier Nortel) this region has so far not felt much pain, in part because it is a government town. Renovators Council members are bracing however for an influx of new business start-ups, some under-the-table, as new home construction contracts and out-of-work tradespeople begin competing for available work.

Labelle says he would like to see the Renovators Council achieve greater recognition. "I would like to market us in such a way that it is a no-brainer -- if you want to renovate, you want to renovate with the professionals."

That's where the Ottawa Renovates! project fits in the picture. A few months ago, after sitting in on a meeting of the Renovators Council, I received word from former Council Chairperson Mike Martin (who now is responsible for the provincial Ontario Home Builders' Association Renovators Council) that he would welcome a proposal from my business for a new renovation publication. After initially hesitating -- we've only handled business-to-business marketing, not business-to-consumer projects -- I decided the best way to handle the situation would be to set up a consortium; and ultimately formed a partnership with designer Gordon Keith and publisher Brian Warren to get the job done. The new magazine is at the printers, to be ready for the annual Ottawa Home Renovations Show this weekend, and a related website will also be live soon, as well.

Does it surprise you that we won this bidding opportunity though our own reputation and relationships, and (underlying these) our passion and enjoyment of our own work?

Our challenge is to help and work with business owners who really care about doing their job well; who deeply enjoy what they do, and in normal conditions have customers eager to share and recommend their services, to adapt some basic marketing and sales techniques to support and enhance their already-successful business brand and reputation.

This is not the world of high-pressure sales; it is not an environment where you need to grind people down to get them to buy your services; rather, you take your existing relationships and reputation, and expand on the basics; building your reputation even further, while preserving your margin. Yes, you advertise, you market, you promote your business, but underneath everything, you will succeed because you love doing your work, and you are able to assemble around you employees and vendors who share the same inner passion. Of course, you are really lucky if you can work with marketing specialists who care about their work as much as you care about yours.

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