Leads are hard to come by, and in the sunroom business, where product prices range from $20,000 to $50,000 and up, they're especially dear. “If you're going to be successful in this, you'd better be creative,” says Gordon Fairbanks, a TEMO dealer and owner of Fairbanks Construction, in Ocala, Fla.
For the last eight years, Fairbanks Construction has sponsored open houses at the homes of sunroom customers, generally five or six months after the job's completion. The company, Fairbanks says, invites people in the neighborhood over for sandwiches and sodas. “It gives them an opportunity to be nosy,” he says, explaining the draw, but also “an opportunity to talk about the sunroom with the individual who has it.”
ON TOUR Some sunroom sellers, such as Matt Ostrowski, owner of Creative Enclosures of Norwich, Conn., and Kip Lee, owner of Coastal Empire Exteriors, in Savannah, Ga., (both Four Seasons dealers), have taken the idea of the open house a step further, organizing tours of multiple sunrooms. “I'd heard about pride parties and sunroom barbecues,” Lee says, “so I wanted to do something on a bigger scale.”
Two years ago, Lee launched his first sunroom tour. Since then, the company has done 10 or 12 tours that Lee says have generated about $3 million in sales.
Gated communities have proved ideal for this marketing. Typically, Coastal Empire Exteriors includes six rooms on a tour. Ads and direct-mail invitations — RSVP required — drum up a crowd of somewhere between 50 and 100 people. They're directed to a central location, where Lee spends 20 minutes telling the company story, then answers questions. “Tourists” are divided into six groups — “You don't want 100 people in a sunroom,” Lee says — handed maps, and sent on their way. When they get to their destination, a company representative is present to answer questions. Food — burgers, hot dogs, and potato salad — is served.
HOP ON THE BUS So far Ostrowski's company has organized two sunroom tours, renting a small bus for the occasion. Two hours, he says, gives prospects time to see three to five sunrooms and not have to deal with “the bathroom factor.” The company prepares a pamphlet prior to the tour describing each home, the size of the sunroom, its cost, and what it's used for (as a sitting room, for relaxing, watching TV, etc.). The pamphlet also lists each project's design and construction challenges.
Ostrowski says the bus spends about 30 minutes at each residence and “homeowners do the selling, in most cases. They stand in the sunroom and say: ‘This is wonderful.'” Though Creative Enclosures has had fewer sunroom buyers — the first tour resulted in one built room — Ostrowski points out that he views those who go on the tour as future buyers.
“We all want the client who's ready to buy today,” he says. “But the truth is not everybody's in that situation.” Lee agrees. “We've had people go on two or three tours. Sometimes they're just not ready the first time.”
OPEN THE GATES Lee attributes his success in generating sales to the fact that most of the Coastal Empire Exteriors tours are in gated communities. Company representatives are on hand at each sunroom to schedule sales appointments. And Lee sweetens the pot for buyers by offering an incentive package that includes a $2,000 manufacturer's gift card, a free heat pump, and a drive-to vacation; total value a bit more than $4,000. Lee says the company sets appointments with about 40% of those who take the tour. Efforts to expand beyond gated communities produced fewer sales, he notes.