Credit: Ryan Snook

Dale Brenke, president of Schmidt Siding, in Mankato, Minn., calls the exclusive relationships he has with several suppliers "paramount." Having an exclusive on a brand ? such as Renewal by Andersen composite windows, ABC Seamless steel siding, or Gutter Helmet ? allows Schmidt to offer products that others in the market don't have.

Matt Weiner, general manager of Moonworks Home Improvement, in Warwick, R.I., which carries several of those same brands, says that exclusives let his company differentiate itself from the competition, capture larger margins, and attract customers who might not have thought about Moonworks but were drawn by the solidity and recognition of the manufacturer's name.

Steve Smalley, owner of Exterior Home Improvement, in Indianapolis, lobbied to get the Infinity by Marvin fiberglass window for all the reasons listed above. But especially because customers looking for fiberglass windows recognize the manufacturers' name.

Just Us

For home improvement companies, the No. 1 reason for seeking an exclusive brand is that it prevents them from being shopped. Exclusives eliminate direct price comparisons and allow salespeople to build value by talking about not only what's unique in the product features and benefits, but what's different about the company installing it.

Smalley, for instance, moves right from talking about the product to his company's service. "I can say I have a semi-exclusive on this brand of fiberglass windows, but then I jump to [talking about] our standings on Angie's List." Tying the home improvement company's reputation for quality and service to the exclusive vendor brand is a powerful selling tool. It also sets the stage for marketing to the same customers at a later point but with a different product.

Not Easy to Come By

Ken Moeslein, CEO of Legacy Remodeling, in Pittsburgh, says that if he were talking with a potential new vendor, "the first question out of my mouth would be, 'How many people have this [product] in my marketplace?' I want to know because I don't want to be spending marketing dollars helping my competitors."

His company sells three exclusive products. But such relationships must be earned, not only by volume purchases but also by whether or not the company represents the supplier well and installs its product professionally. "Our competitors only do retrofits," Smalley says. "We do the full tear-outs. So we tell the homeowner why they need to get the whole window out rather than just put another window inside a window."