Feature, V2I5

From Shed Builder to Retail Entrepreneur

Sales lots displaying quality sheds are a top sales strategy for shed dealers.
Sales lots displaying quality sheds are a top sales strategy for shed dealers.

Many shed builders got into the business because they found demand for their skill. But to keep that demand coming, it’s critical to have a solid retail component connected to your shed business.

If you’re looking to sell your work yourself, consider these five tips for expanding your building business to include retail operations.

1. Give the customer what they want —but don’t overpromise.

Selling your sheds demands a fine balance of offering what the customer wants and offering what you do best. Too far in either direction and you may find sales stay slow.

The builders at Pro-Shed Storage Buildings in Mountain Lake, Minnesota, learned this lesson from that toughest of teachers, experience.

Joe Morris, who handles sales, accounting and legal for Pro-Shed, recalls that in the early years the business agreed to take on most any project related to sheds.

“We wanted to get work and so we took on a lot of custom jobs, like finishing out buildings, etc. Those didn’t pay well because we were too spread out in terms of our skillset,” Morris says. “We did this the first couple years and later regretted it. We found it became a distraction for us.”

In time, the company began to focus exclusively on basic backyard sheds.

“We found as we developed this offering that there was more than enough work,” he says. “We do a little custom stuff but very little, and within certain parameters. People understand that; as long as we explain to customers that we just don’t have time, they’re fine with this.”

Most importantly, focusing on what you do best allows shed builders to emphasize quality.

“Our customers consistently tell us that quality is the number one reason they shopped with us, which leads to a high number of repeat customers and referrals,” says Bobby Eaton, owner of Liberty Storage Solutions, headquartered in Statesville, North Carolina. As a result, Eaton says, “At Liberty Storage Solutions, we strive every day to make the highest quality shed, consistently add new designs, and offer the best overall experience for the customer.”

Quality service is another focus that can sell sheds.

“We find the dealers that are an all-in-one-shop—in that they offer site prep, delivery and sales from one location—are the ones that do better than the ones that subcontract everything out,” says Adam Kontis, president of Fox Country Sheds in Lititz, Pennsylvania.

2. Make it easy for customers to find you.

Shed dealers consistently report that their display lot is their most important means of generating sales traffic (see article on page 24).

Eaton says that more than half of his customers find his business by driving by one of the Liberty Storage lots. But not every shed builder has the luxury of a location next to a busy highway. As a result, it’s important to grow your reputation through supportive advertising—such as websites, signage and billboards—or through partner networks.

For example, Eaton says, “Our second strongest sales strategy is having a robust online presence that not only brings in ‘cold’ traffic, butis utilized by the majority of our customers as they contemplate their final sales decision.”

The web has helped connect Fox Country Sheds to customers and its dealer network.

“When we first got started, [sales] came through word of mouth and doing trade shows to let people know where we were,” Kontis says. “We started off small, then slowly grew to where one dealer looking to add something new found us on the web then came in and we were able to secure a new dealer.”

Directing traffic to the sales lot has proven critical for Pro-Shed.

“We’re out in the country, and we don’t have a lot of traffic going by our property,” Morris says. “So our lot here is very minimal. We primarily sell from our main display lots. We’ve got four or five of them within 50 miles of here.”

Rather than working with dealers, Pro-Shed has partnered with local businesses to display sheds and direct traffic to the sales office and headquarters in Mountain Lake.

“We rent some space each month from different businesses, like hardware stores, farm and fleet stores, etc.,” he says. “There’s no staff on hand at those lots, so [customers] have to call a number. We make sure to advertise the number really well and have brochures that are set out.”

While the display lots are critical and word-of-mouth traffic has increased over the last five years for the company, Morris notes that the company’s website is increasingly becoming a valuable tool for moving inventory.
It’s important for dealers to grow a reputation through supportive advertising, like billboards.

“We’ve been putting a little more money into the website and an inventory module that is appealing to some folks, which has helped,” he says. “I’ve gotten some cold sales from people who found us by our website and say the picture is good enough, they like that shed and want it sight unseen.”

It's important for dealers to grow a reputation through supportive advertising, like billboards.
It’s important for dealers to grow a reputation through supportive advertising, like billboards.

3. Invest in yourself.

The old adage is true for shed sales: To make money, you have to spend money. This means investing in the tools to successfully run and promote your business.

“Go ahead and make the investments upfront,” Morris advises. “We’ve built this business debt-free and that’s noble and good, but our aspiration is to at least double or triple our sales. We’ve found that we’ve stagnated because we didn’t make investments early on.”

Investments like a good truck and trailer or a building mover can generate a surprisingly rapid return by making it possible to easily move more sheds fast. And creating high-quality marketing materials can go a long way toward convincing customers that your business can support your claims.

For example, Morris advises investing in a professional website and brochure upfront.

“Initially [we used] a cheap brochure, but we found it wasn’t much more expensive when we went bulk and bought a nice brochure—and that helps a lot. It takes a little money to make money,” he points out.

And don’t forget the behind-the-scenes tools. Invest in professional tools to support your business growth.

“Have a paperwork trail really thought through from start to finish,” Morris says. “As we grew, we realized we couldn’t run like a mom-and-pop shop anymore.”

For Pro-Shed, that has meant investment in an internet scheduler and other online tools to improve communication between sales, shop, and delivery teams, as well as integrated business management software.

Dealers need to know the product inside and out.
Dealers need to know the product inside and out.

4. Understand, and embrace, your competition.

It’s important to understand your business edge and what sets you apart from the competition. That information can go far in targeting your ideal customer and promoting your business.

For Pro-Shed, location provides a significant edge.

“We’re really the only local shed builder within 100 miles,” Morris says. “The other shed builders are a bit further away, and they’re more regional or national builders. So we focus just within 100 miles.”

The company caters to that market by offering free delivery within 100 miles and using “buy local” wording in its messaging.

But a little competition is healthy for everyone, Morris has found.

“Never criticize or be negative against your competition,” he advises. “I worked for a mini barn business in Oklahoma for a while and when another mini barn business started, it actually helped the existing mini barn business because it started attracting people to the area to go shopping.”

Locally, Morris says there’s plenty of room for competition as the market for quality storage buildings only continues to grow.
“We do have some competitors, and we welcome competition,” he says. “We don’t want to go regional or national—we think there’s a big market for builders to stay within their local area.”

5. Know your product.

For Rinda Flanery, salesperson at Castle’s Yard Barn Sales’ New Carlisle, Ohio, location, there is really only one key to effective selling: “The only thing is knowing your product,” she says.

Many would agree that the biggest key to effective selling is knowing your product inside and out, and it’s an area where builders have an advantage. It’s the reason sales staff at Castle’s Yard Barn Sales maintain a connection to the builders in the event that they can’t answer a question.

“If the salespeople can’t answer a customer’s question, then we get a hold of the [builder] and they’ll answer the questions for them,” Flanery says.

But for this shed dealer, knowledge is also a sales tactic. The company notes on its website that it “does not have commissioned sales people who push for sales. We have well informed ‘building consultants’ who have our customer’s best interest in mind.” This differentiation puts a focus on providing information rather than pushing customers into a sale.

Eaton agrees that informative salespeople are crucial in shed sales.

“The salesperson is the first line of defense and needs to always be informed of updates and changes that can impact sales,” he says. His company invests in keeping its sales staff connected to new product updates and options. “Ensuring that your sales teams are always in sync can be a challenge when you have multiple lots that cover a large geography. We met this challenge by creating a website dedicated just to our sales teams where they can access all up-to-date information, forms, tools and messaging at their fingertips.”

With the right knowhow and resources in place, shed builders may find that the shift to retailer is simpler, and more lucrative, than they ever imagined.

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