Technology, which construction is historically slow to adopt, can aid in business continuity efforts as the coronavirus changes how companies operate. For building professionals maintain their business pipelines, Tim Sullivan, senior managing principal at Meyers Research, said in an COVID-19 economic update webinar, “the virtual element is inescapable, irrefutable and absolutely required.”
Fenestration, glass and glazing companies are responding.
Several industry companies are trailblazing how to continue sales in this virtual environment. Pella Corp., for example, introduced free virtual appointments for homeowners. Nicolle Picray, public relations and brand communications manager, says Pella experienced double-digit increases in the percentage of appointments in the past few weeks as people continue to shelter in place and want to explore home improvement projects.
After scheduling an appointment online, the homeowner receives instructions about how to measure their windows and a questionnaire to help outline their vision. This streamlines which products are demoed during the appointment. A configurator and visualizer on Pella’s website help demonstrate the products, which are especially important to use in the absence of being able to see, touch and feel the products in-person, says Picray.
Sales reps also discuss installation methods, project cost and next steps. Whereas in-home appointments generally last about 60 minutes, Pella’s virtual process format keeps the appointments closer to 45 minutes.
Infinity from Marvin partners also offer virtual appointments. Conducted over Zoom or Skype, the dealer guides the homeowner in capturing rough measurements and discussing replacement options. Product demonstrations are conducted through sharing PDFs, video and using Infinity’s online visualizers, explains Kate Lutes, marketing communications manager for Infinity. “We are seeing an increase in requests for virtual appointments across our dealer network,” she says.
Dustin Anderson, president of Anderson Glass, notes the company offers FaceTime and Zoom meetings with clients as a way to show them options, but “that really hasn’t been something that is needed to get our work done.”
A permanent shift?
Some professionals predict virtual sales, which are growing right now due to necessity, could become a permanent business element.
“We believe homeowners will continue to connect with home improvement professionals in the method that best meets their needs and feels comfortable, whether virtually, in-home or in-showroom,” says Lutes. “COVID-19 likely accelerated the speed at which home improvement professionals needed to adapt their businesses to better serve homeowners virtually.”
Picray agrees people will become more comfortable leveraging online tools, but she also thinks the pandemic as a whole will alter the macro way society interacts and how people use their space. “It’ll be interesting to see what happens not only for our industry, but how behaviors change in society overall as we all adjust to this and try to get back to some semblance of normal,” she says. “We’ll keep track of how that landscape changes and adopt our processes and products to see what people want now and in the future. As we look at business continuity plans, we’re laying out all kinds of different scenarios above and beyond virtual sales on how we can keep the business strong in the coming months as people change the way they shop. Virtual sales is certainly a big part of that.”
Interested in the idea of virtual sales but not yet set up for it? Read these 5 tips on how to sell in a virtual environment.
Although much communication can be done online, some human element still is necessary if a sale ultimately takes place. “We do have some challenges, as does the entire industry, when it comes to installation because you can only do so much visually,” says Picray. “It’s a physical product. You have to install it.” Federal, state and local mandates dictate where jobs may proceed or not.
Pella examines how to maintain social distancing guidelines to keep the best interests of team members and customers in mind; limits physical contact, including handshakes; and has team members wash and sanitize hands frequently.
Keith Daubmann, president of My Shower Door, tries to mitigate going to customer homes as much as possible. If he and his team receive a request for work from an existing relationship that involves in-person tasks such as measuring, they examine each request individually to be sure it’s safe to interact in person. “If there’s an immediate situation that will potentially hinder the relationship moving forward, we’ll evaluate the relationship and the opportunity to ensure we don’t put anybody at risk,” he explains.
Work also progresses in jobs that were in process when shelter-in-place orders were issued. Anderson continues client communication with mid-stream or behind-schedule projects. “Those folks have unfinished spaces that might be incredibly important to them during this time of being confined to their homes,” he says, while also noting new construction has slowed.
He and his team ask questions to keep employees and clients safe and he notes some customers leave their homes during installation while others have requested masks and gloves. Some employees have asked to not go into customer homes. “We are honoring all of these requests in order to do our part while we try to survive as humans, as well as a business,” Anderson says.
Click here for a downloadable resource on how to protect employees working in customers’ homes.