Southwest Exteriors Eyes the Future

Short-term customer satisfaction plus long-term planning equals sustainability
Christina Lewellen
October 12, 2011
SPECIAL FEATURES | Operations, Channels, Close-Ups

 
Overall Excellence

LEADERSHIP IN THE HOMEOWNER MARKET


Southwest Exteriors
 

San Antonio, Texas

 

Scott Barr has no intention of retiring anytime soon. And yet, almost every element of the day-to-day operations at Southwest Exteriors, a San Antonio, Texas-based Renewal by Andersen dealer, contributes to a long-term vision of sustainability for the growing company.
With a disciplined approach to continuous improvement in customer satisfaction and a plan to structure the company in a way that will allow it to succeed for generations to come, Southwest Exteriors incorporates long-range thinking into its short-term business goals. Nearly 99 percent of its surveyed customers say they would recommend the replacement window and door company, which drives a lot of accountability into the company culture, Barr says. “Every appointment is surveyed and every job completed is surveyed,” he notes. “We can’t always satisfy unreasonable people, but we can satisfy high expectations.”
 
 Southwest Exteriors believes that short-term goals for high customer satisfaction levels paired with a team-based leadership structure for the future is the key to a long-lasting business model.
Accepting feedback and striving for impressive referral rates permeates just about every aspect of business at the dealership—the results of which has homeowners, suppliers and industry peers taking notice. “Southwest Exteriors has an unwavering commitment to providing homeowners with the best window replacement experience in the communities they serve,” explains Erin Ross of Andersen Corp. “Their team’s experience, leadership and dedication to serving homeowners at every step of the process is exceptional.”
Besides working hard for referrals, Southwest Exteriors also has some innovative ideas about how to get its customers to share their opinions with each other—including hosting neighborhood breakfasts to get homeowners talking in a casual setting. “New, potential clients will come [to the events] and you can hook them up with a previous client,” Barr explains. “You just have to facilitate that relationship.”
REFERRAL BASED
Southwest Exteriors has been steadily growing since it was founded in San Antonio more than 20 years ago. Early in the days of Barr’s ownership (he took over as owner and CEO in 1992), he got involved with Remodelers Advantage, a networking community for remodeling business owners that focuses on both improved company performance and a balanced quality of life for owners.
He was a careful observer of his peers and took the most impactful nuggets of knowledge back to his organization. “What I saw early on was that the companies that had the highest level of profit and owner satisfaction are always the companies that have high referral rates.”
So throughout the mid-1990s, Barr began creating a referral-based culture at Southwest Exteriors. “It keeps marketing costs down, but it also offers you the highest-quality lead you can get,” he says.
 
 Scott Barr, who took over the business in the early '90s, works closely with his wife .
To build a loyal customer base, Barr and his team have focused on exceeding clients’ expectations with everything from the initial sales call and product offerings to the installation and final walk-throughs. When he took over, he narrowed the company’s focus from a broad array of remodeling services to being product specialists for just a handful of carefully-selected lines. He also decided that specializing in composite products would set Southwest Exteriors apart from other San Antonio window and door dealers. “We wanted to find the best products and the best manufacturers in the composite categories,” he explains. “Composite stands apart from other products because it looks and feels like wood but it is much more durable. Most of the lines are wide enough to satisfy all our clients’ needs.”
With its product focus set, Barr and his team created a marketing, sales and installation process that relies on an education-based approach for consumers and excessive communication to establish realistic expectations. “The way that we position ourselves is that we let homeowners know from the beginning that we want to exceed their expectations and put them in a position where they feel they can refer us to their friends and neighbors,” he notes. “Part of this approach here is to create those referrals during the whole process—not just at the end.”
 
Southwest Exteriors' customers would recommend the company to family and friends nearly 99 percent of the time.

              

ACCOUNTABILITY
To make sure its customer loyalty goals are being met, Southwest Exteriors participates in the GuildQuality organization. GuildQuality is a firm dedicated to measuring customer satisfaction for businesses in the home building and remodeling industry.
Based on surveys sent to every single one of Southwest Exteriors’ clients—and with an unheard-of response rate of more than 80 percent—nearly 99 percent of participants indicate that they would recommend the dealer to family and friends. This level of performance earned Southwest Exteriors a 2011 Guildmaster Award, issued to just 154 home builders, remodelers and contractors throughout North America for consistent exceptional service based on client surveys.
“The world would be a much better place if every business operated like Southwest Exteriors,” says Geoff Graham, founder and CEO of GuildQuality. “[Our] mission is to elevate the stature of the residential real estate and construction industry to a level commensurate with its importance in people’s lives, and our core values are integrity, improvement and stewardship. I know that Scott and his team share our appreciation for the incredibly important role that they play in the lives of their clients.”
In fact, the Southwest team intentionally explores the importance of the company’s values at monthly meetings to reinforce the accountability it has to its customers, Barr explains. “What we do is talk about our values and tell stories about our interactions [with customers] that reinforce those values,” he says. “We have a specific value to focus on and we talk about what we do to line up with that value. We make a big deal of this.”
Then, the team works hard to perform to its outlined values and expectations—aiming to receive truthful feedback from its clients. “We review all of the comments that come back,” Barr says. “The positive comments get forwarded back to the responsible crew and the negative ones we use as a learning opportunity.”
The company recently received a less-than-enthusiastic survey from a customer who didn’t voice her concerns to the Southwest Exteriors crew or office staff. When the survey came back, Barr and his team took action, touching base with her personally to resolve her concerns, he recalls. “Nine times out of 10, I can fix it or give her more than she was looking for,” he notes.
LET’S TALK
The Southwest Exteriors team believes so strongly in its ability to earn customer referrals that Barr regularly hosts neighborhood parties to get homeowners talking to each other. For the last 10 years or so, Barr has organized Saturday morning events in the company’s target neighborhoods. The goal is to create a casual atmosphere and give would-be customers a live demonstration of how smooth and easy window installation can be. “We set up tables and chairs in a driveway or yard,” he explains. “We’ll serve breakfast tacos, coffee, juice, and invite everyone in the neighborhood to come out.
“If we’re doing a whole house of windows, we’ll take the two windows in the front of the house out the morning of the breakfast so we can show people how we take them out and put the new ones back in,” he continues. “They see how much skill is involved, but they also see that we’re not going to wreck their house. We can get it all done in one day. It sends a very powerful message.”
Southwest Exteriors promotes the neighborhood breakfasts by putting as many as 50 signs up throughout a neighborhood so the company reports having good brand awareness surrounding the events. “People love to talk to their neighbors,” he says. “We do a lot of work for empty-nesters and they have a lot in common.”
Plus, the fresh coffee and signature breakfast tacos are always good for drawing a crowd. “We had one guy a few years ago joke [after his window replacement project] that it was the most expensive breakfast taco he ever bought,” Barr recalls.
LASTING STRUCTURE
To enjoy the fruits of this network-building culture for years and years to come, Barr and the Southwest Exteriors team is dedicated to structuring the company in a way that doesn’t rely on the leadership of just one person. Unlike many privately-owned—and often family-run—businesses, Southwest Exteriors will not be “handed down” to a person, but rather a leadership team representing different areas of the business.
 
 Moving away from an owner-centric business model, Southwest Exteriors relies on leaders in many areas of the company to deliver its short- and long-term goals.
Also a concept Barr picked up from years of owner roundtable events and best-practices sharing, Southwest Exteriors is about half-way through a multi-year process to transition the company’s leadership to a departmental team leader approach. “What you’ll find is that most construction businesses are centered around the owner,” he explains. “What we’re building is a team that’s not dependent on the owner. We’re about three years into the process, and it’s challenging, but the result is a business that would be handed down through the team.”
Barr notes that the model relies on a leader for each of four primary areas of the business—marketing, administration, production and sales. The council is collectively responsible for running the day-to-day operations and the owner’s role is focused on supporting that team dynamic, including providing an overarching vision and helping to recruit the right players for the company. “Part of our long-term vision is to have a multi-generation, self-sustaining ministry model,” he says. “You can hand it down from generation to generation and the company would never be sold.”
While having the right leaders in place is important to the success of the business, there’s also room in this model to facilitate personal growth and commit the energy a leader strong in one area may need to round out his or her skill set. “At the council level, you typically have people who are technicians of their industry, but may not have all the business skills,” he says. “So [with this model], you can come in and develop them as leaders.”
Barr believes so strongly in this long-lasting approach to leadership and has learned so much from his personal experience at Southwest Exteriors that he believes he can help other companies in their attempts to make an owner-to-team conversion. “It’s something we want to share,” he says. “We want to be a laboratory for other people to do similar things." 

Click here to see the other 2011 Dealers of the Year.

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