The Hungry Home Inspector by P Nathan Thornberry :: Why Some Inspectors are Always Hungry for More While Others Just Go Hungry

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The Hungry Home Inspector

Why Some Inspectors Are Always Hungry For More
While Others Just Go Hungry

Chapter 9

The "USP"

Cliff Clavin would be proud.

Domino’s Pizza, in 2011-2012, came out with an ad campaign they ran nationally that I like to call “Our Pizza Sucks!...But We’re  Fixing It.” It was an interesting concept, and the results seem to indicate it worked.  They would put people in a room, hand them a slice of Domino’s pizza, and then show their negative reactions.  Next they showed their pizza chefs fixing the problem, delivering the new and improved pizza to a participant in the study’s front door, and the positive response to the new flavors.

The ads were brilliantly done, zooming in and focusing on the herbs and spices they put on the crust and boasting about improvements they had made to toppings.  The first pizza I bought after I saw these ads was from Domino’s.

Maybe you like the pizza, maybe you don’t, but Domino’s has some of the best marketing people in the world working at their  corporate headquarters. In one of the most competitive foodservice industry sectors, Domino’s skyrocketed past almost everybody to become the #2 pizza delivery company in the world.

They were able to do this for two main reasons; 1. They had a solid business plan. 2. They were the only pizza delivery company to differentiate themselves.  Domino’s figured it out in 1973. They made themselves stand out in the marketplace by offering a  guarantee that, “if you don’t get your pizza in 30 minutes or less, it’s free!”

This was revolutionary, and it scared the heck out of their competitors. In boardrooms and offices of the other pizza brands you could hear the shouts of executives losing market share, making excuses for not being able to offer the same guarantee.

“But what if we have to give a pizza away for free?”

“What if we get too many orders?”

Domino’s did give away some free pizzas, but they sold more pizzas than everybody else, so who cares if they had to give away a  free one here or there? It didn’t add up to much.

They didn’t have any problems keeping up with the demand or offering the guarantee in multiple countries.  However, eventually there were some accidents involving Domino’s delivery drivers and public perception of the guarantee had turned from gleeful to skeptical that drivers might be pushed to drive less than safely. The number of accidents they had weren’t any worse than other pizza brands, it was nothing more than a perception issue and they were becoming a target for lawsuits as a result. That wasn’t until 1993 that they temporarily halted the guarantee- and then in 2007 they brought the guarantee back in a slightly different form, because as it turns out differentiating yourself from the competition is a pretty darn profitable thing to do.

What do others in the pizza business do? They say they have good pizza, and then they try to be price competitive. That’s it.

At least when it comes to food there are discernable differences in flavor. Some people prefer Pizza Hut or Papa John’s for the taste, but if you asked the average consumer why they chose any particular pizza over another, you’d probably find that they weren’t loyal to any particular brand. But in the late 80’s and early 90’s, during the period of Domino’s largest growth, the answer was really  simple: “Domino’s is delivers fast.”

The “delivered in 30 minutes or it’s free” campaign was what is known as a Unique Selling Proposition or a “USP.”  The term was invented by Rosser Reeves of Ted Bates & Company in the 1940’s, and it was first introduced as a theory of why advertising campaigns of the time were uccessful in getting consumers to switch from one brand to another.

In order for a theory to be a Unique Selling Proposition it must be one that others in the same business don’t or can’t offer. It must have the power to move the masses to your product or service, and it must say to the potential buyer of your products or services that “if you buy this product or service, you’ll get this benefit”.

It’s sometimes referred to by the unenlightened as a “gimmick.”

If you’re in a service business like home inspection, you need to have offerings that make you unique. If you don’t, every dollar you spend on Web development, Google ads, or printing of fliers and business cards is wasted. You’re just another home inspector who wants your business.

In the early days of Security Home Inspections, it wasn’t hard to be unique. Most inspection companies didn’t have an office that answered the phone and delivered reports and visited every real estate office in town regularly. Showing up and answering the phone and being a “real” business were enough to leave the competition in the dust.

As time passed, more inspectors were catching on to the importance of looking professional, so Security Home Inspections did some things that few inspectors had the resources to do. My dad spent the money and time he needed to in order to get a plumbing  license, and my mother got her pest control operator’s license. She was one of the only women in the classes, and the only person in the room who had no intention of offering treatment for termites and other wood destroying organisms at all- and likewise my dad  was the only one in the room that didn’t even own a plumber’s torch.

It may have been expensive and painful at the time, but Security Home Inspections became the company that you could make one call to and get all of your home inspection needs done. They could now offer inspections, wood destroying pest reports, well and septic inspections, and water testing.

Real estate agents responded well to this concept. They didn’t have to hand a client five or six different companies to call and get these different inspections arranged and hope their clients got all of these tests completed before the inspection response period expired.  Security Home Inspections could also offer these tests for less than if you hired three or four different parties because they were already there, so the home buyers saw an immediate benefit in a reduction of  costs in purchasing a home. Profits went up too.

Time passed and once again innovation was needed in order to stay ahead of the pack, and in 2001 Security Home Inspections  became our first 90-Day Warranty client.  The pitch was simple, and once again their profit margins and market share went up. “With  every full inspection we perform, you get a 90-Day Warranty so that even if something like your dishwasher is working perfectly fine at the time of your inspection, if you move in and it has a problem, you can call the warranty company and get it fixed.”

This was their best USP to date, because it scared the heck out of their competition and made them look inefficient at the same  time. Prospective clients would call around to the three companies their agents referred them to, and after they called Security Home  Inspections they would ask the next company not about their price, but rather if they offered a warranty with their home inspections.

Some inspectors were smart and just said “No.” They still didn’t book the inspection, but at least they didn’t do what some others did  and start lecturing the client about what an inspection is and that warranties aren’t a part of their standards, etc.

After getting that lecture, more than one inspection company was actually removed from agents’ referral lists because the clients  didn’t like being talked down to. 

After several years, others in the marketplace started offering 90-Day Warranties, but still less than 10% of inspectors. The 90-Day Warranty remains today a USP that makes you different than most all of your competitors, and when implemented properly it renders any sales pitch a competitor might have useless. I’m fairly decent with words, and I can’t figure out how to convince someone that not having a warranty is better than having one.

The 90-Day Warranty is not the only way to make your company unique, there are endless possibilities. There are offerings from  vendors like myself like RecallChek, discounts on alarm monitoring systems, and Termite Protection Plans, and then there are things you can put in place yourself. Some inspectors give each client a book on how to operate their home- some of these publications are original, some are purchased from third parties and there are several other sources listed in the resources section of this book. Some inspection companies offer free re-inspections (also referred to as “repair inspections”). Some offer them for a small fee and that’s perfectly fine as well.

At Security Home Inspections, we always charged for our re-inspections but many of our competitors didn’t offer them at all. It was  great to hear the excuses... “I don’t do re-inspections, I do inspections. If you want me to re-inspect a home, I’ll do it for the full inspection fee because I don’t know what else might have changed in the home.”

When I was answering the phone for Security Home Inspections, on more than one occasion I had a buyer ask me if I would match  the price of a particular competitor who I knew didn’t offer re-inspections. Every single time I not only booked the order but did so at  our full fee. All I had to do was tell the client the following:

“Ah, yes, [inspection company name], I’m somewhat familiar with them. They’re a small operation I think on the west side, pretty  new I believe. We don’t match prices with anyone. Most companies know we’re the market leader and tend to come in right below our pricing for that reason. One thing you might want to consider is that after we do the inspection and you have the seller make  corrections, we offer to re-inspect those services and make sure they were repaired properly before you close on the house, and the fee for that is only $95- it’s something I would recommend you consider doing. Any inspector confident in his abilities in inspecting  your home should also be familiar with repair standards and all of our inspectors are familiar with those standards. If [inspection company name] doesn’t offer re-inspections you should call them to find out why. I personally don’t see why someone familiar with home systems wouldn’t be capable of offering this service for you.”

I let that company do the rest of the selling for me.

Other Unique Selling Propositions used to include things like computer-generated reports and color digital photographs, but those are pretty standard now. By “standard” I mean to say “required.”

I know of an inspector in Texas that after you get an inspection and move in, gets your lawn mowed for free.

Sound crazy? I won’t name names but they’re doing pretty darn well.

Some inspectors offer free pool and irrigation system inspections, which has the dual benefit of giving them the ability to increase their base inspection fees and the ability to target higher end homes (and agents). Some inspectors don’t like doing things for free, but if your base rate increases and your volume does as well- it’s not really “free.”

Some inspectors (around 10% of them) offer RecallChek and check for recalls on every home they inspect, plus check for recalls  every month for their clients for as long as they own their home. Nearly all of these inspectors charge more than their competition  every day, and about a quarter of those inspectors pay nothing for this service.

Those same inspectors offer free e-mail newsletters from the agents to their clients.

Maybe none of these differentiators are for you or for your business and that’s fine. Maybe you’re going to be the inspector who  revolutionizes the business for the next generation of inspectors.

Just don’t go backwards.

Backwards takes us to one place and that’s irrelevance sprinkled with poverty. When my parents did their first inspections, in the infancy of the industry, the inspection fees were in the $90 range, inspections took 45 minutes, and they were garbage. By today’s  standards, the inspections of thirty years ago would be seen as far from adequate. Today, average fees at the same company top $500, and nationally run around $300. Imagine 30 years from today when most inspectors are checking for recalls, offering guarantees, and utilizing advanced tools in their inspection process like infrared cameras...we’ll be talking about how “inadequate”  inspections in 2012 were!

When inspection companies come up with a new offering, they should be applauded. We should all hope that it takes hold, and adds  to all of our bottom lines.  Even the mediocre inspector with less business savvy than the five year old running your  neighborhood lemonade stand owes the innovators of the early years for being competitive and taking the electrical panel cover off, buying a ladder and using it to get on the roof, and creating software in Access or FileMaker or buying it from Carl Fowler at 3-D. If they had not done these things, if they had been influenced at all at the time by those who called their trucks with ladders and computerized reports “gimmicks,” then we would still be doing incomplete, inadequate, and cheap 45-minute home inspections.