Superior Forges Relationships with Community Service

Charitable events create a lasting bond between the dealer and its customers, suppliers, employees
Christina Lewellen
October 1, 2009
SPECIAL FEATURES | Sales & Marketing, Close-Ups

Giving Back

Excellence in Community Service

Superior Products Home Improvement

Denver, Colo.

When his wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Tom Higgins founded Superior Products to be able to control his schedule through her recovery.

For many companies, community service efforts are a bit of an afterthought. But at Superior Products Home Improvement, the company might not even exist if not for the situation that later became the focus of its philanthropic efforts.

“I started the company in 2002 as a result of an unfortunate situation with my wife,” explains owner Tom Higgins. “She had ovarian cancer. I had a history with the trades, so I started a remodeling business so I could be next to her when she needed me. I started part-time so I could control my schedule.”

Today, his wife Sherry has been in remission from the aggressive cancer for seven years. Still, supporting cancer-related charities and initiatives remains a central part of the business. The dealer, which serves the greater Denver region, not only supports community events, but hosts several annual events itself. To Higgins, being involved in community service is about more than the money his business and customers raise for charities—it’s about building a community with his customers as they work toward a common goal. “Every company should pick a charity and do something to give back,” he says. “We selected the Cancer League of Colorado because of my wife, but it’s been a great thing for my staff, my customers and all my sub-contractors to feel a part of the community.”

Creating a network behind a common cause is a win-win situation for both Superior Products and the charities it supports. It gives Higgins and his team a reason to touch base with his customer base throughout the year and it exposes community organizations to a new network of supporters. “It keeps me very active in communicating with my customer base,” he says. “And I bring to the Cancer League a strong blue collar representation. Sometimes people can’t give $100 or $500, but they can give $10.”

ANSWERING THE CALL
As Sherry conquered the cancer that initially kept Tom’s hours to a part-time level, he was able to expand his effort and put more time into the business. The replacement specialty dealer’s growth spiked and he began building a community of Denver-area customers. “From years back, I adopted the phrase that if you build relationships, you build sales,” he says. “I had the pleasure of being involved in for-public offerings earlier in my career and, in that, I learned to understand the value of the community and a respectable way of causal marketing.”

To benefit the Cancer League of Colorado, Higgins called on his supplier, Pella, to provide financial support, as well as a "victim" to repel down a 28-story building. Geoff Haskel, the manufacturer's marketing director, goes over the edge.

Given his wife’s medical conquest, Higgins began looking for ways that Superior could rally its customers to support cancer charities. “The cause of cancer is one that touches everyone,” he says. He organizes events that appeal to his customer base, which consists primarily of couples and families interested in social activities like wine tasting and playing golf. “It’s an upscale group,” he says. “That was my target for the business and that’s how I look at these events.”

Superior Products hosts themed parties and wine tastings, even offering a private-label wine that supports the Cancer League of Colorado.

Not really a fan of traditional silent auctions, Higgins looks for interesting ways to raise awareness and money for his causes. Recently, the dealer garnered quite a bit of local media attention for participating in a unique fundraiser—repelling down a high-rise building. Higgins called his primary window supplier, Pella, and nudged them to share the sponsorship cost. Oh, and the manufacturer also had to supply the person who would execute the dare. Geoff Haskel, Pella’s marketing director, repelled down a 28-story building to raise money for the Cancer League of Colorado. “It’s organized by a group called Over the Edge,” he says. “You literally get people to repel down a building. It can be frightening, and just the concept of it was over the edge and insane!”

After a successful repel, Higgins is already dreaming up ways to get more people involved in the event next year. “I’ll get another four or five groups and we’ll raise thousands instead of just a few hundred,” he vows. “Maybe we’ll do a ‘Toss Your Boss’ theme.”

Another fundraising activity Higgins organized, and later watched as it took on a life of its own, is his annual appreciation parties. Having just hosted the fifth one, he came up with the concept of an appreciation party to bring his entire network—suppliers, employees, subcontractors, customers and personal friends—under one roof for a killer benefit. “I have probably 10 to 12 manufacturers or distribution groups that put up $250 each and I match whatever they put up,” he explains. “Then we throw one heck of a party. I have a very sociable customer base.”

The party features good food and local entertainment, and donations and matching funds reached about $80,000 last year. “The donations are voluntary and we might have a casino night with prizes,” he explains. “We take a 20 minute spot to promote the Cancer League and to discuss the benefits and things that have happened because of donations. It’s always a teary crowd.”

Higgins contends that successful events generally require some effort initially, but will often pick up speed once they are off the ground. “In these types of things, you’ve got to get them started,” he says. “The first year is always the hardest, but if it’s an awesome idea, everybody will look forward to it every year.”

BOTTOM LINE
Higgins obviously has some very personal reasons for being so involved in his causes, not the least of which is his appointment to the Cancer League’s board of directors. And while his motivation is not solely to drive growth for his company, it has certainly been a side effect. “I don’t hold myself out as being ‘metro wide’ and yet I am metro wide because of all the referrals,” he says. “Last year it was 50 percent [referral business] and this year it’s 70 percent.”

For a company in the home improvement business—an industry notorious for customer service blemishes—Higgins contends that showing customers the “personal” side of a company can go a long way in building lasting relationships. “People want to do business with people they know and trust and when you get involved with your community, it separates you from your competition,” he says.

In Superior Products’ case, the strong ties to the community have also been an immunization to the woes of the struggling economy. “Incredibly, given the year we’re having, I’m on a growth year right now,” Higgins says.

In a shaky industry market, the community service endeavors make for a stronger bond between the dealer and its suppliers. His manufacturers, including Pella, Sierra Pacific, Atrium and Milgard, are all quick to throw their collective weight behind Superiors’ efforts. “They’ve always opened their pocketbooks for these types of events,” he says. “There’s been a consolidation of window manufacturers, but there are still several that are absolutely excellent in their fields.”

Click here to see our other 2009 Dealers of the Year.

Contact Christina Lewellen, senior editor, at clewellen@glass.org.