Change Your Business Results by Changing the Conversation

I had the opportunity last month to be a featured speaker at the International Door Association (IDA) Show, which focuses on the garage door industry. My topic was “Re-Thinking How to Outperform Your Market.” While preparing for the presentation, I found more and more information that made me think differently about the rich opportunity that existed in the category – if only the players in the market first change how they think about their market.

In this article, I’ll explore the garage door industry’s particular opportunity, but I challenge you to see the parallels in your own industry. Ask yourself how you could re-think your own category – and consider how you can change how you and your customers approach to your market.

A Mere Fraction of the Opportunity

There are 100 million occupied homes (and 131 million housing units when you include multi-family) in the US. Of these, 65% have garage doors older than 12 years – which is the average failure or change out age for garage doors. That means there is at least a 65-million-garage-door market opportunity for single family alone. Assuming an average price per door of $300, that’s a $19 trillion market. But the market is nowhere near that size. I am told it sells closer to 2.5 million doors per year, an extremely small portion of the total opportunity. Compare that to the entry door category, where it’s estimated there are more than 8 million entry doors sold annually in the US, with what I would assume is a similar failure/change out rate. That begs the question: Why are garage doors achieving ¼ the sales of entryways?

The average homeowner enters through the garage door 70% of the time. The garage also makes up on average 40% of the front of the home, while the entryway only falls within the single digits. Yet, a garage door install for around $800 – $1,200 per job, while an installed entryway could average $1,200 – $5,000. Homeowners are spending a lot more on a space less than ¾ the size of their garage door.

Changing the Way You Look at Things

Einstein once said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at seem to change.” Successful companies (not necessarily market share leaders), and real thought leaders, see opportunity in change or gaps in the market. So how does this market view itself today? A long-standing garage door industry expert proudly summed up the category in a recent article by stating, “Name another improvement that will rejuvenate up to 42% of a home’s front elevation for typically less than $2,000.” While he was extremely proud of this fact, I’d argue it clearly demonstrates the gap – and therefore opportunity – for this category. Don’t be proud of how low a price you get for such a large footprint of home’s curb appeal enhancement, rather leverage the fact that a homeowner or building can dramatically enhance a home’s image with unique styles of garage doors that fit the homeowner’s personal style. Price is then merely a secondary consideration.

Positioning is Everything

How a company (and in most cases the market) positions a product category, is exactly how the homeowner values that category. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you start with price, price becomes the conversation and decision criteria. This is a huge issue, and therefore opportunity for the garage door category and many other building material categories.

More than function, the garage door is a defining aesthetic part of a home. If you focus on price and function, the customer will as well. Research shows that price is on the lower half of important decision-making criteria in most building materials or home improvement products. However, for some reason the building material industry tends to lead with price as it goes out to the market. It’s like selling an economy car versus how you would position a BMW. It’s an approach that focuses on what we call the “What” and “How,” versus the ever-more-important and dramatic “Why.”

The “What” is the product itself, and this is where most manufacturers, distributors and dealers live – “I sell and install garage doors to builders and replacements for homeowners”. The “How” gets into the product’s features, and some do an adequate job on this in the selling process – “I sell garage doors that have thermal rated R-value, thicker skin, are pre-painted/stained.” However, at the core of the story should be the “Why” – why the customer should care, why is the product relevant and meaningful to them. It’s essential to creating an emotional connection to your product or service, and it’s often overlooked. “I sell a more comfortable garage with lower energy bills, more confidence and security, and styles that can enhance any home’s resell value and match a homeowners personal style.” So why is the “Why” so important? It’s not about pretty pictures or flowery words, it’s about business success. Research shows clearly that when you establish an emotional connection of the buyer to a product, the seller makes more profit as pricing becomes even less important on the decision criteria scale.

So I thought I would test my theory of how the garage door industry was selling to their market. While presenting at IDA, I took the opportunity to do some market research of the nearly 350 attendees (most of them garage door dealers). I asked them to write down their answer to a simple question: “When you are out in front of the homeowner, what are you selling?” I categorized the answers into three buckets: products (pretty self-explanatory), services/features (features of the product or things they did before, during or after the install of a door) and emotional connection (things the door itself would provide to the user, like safety, security, aesthetics, beauty, peace of mind, uniqueness, resell value, etc). Their answers broke out as follows:

  • Products: 60.3%
  • Services/Features: 30.9%
  • Emotional Connections: 8.6%

If you cannot connect emotionally with the purchaser, price more than likely becomes a bigger issue and your average installed cost will always fall short of where it could really be. Unless the industry can transform itself into a more Why-focused category, it will struggle to take advantage of the total opportunity – either in terms of increasing total doors sold or in enhancing the profit per unit sold.

Change is around us every day, especially in this economy. But this change is really our new normal. Your job is to find your place in this new normal and to define the new conversation you must have both internally and externally to the market. Only then will you find a new path to a larger and more profitable opportunity.

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