“All of this is provided to our Franchise Builders so they don’t have to go out and figure it out on their own, go pay for it on their own. We can pay once and have something that all of our builders across the country can use.”
Host: We have with us today, Rob Krohn, VP of Marketing at Epcon. Welcome, Rob.
Rob Krohn, VP of Marketing at Epcon Franchising: Thank you.
Host: Rob, I wanted to ask you, you work with our Franchise Builders around the country, with their marketing needs. From your perspective, what are some of the most important traits that they need to have, marketing or otherwise, to do well as an Epcon Franchise Builder?
Rob: I’ve had the luxury of working with Franchise Builders now for 10+ years. I think intellectual curiosity is the most important trait from any of the builders that I’ve talked to and worked with around the country.
A lot of our Franchise Builders have come from the industry. They’ve got home building experience, and there’s something in their lives or in their businesses that they’re trying to grow or expand, to meet personal or professional goals, and they’re out searching. They’re out looking for things.
It’s that intellectual curiosity that, “There might be another way of doing things. There might be a better way of doing things.” They’re willing to come in and be open to the things that the Epcon network does, how we do business, how we go to market.
It’s just that willingness to listen, and to learn, and talk to the people that work for our company as well as our other Franchise Builders around the country, and just being able to learn.
Host: Rob, what’s your professional background?
Rob: Sure. I come from outside the home building industry in my career. I started in the agency world, the advertising agency world, and worked with a variety of clients in different industries.
I then eventually had my own marketing company, my own clients, working directly with business owners, entrepreneurs, and then went into the high‑growth entrepreneurial world. A lot of it was technology‑based.
I think in any industry and any business owner, there’s a desire and a goal to get better, to do things in a new way, to ultimately grow your business and grow personally and professionally. I think that that carries over in any industry that you’re in.
Then coming over to home building, I see the same things. I work with entrepreneurs all across the country and there is that desire for them to be better and to expand their own knowledge within the industry.
Host: In your current role as VP of Marketing at Epcon, how do you work with our Franchise Builders around the country? What sort of areas do you help them with?
Rob: I think what made the builders who they are today, usually they have a sales background or an accounting background. That’s pretty standard for an entrepreneur or somebody that’s growing in their business.
The one thing they usually don’t know very well is the marketing side of things. How do you go to market? How do you talk about who you are, what you do, and how do you start to appeal to an audience?
What we do with our marketing department at Epcon is we go out to the builders and try to supplement that part of their business. They’ve got the numbers knocked down, they know how to build a home, but it’s the lead generation side of things. We try to go in and try to establish a process because there is a process. It’s not just luck and guessing.
Many business owners think that’s the case, but it really isn’t. There is a process, just like you build a foundation for a house and then do the vertical and then put the roof on, there’s a process for building out a marketing program. That’s what we really try to teach our Franchise Builders.
Host: What are some of these marketing resources that are available to home builders in Epcon’s network?
Rob: We have a Marketing Co‑Op through the Epcon network, where all of our builders pay into a central fund. We use the dollars within that fund to produce assets that all of our Franchise Builders can use.
That might take the form of photography or video, there’s the epconcommunities.com website. All of this is provided to our Franchise Builders so they don’t have to go out and figure it out on their own or go pay for it on their own. We can pay once and have something that all of our builders across the country can use.
Let’s say it’s a photoshoot, then we come away with a number of photos that are our product, and our communities, the lifestyle, and then we send that out to our Franchise Builders. What’s great is they have that on day one.
When they come into our network and they’re going to be building or developing an Epcon community, it’s going to more than likely be an empty field somewhere in the country with nothing to see.
What’s nice is they’ll have the assets to say, ‘Here’s what’s coming. Here’s what this community is going to look like. Here’s what these people’s lives are going to look like.” That helps in the zoning process.
That helps in the pre‑sale process, and all the way through community close out — to have these assets, this content, these visuals to go along with the community that you’re going to be doing.
Host: Does the Epcon Marketing Co-Op just provide marketing materials then or do they provide anything additional?
Rob: In addition to the assets, it’s that guidance. Myself being from an agency background, I’m used to working with companies that are looking for advice. Looking for how to go about doing things in their market.
It goes anywhere from, how do you budget? What should those dollars look like? How much should you allocate? Where should you allocate those dollars? How do you divide that budget? How do you then analyze your results?
If they’re not achieving the things that they want, how do we then look at it? How do we make adjustments to really start to get to the lead generation that they need to generate the sales and the revenue that they’re looking to as a business? We act as an outside consultant, as well as the supplier of creative and resources to our Franchise Builders.
Host: You mentioned marketing budgeting, so let’s talk about that a little bit. What is your thought process on budgeting?
Rob: Budgeting, any industry and any business owner that I’ve worked with wants to spend as little as possible and produce amazing results. That’s great, but that’s just not how it works. There has to be a systematic process for how you establish your budget. It’s like any other part of your business.
If you know that it’s going to be so many pieces of two‑by‑fours, so many shingles, so many square feet of concrete, the marketing has to be budgeted in the same way. It should be a consistent part of your budget, and then a consistent amount so it’s there in good times and bad.
That’s another aspect that a lot of business owners think — when things are good, they don’t need to advertise, and when things are bad, they can’t afford to. If you think about it as every other part of your business, that it’s allocated there in good times and bad, you’ve got the funds set aside. It’s not going to be a surprise.
There might be times where you’re generating a lot of leads and a lot of sales and you’re saying, “I don’t need to generate any more leads and sales.” That’s a wonderful problem to have. Not everybody gets there, but sometimes it happens.
That’s a great time to allocate those dollars to new technology and innovation. Things that if things slow down later, you’re going to say, “Now I don’t have the money to invest in that.” Those are the great times to invest in new technologies that later on, when things slow down, they’ll be in place for you to offset maybe some slowdown that takes place.
Host: I often hear you talk about having the right people in place on a team and especially in a marketing role. Who should be doing home builder marketing?
Rob: That’s a great question. Oftentimes, it’s a salesperson with not enough to do. Maybe a receptionist that has some free time. Maybe the owner themselves. It’s whoever’s available. I don’t think that’s how our builders go to market when they go to build a home.
You wouldn’t ask the salesperson or the receptionist to go out and pour the concrete, to do the shingles or do the electric. You hire a professional. I often say when you need legal advice, you hire a lawyer. When you need accounting work, you hire a CPA. When you’re doing construction, you need an architect or somebody that’s trained in that.
Yet somehow, some way, in their business, they believe that they can just have the marketing set to chance to whoever’s available and whoever maybe has some time to do it. In those instances, you get the results that you would expect from that. Probably not great.
There is usually a trained, educated person out there that understands about lead generation, that understands about design, understands how to effectively advertise. When we have those right people in place, the results come in the end.
We talk about, are you going to hire somebody internal to do the work? Are you going to hire an agency outside? Both of those are wonderful scenarios depending on the size of a business and where their financials are.
If you try to hire somebody internally, oftentimes they try to hire somebody at the least amount possible. They’re going to be asking that person to do design, they’re going to be asking them to do writing, they’re going to ask them to do web work, they’re going to ask them to do negotiation. It’s a lot of skill sets to put in one person.
I use a term called “unicorn.” There’s not many of those people out there that can do all of those things as effectively as you’d like. If you do find somebody that can do all of these aspects of marketing and advertising and design, you’re probably not going to be paying them enough.
If you use an outside agency, they’re going to do a lot better job in the variety of work they could do, but they’re never going to understand your business as well as you do. Having someone is better than no one, but at the end of the day, what’s great is to have an internal staff member that then works with an outside agency. That’s where you get your maximum results.
The internal person can project manage and understands the business. If they can effectively communicate and lead the agency and they can produce the creative and all the various variety of assets and work that you’re going to need, that’s a great model to have.
Host: Let’s switch gears here a little bit and talk about the home building industry as a whole. How do you see things changing over these next few years?
Rob: There’s a lot of things developing very quickly. Inflection points happen in every industry, where what happened before changes for good, and what comes forward is never the same. The home building industry has lagged some others in its development and adoption of new technologies.
Those things are happening very rapidly, from exterior 3D elevations, to interior tours, to drones, to you can be flying over an empty field and have a community come out of nowhere, and all of a sudden, you’re seeing what a community is going to look like when it’s finished.
Then you get into the construction technologies, robotics, modular construction, 3D printing. There’s a lot of things that could potentially change how home builders build homes as well. There’s how you build them as well as how you market and visualize them.
What we try to do, from our perspective, is stay out in front for our Franchise Builder. We go to the national conventions and we’re talking with those vendors, we’re testing things out. We want to be at the forefront of what’s happening, what’s evolving, how can we be better at what we do?
Then you think about just the changes that are happening in the marketing of every business. You’ve got search engines changing how they measure and track what people are doing on websites. You’ve got other platforms that are eliminating targeting.
If you can imagine one day someone comes in and says, “Everything you know about building a home is going to change next month. The fact that you use hammers, and saws, and these other tools, we’re going to take that away and you’re going to have to do it a completely different way.” That happens a lot in the marketing space.
What we try to do at Epcon, working with our vendors, is stay out ahead of that. If we see those changes coming, how do we get ahead of it and are prepared for it when that change happens?
Host: Rob, you’ve shared a lot of really great insights with us today. I just wanted to see if you had any final thoughts that you’d like to share with home builders out there today, or even anyone who’s already a part of the Epcon network.
Rob: I think one thing that happens in every business is you, at some point, tap out on your own abilities, and the abilities of the people that are around you. If you’re a company that has 10, 15, and 20 employees, there’s only so much that your company can do and learn and bring to the business.
There’s Builder 20 groups that exist in the home building industry where business leaders get together. They start to share stories, share financials, share problems that they’re experiencing, and all of a sudden, if you’re in a Builder 20 group and there’s 19 other builders, you’re learning from those other 19. You get that collective wisdom.
There are builders out there that are looking for that. They may not be part of a Builder 20 group, or may be part of one, but imagine if you joined a network of 80 other builders, how that collective knowledge would be able to help you.
The insights, the experiences, the buying programs, the marketing advice, the sales advice, the legal advice, the how to go identify a piece of property that’s going to be really good to build a new community on advice. Think about all of those insights and what that might be able to bring to your business. That’s really what the Epcon network does, is that we are advisors.
We’re also thought leaders, and we’re also innovators. It’s other people just like you that are trying to grow and expand their business and they’re all working together. We’re all developing similar communities. We’re all building similar homes. There’s no reason that you have to do it alone.
Host: Rob, thanks so much for your time today. Really appreciate it.