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Grant Farnsworth on How Building Material Buying Habits are Changing

In recent years, every industry has felt the shift in how their customers research and purchase products, and the building materials industry is no exception.

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Photo of Beth PopNikolov
by Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov

To find out exactly what’s happening in the building materials buying space and how manufacturers can develop a clear sales strategy to address these changes, Zach and Beth interviewed Grant Farnsworth of The Farnsworth Group.

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 and Beth talk to Grant Farnsworth, vice president of business and development at the Farnsworth Group. This market research firm has been analyzing and applying industry data for clients over the last 30 years.

Check out Grant’s invaluable insights into buying trends and how your company can strategically apply this data. You can either listen to the podcast or read the article below.

As a building materials manufacturer, understanding your audience and what motivates them to purchase is an important part of continuing to adapt to the changes in our industry. In the last five years, we’ve seen huge shifts in the buying habits of builders, contractors, architects, and other consumers in the space.

To learn more about what exact shifts are occurring, we recently chatted with Grant Farnsworth from the Farnsworth Group. The firm performs custom market research that solely focuses on building products, hardware, and home improvement. Grant is the vice president of business development and specializes in understanding buying shifts in the building products space.

The Farnsworth Group understands the different client needs across manufacturers and they use primary research to help improve a company's market performance.

According to Grant, it’s critical to be knowledgeable about the space so that you can be fully engaged in the industry on all levels.

2 Big Changes in the Building Product Industry


Price versus Quality and User Experience

On the buying side, Grant is seeing some subtle shifts consistent with both homeowners and pro consumers around the key drivers for product and channel decisions. Price pressure is starting to drop with the cheapest product not necessarily being the more popular option.

Consumers are now willing to pay more if they’re shown the value of the more expensive option, including quality, convenience, service, and support. A lot of this depends on the category, but it’s particularly true when you look at goods at a higher price point.

Grant also sees changes in younger consumers who are typically portrayed as cash strapped and overburdened with debt. In actuality, research shows they often are willing to spend, but you need to present a strong value proposition in order for them to do so.

In addition to quality and price, building material manufacturers need to create an experience, whether it’s with service levels, sales and business support, onsite delivery, or quick problem resolution.

Micro Data for Informed Business Decisions

Internally, Grant notes a change in how building material companies are using data to help them make proper decisions. The industry is finally catching up with technology, rather than relying on gut feelings. Research is starting to drive decisions and companies are benefiting, which is very exciting.

Manufacturer’s Biggest Misconceptions About Audiences: Brand Loyalty


In general, Grant sees a lot of manufacturers who assume that if a contractor has been loyal in the past, they’ll continue to buy the same products going forward. But that’s not always the case, and it’s actually a dangerous attitude to have.

The same mentality holds true for independent lumber yards and suppliers. They think customers will keep coming back because they’re the experts. Again, Home Depot and Lowe’s have proved that this isn’t true. The building materials industry needs to overcome the mindset that brand awareness is the silver bullet for success.

On the DIY side, manufacturers face a lot of challenges and unknowns revolving around the path to purchase. There are more and more resources available to homeowners every day. Grant says that manufacturers need to understand where and when they need to get a hold of leads, what they need to say at each point, and how long the journey is.

In short, the status quo is at risk as consumer expectations continue to grow. Manufacturer and retail websites are one of the consumer’s primary resources for information. You can either be a part of that conversation or not.

But they’re going to look online whether you help them or not. And, Grant says that the manufacturers of all sizes who are consistent with content and driving traffic are seeing big returns.

How to Ask Questions to Get Actionable Answers


Before you start asking your customers questions to help inform your company’s strategy, Grant recommends having an internal, upfront discussion to understand the broader questions you're trying to answer so that you can break your results down into manageable sections of information.

Ask yourself, “What are you trying to answer and how will you utilize your findings?” Give your sales reps a script to work off to truly formalize the process. The questions should be open-ended and non-leading. Additionally, be sure to look across different segments of your customer base, not just your most loyal clients.

How to Apply Your Market Research


Once you gather your audience data, you can use it to fuel growth and innovation to stay ahead of your category. The Farnsworth Group looks at product development, classic usage and attitude, concept tests, market sizing, distribution, structure, brand share, and awareness.

Each area dictates different types of uses and how you can utilize the data. Grant suggests having those conversations up front so you can then utilize the findings to help address your original goals. Big data often sends you off on a tangent—it tells you the what, but it doesn’t always tell you the why.

When you choose the right questions, the answers can really drive your building materials company to have good internal discussions on what to do differently.

Let’s take a look at how all of this plays out in a real life scenario. The Farnsworth Group worked with a client in a product category that traditionally has negative perceptions surrounding quality. The client didn't fully understand this perception and instead just accepted there was low usage in the space.

So Grant’s company started digging into why the product had low usage and what were the exact negative perceptions. Once they gathered that information, they could start to overcome those issues.

Here’s what they did.

First, they discovered there was a fundamental lack of understanding about the category for both homeowners and pros. Next, they did additional research to test value propositions, claims, and statements to see what would resonate and overcome that hurdle.

Once they found those key messages and triggers for consumers, the company now has dominant share in that category with huge sales. Grant says a lot of this consumer research can be done by manufacturers and retailers on their own.

Show Notes:

Visit The Farnsworth Group to learn more or contact Grant at [email protected].