From modest remodeling projects to house-doubling additions, w.b. builders founders Scot Waggoner and Tim Brandvold know construction and home remodeling.
Both grew up using tools, Brandvold working in trades and as a member of a family that's long been involved in building, Waggoner following in the footsteps of a handy grandfather.
They did projects together as a sideline for a couple of years before they left other jobs to launch their Edina-based company in 2003. And they've held their own during a recession that's battered the construction industry.
What's proven more challenging for them, as for many small-business owners, is marketing their company. They've struggled to find ways to reach and retain the ideal customers they're seeking, those who want larger, $200,000-plus turnkey projects that will move their business forward.
"We can do our trade, but marketing sometimes falls off the back burner," Waggoner said. "We developed a website and have considered other avenues of Web development, but it does not seem like [Web developers] are listening to us.''
The company is in for a makeover of its own this year as one of nine national winners -- and the hometown representative -- in Project Rev, a free, yearlong marketing lab created by Shoreview-based Deluxe Corp. to help small-business owners figure out what marketing programs work best for them.
After a Project Rev kickoff gathering last month at Deluxe headquarters, each company is paired with a Deluxe marketing adviser and a business counselor from the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). Companies also get up to $5,000 in marketing services from Deluxe, which can be spent on market plan development, website design and hosting, e-mail marketing, logo design, promotional products and print marketing support.
"Scot and his partner Tim have built such a great company, one that has weathered this housing market storm well," said Julie Gordon, senior manager for strategic markets at Deluxe and the one-on-one marketing adviser assigned to w.b. builders. "We're looking forward to helping him with both some short- and long-term marketing approaches that will hopefully build their client base with the type of remodeling work they prefer to do."
More than checks
Besides helping small businesses, Project Rev also highlights Deluxe Corp.'s expanding range of services for small and medium-sized companies. It's part of an effort in recent years to diversify the company, long known as a printer of checks and business forms.
"We'll probably print the last check ever made," said Gordon. "We need to build up our brand. We're not just a check and business form supplier. We also offer marketing services."
Marketing is a top concern of most small-business owners.
"The No. 1 topic for small businesses is how to market better, more efficiently and more effectively," Gordon said. "Small-business owners just don't know what's working and what isn't."
Waggoner, CEO of w.b. builders, said he hopes Project Rev will help remake the company's now-incomplete website. While he handles sales, COO Brandvold serves as on-site project manager. They have one employee, a carpenter, and an outside draftsman available to design projects. The founders' wives help with projects and interior design.
Countering the downturn
Revenue has slipped to $1.2 million in each of the last two years, down from $1.5 million in 2007, Waggoner said. To counter the downturn, the company has taken on smaller projects and also found remodeler-friendly lenders who work with clients to get projects financed.
Stacey Quinn of 1st Trust Mortgage in St. Louis Park has worked with clients of w.b. builders to arrange financing for projects based on the future or end value of the remodeling work or addition. Other forms of financing such projects, such as second mortgages and home equity lines of credit, "became extinct two years ago in our market," Quinn said.
Quinn and other lenders who provide such financing review plans themselves and also have appraisers evaluate them. Quinn also visits homes to monitor progress on remodeling projects.
"I'm very familiar with [Waggoner's] work," Quinn said. His clients "have all been extremely happy. Scot has really been forward-thinking in connecting clients with a resource to finance their projects. That puts him ahead of the industry."
Matt Kruse, owner of Burnsville Parkway Animal Hospital, has been w.b. builders' most frequent client, completing two major home remodeling and addition projects and remodeling his veterinary office.
The first project involved extensive remodeling of a St. Louis Park home that Kruse and his wife have since sold. They later brought w.b. builders back to do a whole-house remodeling and an addition that "essentially added a house to a house" that they had bought in Edina, Kruse said.
"We created something we wanted to live in for the rest of our lives," Kruse said. "They really listen and understand what you want, but they also give you good advice."
While entrepreneurs often see marketing as a chore, it's even more essential in a downturn, said Project Rev spokeswoman (and blogger) Stephanie Chandler, an entrepreneur, author and consultant. The companies in Project Rev were particularly interested in learning how to measure results and return on their marketing investment.
"It's absolutely more necessary because of the economy," Chandler said. "Companies that continue marketing are the ones that get ahead when the market changes. Marketing is an investment in your business. A lot of business owners view it as an expense. But when you find the right strategies for your business, marketing pays for itself over and over again."
Owners of the Project Rev companies expressed interest in using online social media marketing, something she said most companies can use to their advantage.
"If I could give just one tip, it would be to embrace the Internet, get a website and embrace social media and use it," Chandler said. "Those are powerful tools especially for a business with a small budget, and it doesn't cost a lot of money to market your business online."
The expert says: Gordon, the Deluxe executive and marketing adviser to w.b. builders, said she is working with Waggoner on a marketing strategy for the Remodelers Showcase this fall. The plan may include reaching out to previous clients and putting together a high-end book of past work and then after the event, thanking those who visited and following up on leads.
"I told him we need to get serious with your marketing, where you show up, how you're spending your money," Gordon said. "He needs to grab those reins, focus on what he does best and really work on becoming the premier remodeler of the southwest metro."