Dale Brenke rattles off the numbers. In a market with 44,000 households and 208,000 people, SchmidtSiding & Window Co. manages to get the lion's shareof the business in several of the five product lines it sells and installs. Forinstance, in 2004 and 2005, the company had the highest market shareof any Gutter Helmet dealer in the network.
“Right now we have 72 siding jobs, 800 windows, 155 gutter and GutterHelmet jobs, and eight sunrooms to install, all before the snow flies,” saysthe company owner and president, artfully maneuvering his SUV throughtraffic in downtown Mankato, Minn. In 2005, Schmidt Siding & Windowgenerated $6.7 million in revenue from sales of siding, window, sunroom, andgutter protection. Marketing costs of 3.9% included a highly effectivetelevision advertising campaign.
Just how he pulls that off is one of Brenke's favorite subjects. Start withgreat people, some of the best product lines in the home improvement industry, andtop-notch installation, he says. Throw in consultative selling that'smore than an aspiration or a cliché, and marketing that respondsto and engages the attention of local people.
One Product at a Time Schmidt Siding & Window started out 57 years ago installing siding, awnings, fireplaceinserts, and roofing. In the 1980s, the company got out of insertsand took on windows “for something to do in the winter,” sayswindow department production manager Bruce Kirby, who was an installerat the time.
At that point, the operation began to grow by adding product categories. Theidea was to select products that offered brand awareness and exclusivity. Thatway, Schmidt Siding could establish dominance in each category, one productat a time. Take siding, for instance. In 1986, the company elected tooffer seamless steel siding instead of vinyl as a way to differentiate itself. Dittofor windows: In 1997, Schmidt Siding & Window became one ofthe first Renewal by Andersen dealers, a test case for the Minnesota manufacturerdeveloping its own small-market strategy.
By 2000, the company had put together a menu of home improvement products thatcovered just about every portion of the home exterior, installed by itsown crews.
Many companies would find five product lines unwieldy to sell, let alone tocross-market. The trick, Brenke says, is to manage each product as a separateprofit center. “We have separate financial statements and separateincome statements, so we can see what's profitable and by how much,” explainscompany controller Bob Wegscheid. “If you have one person doingall five lines, where's the focus?”
Profitability can slip away in mistakes such as ordering errors. To preventthat, Schmidt Siding & Window triple-checks window openings, and subjectsfactory paperwork to five separate inspections, among other precautions. “Weask a lot of questions,” Wegscheid says. “We don't placethat order till we know exactly what we want.” These systems, hesays, ensure that “we have very few re-makes.”
The company took its time expanding into new categories. First came the researchstage: talking to different vendors to size up product, service, delivery, etc., thengetting feedback from similar contractors. For instance, beforetaking on sunrooms — its most recent addition — Schmidt Siding & Windowmanagers spoke with a number of ABC Seamless franchiseesthat also sold and installed sunrooms. The trick in bringing on new productsas a way to build growth, Brenke says, is to “add one at a time, andto manage it at all levels.”