How Do I Start a Shower and Bathroom Wall Panel Business?
Chris and I talked in depth about our laminated shower wall panel dealership opportunity (note: these laminate covered bathroom and kitchen backsplash panels look like tile and stone and install like laminate flooring with a simple click system).
I was impressed with his understanding of kitchen and bathroom remodeling, how he’d built his team, his position in the market and how he uses digital technology to grow. Chris is rockin’ it in his local market.
I could tell Chris felt our shower wall panel system was HOT. After watching the installation video, he was impressed it looked easy to install with one person. He liked the design styles which go from Modern Farmhouse to Transitionalist to Contemporary. He liked that (unlike the cultured stone and acrylic wall panels he’s using today) not everybody and their brother, sister, aunt and uncle are selling this product in his local market (actually NO ONE in his market is selling them today!).
All was going well until…. he asked me a question which stopped me in my tracks.
Chris said, “Mike, how do I get started?”
While this is (seemingly) a simple question, actually it’s not. You see, if Chris decides to become one of our laminated wall panel dealers, he’s doing more than just taking on a wall panel line. He’s launching a new product. You see while laminated panels are not new to the world stage (they were invented and introduced in Norway 25 years ago and have a 33% market share of the bathroom wall covering market in this country today), they’re new to the U.S. (and to Chris’ regional remodeling market).
You may be asking, so what’s so tough about that? Well, consider these 5 challenges Chris will have to get his arms around to be successful with this new product:
- Challenge #1 -The customers and market – Chris’ customers and market know little to nothing about laminated walls. How can he introduce it to them without ‘bleeding out’ his marketing budget?
- Challenge #2 – His installation team – Chris’ installers are intrigued by the 2’ x 8’ x 3/8” panels which click, lock and seal together and aren’t awkward and heavy like cultured stone and acrylic walls. However, they wonder how a marine-grade plywood backed product could be 100% waterproof. They wondered how you install niches and finish the edges of the panels.
- Challenge #3 – Chris has never launched a new product and doesn’t want to ‘bleed out’ on marketing spending) Chris started his business by doing the same projects with the same installation methods he used when he worked as a Project Manager for another remodeler. He’s never launched a new product before. It’s scary.
- Challenge #4 – His sales team is rockin’ without needing new products – Chris’ sales team is in a groove. Sales are up. They asked Chris, “Why should we rock the boat with a new product when the market’s good and we’re growing sales anyway?”
- Challenge #5 – He’s unsure who(m) to sell to- Chris is uncertain who(m) will be the best people to target with this offering. How can he cost-effectively get the product off the ground?
So, while Chris loves the product and thinks it’s cool, stylish, fun and exciting, there’s a lot of practical questions to answer and processes to develop to make money with this new line.
There’s a need to figure out the marketing plan and where to promote. Chris has to convince his sales team to sell the product. Chris’ Project Managers need to know how to deliver an excellent quality finished project (after all he’s built a solid reputation and Chris isn’t going to chuck it for one new product which is installed wrong).
In this article my goal is to provide 9 practical steps Chris can use (and you can use as well if you’re kicking the tires on a shower and bathroom wall panel dealership) to launch a new shower wall panel product line. While I’d love to tell you, this is the ‘Comprehensive Remodelers Bible on Launching Shower Wall Panels,’ I’m not arrogant or foolish enough to make that claim!
I’ll simply say this. What you’ll find below is a common-sense, step by step guide from a guy who’s launched quite a few new products. For example, I’ve started this laminate shower wall panel biz, added concrete paving stones for driveways and walkways in the mid 1980’s and even had a retractable screen business in the 1990’s. Some of these went well. Others did not. In every case, I’ve learned along the way.
While I won’t claim this is a ‘end-all-be-all guide’ to lead you through all the nitty gritty details of a laminated shower wall panel product launch, I do believe it will get you moving on a successful path. So, let’s check out the 9 steps to launch a successful shower wall panel business.
Step 1 – Do informal ‘market research’
OK – you’re not a nationwide homebuilder who’s going to invite 15 people for a focus group and get feedback. You don’t have the room, the budget nor the time for big-company stuff like that.
With that being said, you’re smart and have people who will ‘give it to you straight’ to give you opinion whether you like it or not. Go to these ‘no B.S. oriented’ friends, relatives, co-workers and people in the industry you trust. Show them the product. Explain its main benefits and problems it solves. If you’re not sure what problems it solves download the ‘9 Steps to Build a Wall Panel Business Cheat Sheet’ by clicking the button below).
Give them an idea of cost (it can be rough, but they’ll need something). Shut up and listen to their reactions.
What objections do you hear? What do they love/hate about the product? Where would they use it?
Does it excite them, or is it a big yawn? The reality is if there’s no emotion, in perfect English ‘It ain’t gonna move!’
Is it something they would use (if the price is right) in their homes, condos or apartments?
Step 2 – Create a comparison chart with advantages and disadvantages vs. alternative products
Just because a product is ‘cool’ doesn’t mean it’s going to make money for you. It just means it’s cool, something fun to look at.
A product works because people are willing to fork over their hard-earned money for it. It’s a better value than the alternatives. It can help them save money, look more stylish or eliminate maintenance.
The question you may have is ‘how did the laminated wall panels fair?’ Well – like EVERYTHING in real-life there are areas where laminated panels make sense, and areas where the alternatives mentioned above are better.
As I like to tell people, “Wall panels are like people. They all have their strengths and weaknesses.”
There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. With a comparison chart you’ll be able to identify where this line makes sense (and where it doesn’t).
In the case of the laminate panels it’s UVP (Unique Value Prop) IMHO for homeowners is it’s more realistic than acrylic or cultured stone. It comes in unique design styles not available in other wall systems. It doesn’t look cheap and plasticky. It installs quicker, with less people, with less weight and mess than other systems.
Step 3 – Identify ‘why’ you should launch this new shower and bathroom wall panel line
Launching new products is a pain. There, I’ve said it (and I’m the guy looking to add a network of nationwide shower panel dealers admitting it ain’t gonna be easy!).
However, in the words of Randy Jackson from American Idol, “We’ve got to keep it real dog.”
New product launches are hard work. You’ve got to figure out pricing, marketing, a new installation system, how to track results. The list goes on and on.
The easy option is to do nothing. Do what you’ve done before. Stay the course. Look at status quo as your little ‘fre (or friend to translate for you).
If you don’t know your ‘why’ (are we doing this), it will be impossible to ‘stay disciplined’ and work through the sweat-equity of the ‘how’ you’re going to do this.
Here’s the top reasons I’ve seen people become laminated wall panel dealers’ and start their growth journey.
- Reason 1 – Our existing products are a pain to install and require too much labor – Excellent field people are a needle in a haystack. If finding good people (and enough of them) is a pain-point for your remodeling business, a wall panel system which can be installed by 1 person vs. 2 should perk your ears up.
- Reason 2 – We have the same product as our competitor’s, and their prices are dirt-cheap – Just because you have a competitor doesn’t mean they’re smart or play by the same rules you do. Their cheap prices (especially if they sell the same stuff you do) helps them steal business from you. Now, if you’re selling the same product, it’s doubly difficult for your sales team to get deals closed. Differentiated products (like these newly introduced laminates) can be the answer to the ‘generic-product-bloody-low-margin pricing game.’
- Reason 3 – Sales are in the tank – If your company is a patient on revenue life-support you injecting product innovation is one way to ‘pump the patient’ back to life.
- Reason 4 – You don’t know what you’re missing (FOMO) – Fear of Missing Out – How many prospects don’t call you today because they think acrylic wall panels are cheap and plasticky? They think cultured stone panels are behind-the-times? They go with tile and don’t even call your business. If you had a wall panel system which looked just like tile (but without the grout) how many more jobs could you see and then sell?
- Reason 5 – You’re bored – I don’t care who you are, we’ve all been bored at stages in our career. When you take on a new product launch, your learning and growing is exponential. It can be the kick in the pants to get you (and your team) energized in all segments of your business.
Step 4 – Determine who the product ‘champion’ is. Give them the ‘teeth’ to get results
Without a product champion (this is someone focused, passionate and involved daily with the new product) your new launch is ….
D.O.A. (Dead on Arrival)
As New Yorkers would say ‘fuhgeddaboudit.’ Don’t waste ‘one thin dime’ (as the song On Broadway used to say) on doing a ‘half-*** effort with a product introduction. It’s a waste of time and money.
Find someone with the energy, passion, inside-the-biz ‘street-cred’ and enough power to get resources (i.e. money for marketing, time to educate your team, buy tools to do jobs efficiently) to push this new shower wall panel product launch up the hill.
It takes time to launch new products. It’s hard work. If this person has no power to do anything in your company, the launch will fail.
Once again –go back to your ‘why.’ If the ‘why’ of launching isn’t strong enough the product champion is doomed to fail.
Step 5 – Can this product be installed simply and efficiently? Does someone else already have a process we can follow and shorten our learning curve?
Think back on the first time you rode a bike, or the time you learned to drive. Were your parents ‘white-knuckling’ it the entire time?
If you’re like most, the answer is a whopping YES!
When you and I do something for the first time we’ve got 2 left feet (or whatever that saying is). We’re a klutz. We have ‘no process.’ We’re feeling our way through.
When it comes to an installed construction project the same is true. And I would argue the following formula is absolutely true with construction products:
A poorly installed (or hard to install) product = A bad product
You can buy the most expensive wall panel, granite countertop or high-end cabinets, but if you put them in wrong – their luster is as dull as butter knife.
I know this is true because many years ago I launched a retractable screen installation business called ‘Screen Systems of America.’ OK – I’m sure you NEVER heard of us. The biz lasted one year. The product was OK, but the installation was a finicky pain in the butt (even after we learned the installation process). We dumped it. To us, (A hard to install product) = (A bad product).
Whether you get involved in a laminated shower wall panel business (or any other construction product) you’ll want to think through:
- How is this product installed?
- Do I need special tooling or a capital investment to make it work?
- After I ‘get in the groove’ will I save labor and/or reduce operational mistakes, call-backs vs. the systems I use today?
- Can I handle weird job details which happen in the ‘real-life’ of installing my products (in bathrooms it might be solutions for recessed niches and working around windows etc.).
Step 6 – Identify the right marketing approaches so you don’t ‘bleed out’ before seeing success
A big fallacy in an entrepreneurial business is being overly optimistic, thinking ‘happiness is around the bend.’ It might be. It might not be.
Businesspeople who win (IMHO) have a plan. They have a defined standard of performance and quality. They measure and track results. They give more money to winners and pull money from losers. Throwing ‘good money after bad’ is a nail on a chalkboard experience they’re not going to allow to continue.
The challenge with marketing (which is a field me and my Marketing Manager Michelle – absolutely love) is it involves a ton of experimentation. You will spend money on ‘clunkers.’ You’ll make advertising buys which deliver big fat zeros for results.
As I like to say…
I’ve loved ALL of my ideas initially, it’s sometimes the ‘eventually’ which has gotten to me!
None of us think are ideas are dumb in the beginning. However, sometimes our timing is off or we’re just flat-out wrong (if the truth be told).
Marketing is the biggest ‘fluffiest’ spending account in a remodeling business. You need leads – and every advertising vendor you meet is ABSOLUTELY CONVINCED they have the cure for you. The only problem is – they don’t pay the bills at the end of the month or give you a free trial run.
So, if you’re looking to launch a new laminated shower wall panel business (or any new product for that matter), the question is how do you get the word out and cost-effectively generate leads without bleeding yourself dry?
I’d recommend copying what smart companies in the bathroom wall panel business already do.
Here’s 3 things effective things (large and small) companies in the wall panel market do today with marketing:
- Idea # 1) They do a lot, a lot a lot of trade shows. Yes – I know they’re time consuming. They’re a pain in the rear to staff. However, the biggest companies in the business are making them work. The advantage of trade shows with new products is homeowners can see, touch and feel what you have. They give you instant feedback and you educate them. You get leads and email addresses to work with them further.
- 2) They’re invested in digital marketing – You know people are researching and buying things on-line. After all it’s what you do also. However, many bathroom remodeling contractors don’t know their butt from the hole in the ground about digital marketing. Cost effective lead generation today (IMHO) hinges on understanding (and using) digital marketing. If you want my thoughts on this I would recommend starting (or having someone do for you) a blog. It can position your expertise (when done right) create new leads. Social media and pay per click (at least until your blog ‘kicks in’) are important tools also. Don’t be left behind with digital marketing (unless you want to become a relic).
- 3) They don’t let past customer forget about them – You and I are in the project business. People use us on a project today. It may be years before they’re in the remodeling market again. However, with this being said IF (and that can be a big IF) they remember about us, we increase the likelihood of repeat and referral business. So, how do you stay top of mind without spending a ton of money? One way is to ‘systematize’ being nice. What’s that you might ask? Well – one of reps, Jeff Spurio, puts reminders in his system to send out birthday and other important event cards to his customers. Another way I love as a digital marketing geek guy is to use email. Our company emails weekly newsletters with informative articles about our products. In these newsletters we aren’t selling or giving special deals. We’re simply looking to be helpful with good advice. We educate and stay top of mind.
Step 7 – Get the sales team doing what they do best, selling
Here’s a guarantee I have for you I know you’ll think is genius. If your sales team doesn’t sell it, it won’t be a good product introduction. See – I told you it was going to be genius!
All kidding aside, you and I both know if the sales team doesn’t invest their time, energy and excitement to get a new product going, you’re cooked. The challenge is your sales team is made up of real-live human beings (I’m going out on a limb and guessing you don’t have any ‘driverless salespeople’ yet). And what real-live human being like is staying in their comfort zone. Driving on the well-worn path of least resistance.
The problem is new product launches start on the Superhighway of Craziness. It’s a wild, wild world filled with adventure (where initially you’re even a little fuzzy of where you’re going). As a leader of a new laminated wall panel business segment you need the sales team on your side (even if it’s YOU who is the sales team – ha! ha!). You need to have conversations with customers, even though you don’t have all the answers now (that’s scary). The question becomes, ‘how in the living H-E-double-hockey sticks’ do you do this?
Here’s some tips to get you and your sales team off on the right foot:
- 1) Involve your reps in step 1, the informal market research – Your reps won’t take your word for it that this is a whiz-bang idea. They need their own ‘social proof.’ Ask them to show the new laminated wall panel line to their wife, friends, and customers to get real live feedback. They’ll start learning objections (and hearing what people love about the product) before the pressure of a live sales call.
- 2) Have them work on the comparison charts in step 2 – Just like any selling tool, your reps need to know when (and when not to) recommend a product. Doing a ‘side by side’ analysis helps to extract out where the new bathroom wall panel product fits and where it doesn’t.
- 3) As the product champion (or business owner) explain the ‘why’ – New products are a hassle to introduce. If there’s not a darn good reason why your business needs to do this (not just wants to do this), it likely won’t be successful. Give them your why. Ask them to tell you if they agree or disagree. Open debate is OK. Get their objections out in the open before they just ‘blow off’ the introduction and revert to selling what’s comfortable and easy.
- 4) Make them take mental reps – Just like a ‘backup Quarterback’ you and I and our sales team need ‘mental reps’ (practicing our sales pitch), before we’re ready for live action (an actual sales call). Role play a sales call. Ask them to present it to their spouse. Ask them to outline a rough sales process before running Call 1.
- 5) Set goals and make results visible – Put up a chart showing everyone’s sales and progress toward the team goals. No good rep worth their weight in salt (hey- I wonder what my weight in salt is anyways) wants to be the bottom dude or dudess. Leverage their competitiveness (and/or shame) to get things rolling.
- 6) Show them love – This point applies to everyone in the organization involved in this launch. We all feel underappreciated. With new product introductions (which are estimated to take 30% more time initially to close), you’ve made life more difficult on your sales team. Recognize success. Pats on the back are essential to success. Celebrate and love your team.
Step 8 – Get the financial folks involved. Track results
If it’s not measured it blends into the woodwork. You need to know how the new product line is doing. Ask your Accountant to see how your chart of accounts could be structured separately analyze the new line. Be realistic and understand your margins in the beginning will be lower as you’re developing processes and systems (and making mistakes). There is messiness to new product introductions.
With this being said you still want to track your progress.
Step 9 – Get help and make your life easier
I remember when I bought half my business from my Dad back in 1989 (wow – it can’t really be that long ago, now can it?) and he’d dish out sage advice about running a construction business and in my mind I’d say, ‘yah, yah, yah.’ Then I’d promptly do what I (in my 25-year-old ‘infinite’ wisdom) knew was right.
A few months later, I’d often reflect and understand, my infinite wisdom wasn’t quite as infinite as I thought. I’d dig up Dad’s advice and put it to work. I wish today Dad didn’t pass away 4 years later – I’m sure I could still be learning from his well of wisdom.
When it comes to life (and leading a business), going it alone with our ‘infinite’ wisdom is the stupidest thing you and I can do.
Life (and business) are not made to be done alone. Before you plunge in the deep get help. From where you may ask? Here’s a few places I’d look:
- Your team – Assuming you’ve got the right team, they’ll have your back. You need them as not only part of the process of making the ‘go, no-go’ decision, but in making the plan happen. Bring them into the process right up front. Get their minds working. Appreciate their efforts and thoughts along the way.
- Your potential business partners – I’ll admit right here I didn’t write this article for my ‘crazy good looks’ (OK – maybe only my Mom and wife would buy into this ‘crazy good looks’ comment – but you get the gist). My goal is to find potential business partners to grow this laminate wall panel business. To do this, quite frankly, me and my team need to serve you along the way. We’re there to help you figure out if this is a good opportunity. We’re here to develop tools you need to be successful. Use us to help you.
- Your customers – Your customers love you. They pay the bills. They’re the reason for your success. Ask their opinions. Get their help. They’ll be honored. Your launch will go better.
As I told Chris who asked me the questions ‘how do I get started,’ it always seems to come down to the same doggone old-fashioned thing. That thing is…
If you and your team aren’t committed to put in the effort, develop the strategies and processes to be success you won’t be. It won’t matter how ‘cool’ the product is. It still boils down to hard work, passion, energy and purpose.
And I know while you may be a stranger to new product launches, you’re no stranger to hard work. So, do you have an interest in learning about becoming a shower wall panel dealer? If so, I’d love to talk to you. Click on the links or call the number below.
Call 877-668-5888 and ask for that wacky dude who writes those articles (that would be me – Mike) to talk about a laminated bathroom wall panel dealership. I’m looking forward to getting to know you and helping our businesses grow.
If you’d like to connect on LinkedIn, you’ll find me https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikefoti/
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