Successful selling depends a lot on confidence, and that's hard to maintain if you're in new home construction, one of the industries hurting the most in the downturn.
“Right now, you're trying to pull rabbits out of the hat to keep people motivated,” said Joe Stewart, the N.C. native who started Eastwood Homes in 1977. “We've got to be creative with that.”
The Charlotte company, building mostly for first-timers and second home move-ups, sells in its headquarters region as well as Greensboro's Triad, Charleston and Greenville, S.C. The company with about 160 employees grew swiftly during the market's peak, becoming one of the nation's top 50 builders. Last year, sales slid by about half. This year has seen sales bounce back but nowhere near boom levels.
Stewart's approach to lifting spirits: “We've got to have some fun. Anything we can do to say ‘Man, it's going to get better one day.'”
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Food has played a big role.
Company-paid fun has included grabbing everyone who is around to eat wings and bowl a few games at the EpiCentre's Strike City alley.
In May, the Charlotte division had a big cookout, with managers providing lots of brisket and BBQ.
In Greenville, a division saleswoman hosted everyone at her house for a covered dish.
Company president Stewart makes sure he's visiting each division frequently, offering reassurance that employees are doing a good job. He reminds them the company has survived other bad times, including the sky-high mortgage rates of the early 1980s.
“You see all this gray hair?” he says to employees. “I've been through this before. We'll just pedal harder.”
That's also his personal game plan.
“I can take mind off of it by just working even harder.”