One of the things that every single building products company out there needs to be doing is helping their audience and their customers sell virtually more effectively. There are jobs and opportunities out there, but many people are uncomfortable with how to use and leverage digital technology to get through the noise and actually land the sale.
More About This Show
The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insight on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.
In this episode, Zach talks to Mike Antonelli, business partner at Nickel City Hardwood, about how they pivoted their business to communicate with potential customers more effectively using technology, even during COVID-19, and how they're leveraging digital to keep their pipeline full.
Changing With the Times and With COVID-19
With the onset of COVID-9, many building product manufacturers who once relied on sales calls and showroom traffic to keep their pipeline full are having to come up with new ways of reaching customers. Nickel City Hardwood, led byMike Antonelli and his business partner Paul Hinderlite, is an example of how one such company is surviving these tricky times.
Nickel City Hardwood is both a manufacturer and installer of hardwood flooring for the Buffalo area. Mike and Paul both started out as installers but, older and wiser now, they saw the opportunity to become their own supply chain as a way of growing their business and, as Mike puts it, “save our knees and back a little bit.”
Since they’ve only been around since 2016, and Mike and Paul are both fairly young guys, their sales and marketing have been more digitally focused since the beginning than some of their competitors.
Mike says, “When we were dealing with reps or manufacturers or mills, we were texting, we were calling, we were emailing, but it was all happening from our phone. So the method of communication didn't matter to us. It was whatever works for them. But it was all happening from one device for me that I had in my pocket.”
And their use of digital technology goes beyond placing orders with their suppliers. All their record-keeping and paperwork is online, and even their measurements are taken with a laser measure.
Mike says they’re lucky to have had this early adoption because it made the transition at the start of COVID-19 easier to manage. “It really didn’t change our business on the marketing and distribution end because we had already set up to work from anywhere.”
Why COVID-19 Demands Creativity
Mike admits that work has slowed down in residential markets over the last weeks. Still, he says the leads are coming. “For empty houses and things like that, most of our leads are coming through Instagram and Facebook, and we get leads from our reps or from other manufacturers that have somebody looking out for them in the area.”
But even with new builds, progress is slow, since the state of New York has said only one worker can be on the project site at a time. And homeowners in occupied houses are hesitant to have Mike and his team in their home, even if they’re looking to line up work. This means that a little creativity is needed on both ends.
“I had a customer reach out to me on Instagram. She said, ‘Hey, we're buying a house. We don't have access to it until the middle of April, we know we really need to get the floors refinished in these rooms.’”
Normally, this would be the part where someone from Nickel City Hardwood would hop in a truck and come take measurements. But since that wasn’t an option here, they found other ways to get the project quoted.
“She sent me pictures, the blueprints, we FaceTimed. She held the measuring tape up to the width of the wood. And I would say her quote's probably within 150 bucks of where she's going to be at the end. And she's scheduled and ready to go for the day after she closes on her house, even though I have never seen the house, seen the site or met her.”
Keep All Your Marketing Working Together
Examples like this only work if all of a business’s marketing is working together. A customer who reaches out on Instagram has seen the projects shared there and has probably also seen your business’s reviews on Facebook and your product listings on your website. Now more than ever, manufacturers need to know what image they’re presenting to customers across all channels.
Zach wants to know if this pattern will be a COVID-only phenomenon: “Do you think that this is going to change how you sell moving forward? That's the big question a lot will have is, what does this mean for me long term? Am I going to sell differently? Are people going to purchase or buy or research differently?”
Mike thinks he will: “If I can save drive time and skip the face to face conversation for things that can be easily handled over a phone? I think it will change what we do, especially in some of the smaller projects where it's ‘Hey, I just want to do my family room.’ Right? Length times width, most people can do, you know, so that's an option as well.”
But, even if some of his projects become simpler to quote thanks to technology, Mike sees that there are still some things that won’t — and shouldn’t — change. “I think as long as people are still getting to talk to my partner or myself. Talking to the owner, I think that's important too.”
Using Technology Makes Sales Easier
Still, even with the personal touch of speaking to an owner, it’s hard to deny the benefits. Zach says, “It's not only better for you because it's quicker for you not to drive out there, but also the homeowner can get more done. They don't have to wait and set up a time and hopefully, you show up while they wonder if there’s traffic?”
Mike agrees that his virtual homeowner was happy with his service. “She said, ‘'This is awesome. This is amazing. Thank you so much.’ She was super excited because now she doesn’t have to worry about keeping her family safe, or about meeting me even to go through the paperwork. We didn't have to do any of that.”
Mike says that being open to new means of technology has been part of their success since day one. “We've done it our way. And we've definitely made mistakes, but I think there were things that we were comfortable with and how to operate from. We wanted to be accessible 24/7, and the only way to do that is to run your business from your phone.”
He admits that there are still elements of his business that need a computer screen or a big printer, like blueprints, for example, but most of what they do at Nickel City Hardwood can be run from a phone while Mike sits in his truck.
For him, the need for convenience goes both ways. “We have one rep and we can text him our orders, our questions any time of the day. Their company is set up to do an online order entry and typing all this stuff and it's great and it works, but it's way easier for me at 8:30 at night after I put my kids to bed to text him the three floors that I need and have him text me right back, ‘It's order number X. All set.’”
He says conveniences like that are what keeps him coming back, but he also sees all too often, especially in flooring, that convenience isn’t there. Those who put a focus on convenience gain an immediate competitive advantage. Mike cites partners like USFloors and COREtec as being easy to deal with and proactive in their communication.
“They never dropped a product for I think the first 12 years. They just this year discontinued products and even when they did that we had like nine months of notice. Everybody else, it's ‘Hey, these SKUs are dropped.’”
Be the Partner Customers Remember
The future is still uncertain for many businesses. Zach says, “After COVID, there's going to be a lot of companies that are going to come out of this stronger, and there's some that are going to come out really hurting.” He wants to know what Mike thinks the key to survival and success will be.
For Mike, the answer is communication. “The people who are coming out of it strong are the people that maintain communication with their customers and their distributors. Just ‘Hey, what do you need?’ Or ‘Hey, we didn't forget about you. This is what our company's doing. This is where we're headed.’ Those people that supported you through it are where you'll lean when business is good because you know you can count on them.”
He says silence is probably the worst thing a business could be doing right now. “Don't do the silence and ‘I'll talk to you when this is all over.’” He says people need to remember who you are and be reminded that you’re still there during these tough times, so they plan to do business with you both now and once things are better.
Got a Question?
If you have questions about how to improve your communication with customers and partners during COVID-19, let us know! Shoot us an email at [email protected] with all of your questions.