We were excited to track down David Cook, WIA member and wallcovering installer of five years, to learn more about his business and how he’s set himself up for success. We were thoroughly impressed with his attention to his business and how he’s applied the latest digital growth tactics to his overall marketing plan. If you are a wallcovering installer looking for a model to follow, read the full summary of our interview below and then download the comprehensive marketing workbook to help you build your own growth plan like David Cook.
Getting Started in Wallcovering
David’s career in wallcovering started, like many, as a fluke. His business, D'Franco Finishes, was primarily a painting service. One day he was working with a designer at a job site and the designer needed an installer to hang wallpaper. At the time, Cook didn’t have a smartphone to simply pull up YouTube. So, he went “blind” off the instructions on the paper. Luckily he follows directions superbly and was given more wallcovering jobs as a result. Two years into hanging wallpaper, his client asked him about a legendary paperhanger, Glen Olsen. Olsen, having retired, led Cook to Steven Kay, Vice President of the WIA. Kay encouraged Cook to join the Chicago chapter and the rest is history.
Adapting to Changing Demands
David goes onto acknowledge that a major challenge for the typical wallcovering installer is that most shops are a one man show. His challenge with adapting to ongoing demands of the wallcovering industry is trying to find balance between work and marketing. “How do you find more leads?” He attributes joining the WIA as one way to put in place a lead generator. Then, Cook highlights where not to go, “Angie’s List doesn’t reach the demographic and clientele I wanted to attract.”
Beyond joining the WIA, Cook reads books, listens to podcasts, and heavily attributes his marketing acumen to an infamous marketing case study, Marcus Sheridan. His podcast, Sales Lion, covers how his vanity product became a success during the great recession. In the podcast, Sheridan illustrates how he applied inbound marketing tactics to his pool company. He produced blogs, videos, and was able to build his business into a multi-million dollar operation out of Virginia. Essentially it was guerrilla marketing with content and social media. He succeeded with giving out a ton of free content, through eBooks, and webinars. Cook followed this recipe and within three months with simply blogging, he went from zero leads from Google to Google becoming his number one source for leads.
The goal is trying to get people to come to your website based on content, by answering their questions in your blogs, and being transparent with pricing. Cook’s secret is in his little notebook. He carries it to jot down questions on the job as he hears clients asking questions. He’ll even hang out paint stores to eavesdrop on a customer’s conversation for blog ideas.
The Key Benefit of Membership
Cook quickly recalls joining and then immediately attending the convention that year in Louisville, Kentucky. The convention is where he met tons of people from around the country and was also able to get hands on experience. He especially was blown away by Lillian Weist, (a regular keynote at the WIA conventions). Cook boils down the benefit of membership to the camaraderie he felt right away. He later called on Weist out of Nashville to assist with a tricky project. Right away she sent texts of specific pictures on how to install the wallpaper. It boils down to the power of networking.
How Things Can Change by Joining the WIA
From a broader perspective, Cook sites a quote from Nick Slovak out of Minneapolis, “If you think the person next to you hanging wallcovering is a threat, you need to get over that. They’re not a threat, they’re an asset.” Slovak’s mindset of the wallcovering trade is that we’re all here to learn and the more we all learn, the faster we all grow. It’s a, ‘rising tide raises all ships,’ theory. By joining the WIA, you are part of something bigger. You can learn from each other, network, and help to build a stronger group.
Where Should the WIA Focus Over the Next Five Years?
If you are like Cook, you appreciate the hands on instruction at convention, but could use more business help. David goes on to offer that the WIA could help installers attract and manage millennial employees. A trade organization like the WIA could really benefit its members by supplying tactics for growth, general accounting, and how to build effective business models with strategies for growth.
Thoughts Overall of the Wallcovering Industry
Cook recognizes the wallcovering industry is not the same it was ten years ago. The printing capabilities are more advanced, the adhesives are better, the products are different. He enjoys being a part of an association that just focuses on wallcovering installers for the greater perspective of- and differing viewpoints into what’s coming down the pipeline. It’s about meeting manufacturers at convention and being prepared for the evolution with wallcovering, “I don’t think we’ve seen maybe 20% of the possibility of what wallcovering can be.”
On Commercial vs. Residential
After 2008, David focuses solely on the high end. After joining the WIA, he started getting more commercial work too. He now does an even 50/50 split between residential and commercial. “When one isn’t doing great, the other one is. I like the challenge of having differing things going on.”
One Piece of Advice You Would Give
According to WIA member, Louis Kats out of New York, “Always, always be hiring.” David agrees with this sentiment and is always looking for the next person. He keeps a folder full of people that have applied. Finally, he advises, “Treat potential employees like customers.”
Working with another fellow member, Shaun Lawler, David worked on the Pritzker Military Museum and Library out of Chicago. Connecting with the project personally, David recalls his grandfather fighting in World War II and being a part of the digital murals they were installing.
“For what you get the cost [of membership] is stupidly cheap.” Cook reaps the benefits of the find and installer feature, the camaraderie of other members, and the ability to learn at convention. His "top three" reasons for being a member and returning year after year are lead generation, networking, and learning.