For many home improvement companies, the job of recruiting good salespeople or proficient marketers never ends. One hidden-in-plain-sight resource that some contractors tap is the local college, with its pool of young talent.
While many companies seek out seasoned pros to do their selling, Unique Window & Door in Indianapolis takes a different tack. By hiring students from community and four-year colleges, “we can train them on the way we want it done,” says vice president Greg Kissel. “More experienced pros sometimes have developed bad habits at other companies.”
Part-time positions work well for both Unique Window & Door and the students it recruits. There is plenty of weekend and evening work at home shows and fairs, event coordinator Brian Hostetter says. The company currently has about 15 part-time people, 6 of them college students.
“There's always the opportunity to advance,” Hostetter says. His assistant worked for Unique Window & Door while she went to Ball State University, and then joined the company full-time after graduation. Another former student employee, who graduated from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, took over the company's public relations.
At Tony V's Sunrooms and Spas, in Clinton Township, Mich., students are recruited for “pre-sales” positions that involve not only home shows and big-box store demonstrations but also visiting prospects. Not all homes can accommodate a sunroom, says sales manager Tom Buchanan, so pre-sales employees go out to measure and photograph homes and yards.
Although only the design consultant can make the sale, the pre-sales person gets a 3% commission on leads that turn into sales. “It's important to learn not only how to sell but how to generate customers,” Buchanan says. That's one reason the company is trying to attract people with a background in marketing.
Unique Window & Door uses both high-tech and traditional ways to reach out to students, passing out fliers, putting job postings on bulletin boards, and asking administrators to post jobs on college Web sites. Buchanan likes Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com job posting sites, and has prospective employees fill out an online profile before doing group interviews.
The one concern that he has about hiring directly out of college is that the average Tony V's customer is more than 40 years old and “may have difficulty connecting with a salesperson in his early 20s.” But he figures that a salesperson with good communication skills can overcome that obstacle.
—Diane Kittower is a freelance writer in Rockville, Md.