An interview with Ken Fenner, Part 1

Ken Fenner is the owner of PressurePros, Inc and its subsidiary company, Restore-A-Deck located in Havertown, PA. Ken started PressurePros, a commercial and residential pressure washing company, in 2003. Employing union painters, an interior residential repainting division was added in 2005. While no longer performing painting services, Ken is familiar with the industry’s issues. In 2006 a company expansion was made to incorporate product sales. The Restore-A-Deck company is rapidly becoming an industry leader in the of selling high quality, eco-safe deck restoration products. Servicing several counties in Southeastern PA and having a database of nearly 800 customers, Pressure Pros, Inc has is one of the area’s leading companies providing deck restoration and pressure washing services. Ken’s formal education is in economics with a Bachelor of Science degree received from The University of PA in 1991. Ken is also a partner in CRK Holdings, a family conglomerate that operates Curves For Women and Cold Stone retail franchises. For more information on Mr. Fenner’s companies’ services or products you can visit www.pressure-pros.com or www.restore-a-deck.com.
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Q: What advice would you offer to someone thinking of opening a paint contracting business?

A: Start your business with a plan. There are many aspects to owning a successful business outside of knowing how to paint or having a strong work ethic. Two of the most important things to address in a business plan are defining the job roles for a smooth operation and formulating a plan to make the phone ring.

In the beginning, a business owner will have more time than money so he or she will wear the hats of marketing expert, estimator, salesman, laborer and secretary. There is nothing wrong with this as it will give the new owner a true understanding of each role in the company and allow him to make educated decisions as his company moves forward and he focuses on making the business more profitable. Some forethought has to be put into hanging a shingle that reads “Painter For Hire”. There is only so long before someone assuming all the roles I listed above realizes that their time is being under compensated. By defining and analyzing each role in the company, an owner can have a standard of criteria to begin hiring qualified employees as his or her profits increase. Its important to understand personal limitations and not get caught in a conundrum of “nobody can paint as well as I can.” If a person comes to the realization that business management is not his forte then he may need to consider the need to hire someone to do the marketing and promotion of the business. It comes down about taking your strengths and capitalizing on them and surrounding yourself with a strong team to support your weaknesses. Every maneuver made during the startup phase should be geared towards that end.
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Q: A frequent question on many contractor forums goes something like: “What form of advertising works best?” What type of advertising do you think works best?

A: This leads perfectly into my second criteria for success, making the phone ring. No one is going to start off with a customer database. The business is new, therefore it has no credibility in the marketplace. To begin building that consumer confidence that turns into sales one should approach marketing as a whole versus focusing on any single form of advertising. If you speak to any contractor he will tell you exactly what doesn’t work. Unfortunately, many forms of legitimate advertising get a bad reputation via this word of mouth. Often, when I inquire further, the pundits disclaiming a certain media’s failure to generate leads comes down to poor execution and tracking. Placing a single ad in the classified section is not going to generate enough leads to build a six week book. When looking at the ROI (return on investment) at that particular form of advertising, I find that it yields a good return. Its very important to ask the customer “How did you hear about us” and document the replies. Different things work for different areas. It takes a bit of fine tuning to get together the best forms of advertising that makes people respond.
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Q: There are a lot of choices when it comes to marketing. How does a contractor avoid getting his message spread too thin?

A: I prefer to break down my marketing campaign into smaller, digestible areas. This is how someone on a budget can become a dominant force in an area. Your marketing should be based upon people seeing your message multiple times. The first thing that tops my list is to make sure the right people are hearing my message. If I were targeting higher end residential work, having people living on a fixed income would likely not get me the type of leads I would want to spend time upon. I like to utilize direct mail to generate these types of leads. There are services that offer very specific mailing lists to insure you are targeting people that can both afford your service and demand the quality you offer.

Once you begin performing jobs in the right demographic area, the ball begins rolling. Soon your yard signs, door hangars, flyers, direct mailings, and newspaper ads begin having a collective effect. Your name gets known within a defined demographic area. Statistically speaking, people may need to see your name seven times before there is enough built in credibility that will create an action on their part. If a new company sends out 10,000 post cards there is usually little left in the budget for subsequent advertising. I feel this is a huge mistake many contractors make. I have had much greater success sending out my message to 2000 people five separate times. Not only do I generate more overall leads than one mass mailing, Towards the end of my campaign my close ratio increases. People already trust me before I walk through their door.
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Q: A lot of contractors think that referrals are the best form of advertising. Do you agree?

A: That can depend upon where the contractor is in his time line. Since we are discussing startup companies, the answer is no. There is a common misconception that just doing a fantastic job insures people will refer your company. That is just not the case. A painting job could have been done to near perfection but the homeowner may not have liked the overall process as much as the contractor may have thought. We are dealing with people and real people have emotional hot buttons. If the work was sold as nothing more than a paint job, even if it was performed well there is no emotional attachment. It was a paint job, nothing more, nothing less. There is no incentive for Mr. and Mrs. Jones to run and share your company name at their next social gathering. The reality is… they won’t.

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