Two years ago, Michigan window, siding, and roofing company 1-800-Hansons hired a marketing firm to interview three separate focus groups of sales prospects, some of whom had bought from Hansons, some of whom had elected not to.
Founder and president Brian Elias says that he was “shocked” by the results. Seated behind mirrored glass, Elias and other Hansons executives found out that it is women who make the significant home improvement purchasing decisions, that customers regard sloppy salespeople as annoying, that many homeowners think two and a half hours is way too long for a sales call, and that big price drops cause distrust. Sales reps who arrive for the appointment shortly after putting out a cigarette came in for particular criticism.
One result, Elias says, is that “everybody now has breath mints and Scope in the car.”
ACCOMMODATE & ADJUST It would be hard not to miss 1-800-Hansons — its phone number is officially its name — if you live in a place where the company has an office. Hansons' broadcast commercials are constant and its canvassing crews fan out from multiple locations, helping to bring in the 150 leads the company needs daily.
Michigan and Ohio, two states hit by recession well before the rest of the country, would not seem like places where a window, siding, and roofing company could flourish. But Hansons, our 2011 Replacement Contractor of the Year, posted consistent sales gains throughout the last decade, increasing company revenue even when the auto industry wobbled and then the rest of the economy plunged into recession.
Challenged not only by a regional and national downturn but also by unforeseen circumstances such as the sudden loss of its major window supplier in 2008 and a multimillion dollar fine (negotiated to considerably less) levied on the company by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2006 for failing to distribute lead-safe renovation pamphlets, Hansons always rebounds. The EPA court fight was “a wake-up call, and we got it before everybody else,” Elias says.
What managers learned, COO and co-owner Mike Pence says, is that when it comes to running a complex business in a market that's both economically stagnant and highly competitive, “he who makes the fewest mistakes makes the most money.”
You could explain Hansons' success by saying that the company's managers take strategic chances that consistently put Hansons ahead of the market while leaving few details to chance. Elias, explains industry consultant Dave Yoho, who has worked with the company for years, figures: “‘There's going to be business out there for somebody and I am going to get the major share of it.' Then he goes about doing that in ways that are different,” Yoho says.
ON THE MOVE Founded by Elias in 1988 as a one-man operation, Hansons remained a single-location business until 10 years ago. Last year that first location, in the suburb of Troy, Mich., generated a majority of the company's $46 million 2010 revenue. The other seven locations — the most recent in Ann Arbor — did more than $20 million, according to sales manager Greg Shulman.
Each year, proportionately more revenue comes from the branches, less from Detroit. Without the branches, the company would be just a bit more than half its size. The branches gave Hansons a template for growth that has the company moving into adjoining markets — those its advertising already reaches — each with a new general manager who has been groomed from within.