All Phase Exteriors separates itself from the crowd
By Mark Ward
Tipping waitresses and pizza delivery men is such a habit that many customers do it just because a gratuity is expected. But tipping your gutter installers? That is certainly not the norm. To do it, customers must really be motivated to express gratitude for the service they received.
“Yes, our installers have gotten tips,” reports owner Tim Rose of All Phase Exteriors in Nashville, Tenn. “The reason is because customers see that our installers truly care.”
In an industry where the usual focus is the number of linear feet a gutter crew can install in a given day, how does Rose’s operation provide a level of service that can actually elicit voluntary tips from homeowners? All Phase Exteriors’ sales manager, Chuck Ettinger, offers an explanation.
“For one thing, our emphasis is on educating our customers — rather than just dropping off a proposal — so they’re informed and can recognize what constitutes good value in gutters,” Ettinger notes. “For another, we differentiate ourselves by being specialists. So we can give our customers different value-added gutter options they likely wouldn’t have otherwise known. And we don’t subcontract any of the work but do it with our own crew.”
While Rose’s approach to customer service has been a constant since he founded All Phase Exteriors in 1980, in recent years he has guided the company through important changes — among them, a decision about five years ago to exit the siding and replacement window business and concentrate solely on gutters.
“There was — and is — a lot of competition in the Nashville market among siding and window contractors,” affirms Rose. “So by specializing in gutters, we can better differentiate ourselves.” Not only has the strategy paid off with home-owners. The city’s home builders know that All Phase can stick to their production schedules because Rose and his team are not distracted by other lines of business and perform all work with their own employees.
As a result, adds Ettinger, “We enjoy the stability that comes from having about a 50/50 mix between the retrofit market and the new construction market. Getting about half of our business from each market can help even out the peaks and valleys.”
Becoming a gutter specialist has likewise helped All Phase expand into additional gutter-related profit centers. To complement its 5- and 6-inch seamless K-style gutters, the company has added seamless aluminum and copper half-round profiles. And recently, says Rose, “We bought a machine to produce a ‘Classic Crown’ profile that looks like crown molding.”
While the investment might not make sense to contractors for whom gutters are a sideline, Rose relates, “We’re gutter specialists and believe it will pay off as another way to differentiate ourselves.” For his part, Ettinger says the Classic Crown profile give All Phase one more option to up-sell customers or “if business is slow then we can offer it as an upgrade at no extra charge.”
Given all these options — in profiles and materials, along with more than two dozen colors in stock — All Phase has recently added to its Nashville offices a showroom where “customers can view product displays from traditional gutter systems to rain chains, rain barrels and our market-exclusive Classic Crown and half-round European copper systems,” says Rose.
In addition to gutter systems, gutter protection products and decorative accessories, All Phase offers repair and cleaning services. The latter program is a recent innovation that offers home-owners a choice of either one-time cleaning or a Bronze (two times per year), Silver (three times), or Gold (four times) level of service. “It doesn’t make a ton of money,” concedes Ettinger, “but it’s a great way to build relationships with customers. Later, when they need repairs or new gutters, they know and trust us already to do the work.”
Cultivating relationships is the basis of Ettinger’s sales strategy. He begins by visiting consumers, educating them and drawing on All Phase’s expertise as a gutter specialist to devise custom solutions for individual homeowners. “People appreciate it, for example, when we might save them money by suggesting their downspouts are in good shape and don’t need replacing along with the gutters,” he explains, “or when they don’t want water splashing on a certain part of the yard and we show them how well-placed rain barrels can solve the problem.”
Taking the time to listen and then provide added value is especially important in today’s economy. “The winter of 2009-2010 was brutal from a business standpoint,” confirms Ettinger, “and since then we’ve seen a huge increase in competition. Customers are getting three, five, even seven bids because they’re focused on price. So it’s harder for us to close a sale on the spot. We don’t play the lowball game, which means we go out and sell value.”
How All Phase gets the chance to make that pitch, in the first place, has changed in recent years. “Our reputation is still the key,” reports Ettinger, “but we’re relying less these days on the yellow pages to get the word out, and using more Internet advertising to generate leads.” Venues include Kudzu.com, Outrank.com and especially ServiceMagic.com where All Phase pays only for actual leads generated.
Yet another change is Ettinger’s own arrival, in 2009, at the company. With his father-in-law Tim Rose the owner, and Rose’s son Nathan the crew chief, the family must work closely together. “We’re geographically close, as well,” says Ettinger, “and since we all live about five minutes from each other, our families enjoy frequent get-togethers.”
Ettinger has come to appreciate the way Rose, despite more than 30 years in the company, is “always open to new ideas.” In just the two years since Ettinger joined All Phase Exteriors, he has launched the Bronze-Silver-Gold gutter cleaning program and added a new hybrid gutter protection product that gives customers another option along with the gutter screens the company has long sold.
As a newcomer to the gutter industry, Ettinger, in just two years, has already seen how installers must adapt to changing conditions. “We used to run two crews but reduced that to one crew to get through the economic downturn,” he reports. But rather than be discouraged, he is stimulated. “We’ve changed our advertising mix and gotten more aggressive because we have more competition,” he says, “but if you love sales, you love the fact that new challenges can lead to new opportunities.”
Ettinger has enjoyed the chance to undertake a thorough reevaluation of his company’s sales operation. “When I arrived,” he recounts, “I thought to myself, ‘If I was a customer, what would I want to see?’” As a result of his review, sales presentations now feature many more visuals, including a newly built cutaway model of a roof.
But if Ettinger has brought new ideas, Rose likewise counts as neither too old nor too long in the business to learn some new tricks. Not long ago he attended the “Boot Camp” run by Bill Frazier, who also owns the Austin Gutterman company in Austin, Texas. “Bill stresses the fact that, while a lot of installers get started because they know the installation side of the business,” explains Rose, “you ultimately won’t succeed if you don’t learn to be organized and effective with the business side of the business.”
Rose himself worked as a gutter installation crewman during the 1970s in his native Ohio and then decided in 1980 to launch out on his own. Then in 1991 he pulled up stakes and moved All Phase Exteriors to Nashville. “I wish that I could have gone to ‘boot camp’ when I started,” he says, “and if I could give any advice to someone who’s now starting out, I’d say that you really need to get yourself some professional education. In fact, I’d say professional education is a necessity for every stage of your career.”
The need for both quality workmanship and quality business practice is suggested by All Phase Exteriors’ marketing materials. While they point out that all crew are fully insured and all products are warranted and of high quality, the company gives just as much prominence to its “A+” accreditation with the Better Business Bureau and “5-Star” rating with Service Magic Pros.
“When every phase of your company — the business side, the sales side, the installation side — is working in sync,” believes Rose, “that’s when your installers, the people who are in contact with customers, can start getting tips. And more important, that’s when customers start telling their friends and neighbors to give you a call.”