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Remodeling Sales Tips and Growth Tips with Jim Gehm – Podcast

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Remodeling Sales Tips and Growth Tips with Jim Gehm – Podcast

If you want to keep plugging along with an average remodeling business this podcast is NOT something you should listen to. On the PME 360 Powering Business Growth Show, Ron Rodi, Jr and Ryan Paul Adams interview Jim Gehm with Holmes Custom Renovations

Jim reveals some of their top sales strategies and how to build a great sales team in the remodeling industry, which is not easy to do. Discover how they train, compensate, and motivate an effective sales team and the systems they develop to stay on track. Also, learn how they provide a client experience that leaves them with little to no competition and the ability to charge a premium for the services they deliver. 

"Running a remodeling business is crazy hard. But if you stick with it, it is one of the most rewarding things you can do."
– Jim Gehm , VP Sales and Marketing with Holmes Custom Renovations


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Remodeling Sales Tips and Growth Tips with Jim Gehm
Ron: Good morning! Welcome to the PME360 Powering Growth Show, where each week we talk about the issues and offer advice on how to power growth for your local business.

I’m your host, Ron Rodi Jr. With me as always, the man with the plan, our CEO, Mr. Ryan Paul Adams.

Ryan, good morning! How are you?

Ryan: Good morning Ron! How are you?

Ron: Not too bad. Happy Friday!

Ryan: Yeah, to you as well.

Ron: Excited to have with us today, the VP in Sales and Marketing for Holmes Custom Renovations.

If you are looking to transform your home in the Cincinnati area into your dream home, look no further than Holmes Custom Renovations. Their team has over 15 years of residential and commercial experience with remodeling in Cincinnati and surrounding Ohio area.

Their expertise makes them one of the remodeling, window replacement, siding installation, roofing contractors and custom home improvement services in Ohio.

With us today, we have Mr. Jim Gehm.

Jim, good morning! How are you?

Jim: I’m fantastic! Good morning!

Ron: Excited to have you on Jim to talk a little bit more about Holmes Custom Renovations and also to talk a little bit about building sales funnel for your home improvement business.

Jim, if we can jump right in, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself. And how you came to be VP of Sales for Holmes Custom Renovations.

Jim: Yes. I’d be happy to. I’ve actually started several years before I even came on board for Holmes Custom Renovations. I worked with a company James Hardie Building Products for 5 years before I came on board about a year ago with Holmes Custom Renovations and I was able to meet the owner Ian Holmes via James Hardie. And he ended up one of the best remodelers we have in the Greater Cincinnati area.

Him and I developed a very tight relationship and I was able to dig into his business, figure out what he does right and why people keep on going to him, why his customers are drawn to him.

And over several years of working together. I was able to make the decision to jump on board with his team and head the Sales and Marketing department.

Ron: Holmes Custom Renovations is a James Hardie preferred remodeler, is that right?

Jim: Yes, that’s correct. They’re the only one in Greater Cincinnati.

Ron: So tell us about Jim, you’ve mentioned the things that Ian was doing right. So when you say that, can you give me an example?

Jim: I can give you actually several. But I’ll keep it short. 

One thing that I’ve noticed with Ian that was different with other remodelers and with my experience with Hardie. My job with Hardie was to go around and educate remodelers, builders, architects about the product and get it marched out to the market.

One of the things that I’ve seen in this market is really the lack of a company that was customer focused in the remodeling industry in Greater Cincinnati.

And Ian by far, Holmes Custom Renovations stood out among all the others. 

Ian did what he said, and said what he did. And he demanded perfection on the team that he worked with. And he expected it from himself. The clients absolutely love it.

I’ve seen times where he just didn’t like the way something looked and he ripped the entire wall up and started all over again. Of course, no charge to the customers.

Ron: So really, as a sales person Jim, that’s really going to make you feel confidence in your sales process, right?

Knowing that you have an owner with that amount of passion and belief in himself. Does that make your belief a little bit easier?

Tell us how that affects you then.
Jim: Oh, absolutely! As a sales person, when you know you can sell a job. I mean, that’s the best thing a sales person can have. Not only believe in himself but actually see it first hand.

And now we have two other sales people. At any time a situation comes up, we take them out into the field. Say, “Look it’s not done right. We just ripped down the wall. We just fix it.”

And the homeowners are just boggled by this. It’s not what they expect in this market. But you know, it’s the right thing to do. And once again, it’s the belief that it will be done, it will be done right.

Our sales people believe it. I believe it. It makes it so easy to go into the home and talk about these exact situations. Because no job is ever done perfect. 

And talking about these situations with home owners, saying that, “You know, if we messed up, we’re going to rip it off.  If we are not happy with it, it will be done right. You will be happy when this job is done.”

Ron: Well that’s a huge testament to what it is that you guys do. I think it would make everybody happy, would make things easier.  

Jim, tell us a little bit more about your sales team. What is it consist of?

And you hear a sales team within a home improvement business, normally you think, well the owner does everything right? But with Ian, and I’ve known Ian for a while now. It seems that he really has a knack for doing what he does best and then bringing you in to do what it is that you do best.
Tell me more about how you work together. Maybe we can go into your organization, how it’s structured, particularly your sales people.

Jim: So when I was working with James Hardie, and working with Ian and help build this business. One of the things I’m seeing is he keeps on growing year after year.

And every time I came up with suggestions, he would implement these suggestions and add new things that he learned from other people. He branched out. And it’s really great to see someone really able to pick information and insert it into his business and make real change.

If he needs to do it quickly, he’d do it quickly. If he had to just do it, he’d do it. About a year before I came on board, I went up to him and said, “Look if you really want to take this business to the next level, I have 3 pages of things that we needed to do to move this company up to the next level.”

And he said, “I can’t do this without you. Let’s get you on board.”

And a story that comes up with this, Ian and I would always bring up when we talk to people, it’s very important that the bus (our company) has the right people in the right spots.

If you are not on the right spot, we’ll move you to the right spot. But if this is not the right bus for you to go to our right destination then you need to jump on another bus

We kid around a lot. But a lot of the quotes and stuff, a lot of our beliefs is we’re going to get the right people on the bus – and in the right spot.

Ryan: And especially as a business owner and running the companies that I have, you can’t do it all yourself.

There are only so many things that I can do or be good at. And you’ve got to find those A-players at the top of the organization. And you’ve got to find people who are good at specific things for other roles. It’s really the only way to grow and get freedom from your business, as well. Otherwise, you’ll just be working all the time, frustrated and stressed out.

Jim: Exactly. And you’re going to run the madness where you do the same thing over and over again.

Ryan: You identified something else there too about speed of implementation. We talk to our team a lot too about overanalyzing situations, talking yourself out of a lot of things.

And a lot of times, sounds like Ian and you as well are just able to implement good ideas faster. 

And I think, that it’s huge for business owners to understand that the longer you wait to do something, the more that your competitors start implementing things, catching up or leap-frogging you. And it’s that much harder to catch up and implement down the road.

So if you have a good idea, it’s better to go out there and get it done now.

Jim: Exactly, exactly.  And then, recognize when you need to make that quick decision. And the hardest thing is when to make a decision to make a course correction slowly and implement that.

That goes into training and development of people because that cannot happen. When it comes to people, making those course corrections in training and development, those don’t happen overnight.

Ron: They take time for sure.

Jim: Yes, that’s correct.

Ron: So Jim, tell us a little bit more about your sales and organization. How does it break down? How many sales people you have?  Not only that, how is it different than some of the home improvement businesses that you’ve seen throughout your career?

Jim: Well the first thing I did when I came on board was I handled all the sales myself. I want to be close to the process.

I’ve seen it done a million of times during my experience with James Hardie. But I was never in the trenches. I have to worry about my own sales numbers on my own. So I wanted to make sure that I have the experience and develop that process and procedures as I was going to build a team.

I handled all the sales for probably 4 to 5 months before I brought on team members. Because I wanted to make sure that all the processes and procedures down. And I wanted to grab people who were outside the industry – it was one of my key goals.

Because I didn’t want them to develop the bad habits I’ve seen in these markets, which is a real lack of thoroughness and passion. And what we want to accomplish is giving customers their dream, giving them the experience they deserve.

I wanted to train someone form the ground up. We joined an organization called CCN (Certified Contractors Network) that helps us create a process and procedure for training and developing and making sure that the homeowner gets a great sales presentation and a consultative sales approach instead of a hardcore, hard pressure. We don’t do that. And we’re not looking for people who do that.

Ryan: One question that I get from contractors quite a bit is most of the time, the owner is doing the sales and the project management and a lot of other roles as well. I don’t know if you could speak a little bit about, are you looking for commission-only sales people, are you doing a base plus commission. What are you looking for that sales person and how are you compensating them? If you don’t mind.

Jim: Yeah, no problem. When we bring the people on board, we give them a salary position for 90 days. And during that process, they’re ramping up. And after 90 days, they’re cut of and it’s a 100% commission.

Ryan: I like it. It’s a great strategy.

Jim: And one of the things that we do, if they started selling more during that training period, then they get paid the higher amount.
Ryan: That’s great! You’re rewarding production.

Ron: So Jim, these individuals then, tell us about the actual interaction with gathering lead. And a little bit about your sales funnel.

We of course know that you do a conservative amount of online marketing. Tell us a little bit more about the process. Maybe when a lead comes in, do you have an initial offer? Do you have a consultation? Do you immediately do an estimate?

Tell us what happens when that prospect comes through.

Jim:  So for the initial call-in for a lead, we immediately schedule a first call. We do a 2-call close in general for all of our customers.
So the first call would just be for information gathering – the sales person will go out to the homeowner and a series of 30 to 35 questions that will sit down and ask every single time.

It’s very consistent. So when we get back, we have a good deal of information about the homeowner and about the job. We have just set take-off sheets that they just ran the numbers on.

They ask, like I said, 35 questions. At that point, at the end of that measure call, which takes about 1 to 2.5 hours. They’ll go ahead and schedule the follow-up proposal call, which is usually about 2 to 3 days later.

Ron: Is that something you typically charge for, Jim? That 2-call system, the first call, the second?

Now tell us about that. Is it expected at no cost? Maybe you can get more into that.

Jim: That is a free estimate.  And we let customers know that by the time we sit down with you on the second call, we have about 6 to 6.5 hours worth of investment in them.

And yeah, that is a free estimate.  Doing that creates a lot of trust. And it already creates us as the experts. Because what we see in this market is that usually on that first call that other contractors go out and they’re giving them a bid.

And when we come out, it’s a fairly lengthy process but it’s very detailed. And the homeowners are just blown away about the information that we give them.

And usually, we get 2 responses, “Hey this sounds great! Let’s go for it.”

Or, “We’ve got to go back and make sure we are comparing apples to apples.”

But they usually come back to us anyway saying they have no idea what they’re doing and “You guys know what you’re doing. We are going to go with you guys.”

Ron: So, it’s fair to say then that by having that process, it sounds like a regimented kind of process. Do you ever feel though that going out and doing that, spending 3 to 6 hours with a prospect, is that a little risky at all?

Given the fact that you are investing so much time there.  Or do you feel that because you have that process down, you’re differentiating yourself by making them feel, making the prospect understand that you’re head and shoulders above the other people.

It could go either way though, couldn’t it? You don’t see that?

Jim: We don’t see it that way. By doing what we do, we already differentiated ourselves from everybody else.  The customers who recognize that are really the customers we want. 

And the customers that don’t see the value in that, we do our best to educate them that this is very important – as far as the process of selecting a contractor. And also, understanding the entire scope of work of the entire project.

And if they don’t see the value in that, then that’s okay. They’re not our customer.

Ryan: Does that allow you to charge a little bit more? To not compete in price?

Jim: Yes. When it comes down to it, there’s usually a small conversation about the investment for the homeowner. But there is really not much price haggling because we’ve shown them the scope of work. We’ve shown them the investment upfront that we’ve spent on them and they see the value in what we do.

Ryan: Yeah, it’s huge.

Ron: It really is.

When you were in the field with let’s say James Hardie, do you feel that the process that you have is unique?  

You’ve mentioned a little bit earlier about many of the business owners try to do everything, right? So what percentage of home improvement companies actually has a sales force? And are actually structured the way that Holmes Custom Renovations is?

Jim: I’d say there’s probably 5% to 10% of the companies in Greater Cincinnati that are capable of doing what we do. As far as the process, 95% are not.

Ron: Fantastic!

A little bit about the prospect Jim and then we can move to wrap here.

But, talk a little bit about the pre-sale. Your reputation obviously precedes you. Your quality of work. Tell us a little bit more about when you’re having that first estimate.

It sounds like they are ready to go. It sounds like you are not spending a lot of time going through frequently asked questions and minor details. It sounds like that by the time you get a lead, it’s qualified, right? Maybe tell us why that might be.

Jim: That’s a great question. And I would have to say, it’s because of our all-encompassing marketing support. Either with you guys, with our online marketing content and everything you do with social media. And all the other stuff you guys do behind the scenes.

Plus the other thing, we make use of third-party surveying companies.  These customers have already done their homework before they even call us. When we go through these things sometimes, it’s just rapid fire because they’d say, “Yes, we’ve read that. We know that. We’ve seen that. We’ve looked it up.”

They have already pre-qualified. That’s why when they come to us, they know what they’re getting. It’s because of all the things that we do.

Ron: We preach that a lot.  And you don’t wake up in the morning and decide you’re going to replace your siding on your house.  You’ll do a lot of research.  You find out about what people are saying about you.

Let me rephrase that.

The prospect does research on home improvement companies and they find out what others are saying about them.  And they’re looking at reviews and testimonials.

And one of the things we preach is being able to provide that solid content, having that web presence and being able to have that pre-qualification, that pre-sales as best you can.

Because at the end of the day, people don’t wake up in the morning and say, “Hey, I think I’m going to do this.”
Then, they’ll do research. So having that presence is important. Having your process sounds like ultra-important. And it sounds like you guys are well on your way being successful.

Jim, can you tell us about the lessons learned throughout your building the sales organization out.

Jim: Yes. Taking your time in getting the right candidate is extremely important. Make sure they have the right personality for your company. And every company has a different kind of sense or kind of mindset of how they want to move forward.

Getting them is very important. Make sure you are getting the right person on the right seat on the right bus.

And making sure that they’re going through the process. We always kid around in the sales department that we want to make wizards out of all our guys and gals.

When the homeowners are just blown away by everything you know.  And you are the wizard. That came from the Certified Contractor Networks. They want wizards. And the homeowners should be blown away with what we provide them in terms of knowledge.

Ryan: One thing I would ask you is, to be able to do that and set up a business that way to me you have a process and system, which you have identified that you’re building. But, you have to have a product and service line that’s consistent. That you can replicate.

You know, you’ve done one thing, 10 to 20 times versus some of the remodeling companies, which I see try to do way too much.

You kind of identify a couple of things your company does really, really well. You’re able to streamline those services.

Jim: That’s exactly right.  We hear a lot of people especially in the home and garden shows that we go to or the other shows that we do, they brag about that they’re full-service contractors.

And we actually shy away from that.  Yes, we are a full-service contractor.  Yes, we can do any of that stuff but we chose to excel in very specific things.

Our biggest product that we sell is James Hardie fiber cement.  That has been our niche in the market.  If you ask anybody, any of the dealers, other contractors, they know that we are the go-to people when it comes to that.

We also focus on exterior remodeling. So we do windows, roofing and composite decks. We selected some products in each of those categories and stick with those. We stuck our flag in the ground and say, “This is what we stand for. We’ve done our research. We think these products are the best value for our customers. And we’re confident in them.” 

Homeowners automatically relate.  Like they spend months or years researching on those products and we’ve done it. They trust what we recommend.

Ryan: Then, you are able to talk about the product warranty. You’re able to talk intelligently inside and out about the product – how it’s installed and everything that goes along with it versus jumping around and saying, “We haven’t really installed this before but we can learn how to do it.”

It just makes the sales process and everything else after delivery so much easier.  And it’s just getting that into the heads of other remodeling contractors that is often difficult.

It’s easy for them to say, “Yeah, we can do everything. Sure, it’s money.”

Jim: And with that, learning to say “No” to customers is a very hard thing to do. But it’s a very important skill.  It is okay to say “No”.

We’re not the right fit for your company. Not the right fit for you. Even now, it’s hard for us to say “No.”

With the manufacturing background that I have and also the owner came in from the automotive industry, many, many moons ago. But it’s the same with manufacturing, once you streamlined your process and you know it very well, it becomes automated. It’s easy to teach and replicate. 

Ryan: And then you have a business. When it’s time to exit and it has value, you could sell what you have because you’ve created something that has value in the marketplace versus some of the remodeling firms that we talk to – they’re just a long way away from that.

Ron:  Jim, what keeps you going each day?

Jim: There are a lot of things that keep me going.

I was talking to my wife the other day. About 2 weeks ago, we finished a job for a client, she was happy. She was in tears, literally in tears.

She hugged both myself and Ian when we were done with the job.  She was so happy with the quality of work we made for her.

She was in the middle of a move.  She already signed the agreement and then, her husband switched jobs.  But they actually went ahead. And we allowed them if they wanted to exit out of the contract because they were not going to live there anymore. But what they wanted to do is to make this home fantastic for the next homeowner.

She said, “We believe in you guys. We know you’re going to get this done. We’re going to give the next homeowner a great, great home.”

We made the process very, very simple for them – very hands off. With the move and her husband down in Florida, where they moved to, for several months while she was managing the sale of the home, the home improvement process.

It was rewarding to get those hugs.

I know it’s kind of pie in the sky stuff but really getting a customer happy, ear to ear, grand beaming how happy their home look.

We finished a project this week and the homeowners were just so happy. They found our work beautiful. The craftsmen just sit back and enjoy the work that they did when they finish.

And as far as my sales department, seeing them learn, grow, develop, pick up new things and figure things on their own is one of the most rewarding things. I kind of show them the way and guide them. And now, they’re actually making decisions that benefit the business on their own. That takes a long time to develop.

Ryan: It does.

Jim: It can be very frustrating at times. But when you start seeing it click in and all the things you see develop within them. And they’re making the decisions. That exactly is the kind of company we are trying to develop and the people we’re trying to grow.

Ron: It sounds like you’re definitely doing that well on the way.

Jim is there anything that we haven’t covered today that you wanted to bring across to our listeners?

Jim: This is a very difficult industry and it has many, many roadblocks. I never in a million years after college thought that I’m going into a home improvement business. But I absolutely love it.  So it’s one of those things that presented itself with lots of opportunities and challenges.

And embracing, figuring them out like a puzzle keeps me excited every day. That’s how I know I’m in the right business.

Ron: Awesome! Fantastic!

Jim, how can people get a hold of you and get a hold of Holmes Custom Renovations?

Jim: Through our website at

And they can actually email me at

Ron: Fantastic! 

Jim, thank you for your time this morning! Thank you for coming on to the podcast. We look forward to continuing the success together.
Ryan: Good luck Jim. Thank you!

Jim: Thanks for having me.

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