Alliances have become a buzzword in the remodeling industry, with suppliers looking to strengthen their contractor customers through various programs.
Contractors, too, are banding together to share business tips, mentorships, marketing advice and most importantly, referrals.
Now, those alliances are allowing clients a full-service remodeling experience.
Allison Guido, Almar Building & Remodeling Inc. co-owner, is highly active in local business groups. The Hanover, Mass.–based remodeling company is a staple in the community, with 53 years of experience built around business relationships.
In addition to networking with her local NARI chapter, Guido also belongs to the South Shore Women’s Business Network.
Guido thinks back to her earliest networking experience as a 22-year-old college graduate, when the idea of networking was terrifying. “I showed up to [a South Shore] event by myself, and a woman almost immediately came up to me and started to ask me about what I did and what I needed to succeed,” she says.
The open culture of women’s business groups fosters a mentoring relationship between young and old business leaders and has cultivated Guido’s latest project, the Dream Home Alliance.
Consisting of five women from the South Shore Women’s Business Network, the Dream Home Alliance is a strategic referral and marketing partnership among complementary businesses focused on design, building and decorating of the home.
This alliance goes further than the typical non-formalized agreement among a few business owners to throw each other referrals and include logos in advertising. The Dream Home Alliance has structure, defined roles, long-term goals, regular meetings/communication and a marketing plan.
To understand the sophistication of the Dream Home Alliance one must start at the group’s humble beginnings a year-in-a-half ago. “A window treatment business opened next door to our office, and I ran into her at a South Shore Women’s Business Network meeting,” Guido says.
After a few months, they got to know each other, even working with the same clients. Eventually, the women decided to build upon a frequent topic of conversation at the South Shore Women’s Business Network—building alliances.
“A lot of coaching [within the South Shore Women’s Business Network] pushes for collaboration and working together to build businesses, and I’ve wanted to do this, but I never knew who to do it with,” Guido says.
The alliance is strategically built on the idea that the group can bring a homeowner from conception to completing a remodeling project and any phase in between, consisting of an architect, remodeler, interior designer, window treatment designer and faux painter.
Here’s a closer look at how the Dream Home Alliance is structured.
Strategic five: Guido and her neighbor were strategic asking other companies to join the alliance. The women own home-related businesses, work within the same geographic area, target similar clientele and have similar long-term business goals. Additionally, everyone has worked with one of the other companies in the past.
“Quite a few have approached us to join, but we’ve decided not to expand,” Guido says. “We want to function first as we grow and create a sense of long-term investment of future companies.”
Structure: A lot of thought was placed into the alliance’s plan of action, especially in developing the mission, vision and the long-term goals. The group’s focus is on homeowner education through showcasing the women’s expertise.
This is evident via its Website, DreamHomeAlliance.com, which has array of articles and photos. The alliance is also hosting an educational seminar series in showrooms, with each presenting on topics of expertise.
The hope is that people will grow comfortable seeing or hearing about the alliance and will be more likely to turn to them for a whole house remodel or a fresh coat of paint. “The hope is that homeowners are less intimidated by the alliance, with unique skill sets yet have one place to get whatever they want, without pressure that comes with gathering bids,” Guido says.
Roles and procedures: During the development phase, the women worked closely to develop comprehensive list of roles and rules. Though the group self-manages, emphasis was placed on everyone’s equal buy-in and participation in the group.
The women’s roles were matched to natural talents in the group—artistic, computer-savvy, detail-oriented skills guided responsibilities. One member runs/maintains the Website and Facebook page; Guido handles operations such as financials and scheduling; another member is in charge of graphics for advertisements and another handles administration- activities such as picking up promotional banners from the printer or going door-to-door with flyers. Each alliance member contributes one article per month for the blog.
A large part of the alliance is client referrals, but the women’s business types dictated the phase in which new clients enter into the remodeling process. For example, painting and window treatments usually come after the remodeling process, so those women are less likely to provide as many referrals to Guido or the architect.
Guido says they will compensate for that in other ways. “We will find other ways for members to contribute outside of defined roles if need be,” she says.
Of course, the women prefer referrals stay in alliance; however, they decided the alliance does not preclude them from referring clients to outsiders. “We agreed that if one of us is not the best fit for the client then it’s better to refer them to an outsider, because both professionals and clients need to work a professional that he or she trusts,” Guido says.
Ideally, the group envisions clients coming into the alliance through the architect and moving through the system as the project progresses. So far, inquiries coming from the alliance Website are given to the appropriate person who handles the client normally, with their own contract.
The group meets regularly to follow up on commitments and upcoming events. “We started out meeting twice a month to stay on track, but now we meet once a month and communicate via e-mail in between,” Guido says. The women make a $5 contribution at every meeting for group advertising, which has grown to roughly $400.
The money is covering a high-end magazine advertisement, direct mail campaign and the Website. They’ve also secured a booth at a local town fair happening in June. “Long-term we plan to expand the alliance and put a larger dues structure in place,” Guido says.
Benefits of the alliance
“It’s like having a large design/build firm without having a design/build firm,” she says. “My clients need those series, and it’s great to have other professionals that I can rely on to be readily available.”
Other benefits include stretching marketing dollars farther than before by combining advertising, which is in addition to the ad campaigns for her own company.
She’s also banking on the educational aspect the group. “It’s a good way to build trust and expose ourselves to people,” Guido says. She believes this approach takes the sales pressure away from people who are looking for remodeling information.
Especially, when it comes to women. Guido says all five have the advantage of being able to relate to other women on a different level and speak their language when it comes to their homes. Guido always asks questions related to afterschool routines—because that impacts scheduling—or who is the first to take the dog out in the morning—which could impact design.
“When I’m talking to homeowners, the men often think my questioning is silly because they don’t understand how remodeling affects their children, routines or the overall logistics of having a contractor in the home,” she says. -Morgan Zenner