How seminars can help you sell green remodeling

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Just a few years ago simply being a “green remodeler” was enough to capture business from environmentally friendly homeowners. Not anymore.

September 20, 2010

Just a few years ago simply being a “green remodeler” was enough to capture business from environmentally friendly homeowners.

But with more companies than ever now chasing eco-minded consumers and assorted tax credits and incentives that go with sustainable construction, it’s safe to say homeowners have plenty of choices.

College City Design-Build in Lakeville, Minn., has tried to tackle that challenge by focusing on educating potential clients about green by hosting seminars and workshops on the subject.

The company (which also builds custom homes) was heavily involved in crafting Minnesota’s GreenStar program for sustainable new construction and remodeling in 2007.

“As we were doing that, we said we want to represent this niche and tell the public this is what we do,” says Bjorn Freudenthal, vice president of sales and marketing. “There was so much discussion about ‘What is green?’ that it made sense for us to come up with a forum where we could address that.”

College City already had a successful series of seminars on topics like universal design and kitchen remodels and held their first big green seminar in 2009. The company hosted the seminar at a local show home, and brought in several of its vendors, including Kohler, Marvin Windows and Doors and the local lumber supplier, to help run the event.

The two-hour schedule included a cooking demonstration and hors d’oeuvres from a local award-winning chef, as well as a presentation on the costs of green construction and its benefits, information from a local mortgage company on financing green projects and the views of a local real estate agent on green home values.

The attendees were then broken up into small groups, whereupon they proceeded through a series of quick visits to 11 different stations throughout the show home. Homeowners were also offered a package of upgrades and incentives if they scheduled a remodel during the seminar.

Generally, the program was a success, with the attendees giving it mostly positive reviews, Freudenthal says. “I can’t say that we got a green off project of that, but we did get other work,” he says.

In general, seminars account for only about 5 percent of College City’s business when the company tracks by lead source, but that can be misleading, Freudenthal says.

“What brought a client in might be the Remodeler’s Showcase tour, for instance, but they end up attending two of our seminars,” he says. “We use the seminars as a closing opportunity.”

College City hosted eight additional seminars (including one on green) during this spring’s Parade of Homes, and is planning several more for this month’s Parade.

Freudenthal warns that seminars are not easy to execute, require investment and won’t provide an immediate return. “We all do these educational seminars because we want to drum up business, but at the same time our role is also to educate and have people view us as a resource,” he says. “It can take some time, and some resources, for things to develop.”

Declining green demand

While the seminars have helped drive business, Freudenthal says the company is actually seeing a decrease in demand for green remodeling as homeowners are “greenwashed.”

“One of the things we haven’t done a good job of as an industry is prove the business case,” he says. “In other words, discuss construction costs vs. operating costs, life cycle costs, energy costs. It’s all about dollars and cents.”

That’s something College City is incorporating into its green promotions, showing the return on investment for various upgrades. The company’s team is also working on a teardown and rebuild project that will be completed next spring and be part of the local Parade. It will demonstrate a number of remodeling options, including green features, and be used for hosting seminars.

“Our intent is to build messaging that speaks to the return, and really show this, so people can walk away knowing, ‘If you do this, your savings will be this,’” Freudenthal says.

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