Credit: Illustration: Barry Blitt

In 1982 the unemployment rate was more than 10%. Residential mortgages were loaded at 15% to 20% interest. Auto loans were 14.8%, and almost 30% of the automobiles and appliances sold in the U.S. were produced in Japan or Korea.

The media said it was the worst economy since the Great Depression. Home improvers claimed that customers were reluctant to buy until the economy changed.

THRIVED AND SURVIVED Companies that survived (many of which thrived) that economic downturn changed themselves. They stimulated prospects with themes such as “Don't move, improve,” or “You auto buy now” (auto industry). Home improvers created outbound telemarketing centers. They re-trained their salespeople with more effective sales methods to convince homeowners to buy now.

Check the record. Replacement window sales soared. Those were the halcyon days of vinyl siding. Sunrooms had their biggest period of growth. Kitchen cabinet re-facing became the option for kitchen remodeling.

Companies cut back on media and Yellow Pages advertising. At the same time, direct and marriage mail created abundant leads. Sears increased its sell-furnish-install representation and fostered the (then) largest SFI program — $250 million in annual sales — via a company called Amre. Call centers properly developed, without offensive call techniques, became the low-cost lead form.

WHAT HAPPENED? The critics and the naysayers lampooned the efforts of the more aggressive sales organizations. So, what happened? Many companies sold more, found new ways to get low-cost leads, and hired salespeople from outside the industry and trained them to be world-beaters.

It's your choice. If the economy won't change, it's time for you to change.

—Dave Yoho ( is president of the oldest, largest, most successful consulting company representing the home improvement industry. On April 2 and 3, he will host the first Home Improvement Economic Summit (by invitation only). For more information, call 703.591.2490.