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Are You and Brand or a Commodity

Several weeks ago I had a thought (I don't remember what it was) and I can’t' get it out of my head now. What do I provide, a brand or a commodity? As a small business owner, there are only so many hours in a day to perform the myriad of functions that keep us afloat. Breaking your time up wisely and proportionately, you wear many hats in any given week and maybe even many in one day.

Which makes generating, maintaining and driving forward with our version of being unique, forward-thinking and delivering quality products/services difficult. However, the cost of not trying to keep up on this aspect of business development may be worse than you think. It's that dreaded word....INDIFFERENCE....

You know the feeling, we've all had it as a consumer. My car needs fuel and I just missed my favorite gas station. Oh well, there's another gas station 1/2 block up on the same side of the road. And quite honestly, the only reason it's my favorite is because I love their "Hot Mommas" pickled suasages. So, I'll just hit the next station. They're all the same anyways, right? The fuel all comes from the same oil, processed using the same methods, delivered using the same cargo ships. What's the difference?

If you are a service oriented business and are being viewed by your potential clients as a commodity, you have some major hurdles to overcome in order to remain in business and have any possibility for growth. Let's define "commodity" in terms of what we are talking about here and why it is a bad word to us as small business owners. Three things must exist with your service or goods: 1.) It must be standardized 2.) It must be usable (think "shelf life") upon delivery. 3.) Its price must vary enough to justify creating a market for the item/service. (1)

In the home inspection industry there can be debate as to how "standardized" we all are. The simple fact of the matter is, only a little over half the states in the U.S. are regulated by their respective State. So, if Joe Schmoe wants to be a home inspector in those unregulated states, buy 100 business cards on Vista Prints for $5.95, and voila, he's an Inspector. Conversely, if Joe Schmoe wants to be a home inspector in a regulated state, he studies the material, takes the exam (passes), buys 100 business cards on Vista Prints for $5.95, and voila, he's an Inspector also.

Bringing standardization to any industry can be difficult. However, those unregulated states may be a beacon of hope for those wishing to not be deemed a commodity; remember, as a small business owner, you don't want to "fit-in" per se. But, it is important in this specific industry, that we all go off the same playbook so to speak. There have to be standards we inspect to, otherwise, it's just a bunch of opinions.

Enter the home inspector trade associations. InterNACHI and ASHI are by far the two largest. They go far beyond the minimum standards maintained/enforced by many states and are the only thing to go by in those states that aren't regulated. These two trade associations are a blessing to the industry and do their best to ensure we are all educated, insured and otherwise representing our industry with honor.

Most services and products have a shelf life of sorts. You remember the silly product that was all the rage a year ago with the rugrats running around your neighborhood? Very likely it had to do with a small spinning device they held in between their forefinger and their thumb. Yep, the fidget spinner! A year ago, you'd pay $15 for one of those silly things. Today, you'll get two of them at your favorite gas station for $3.99. Make sure you save at least $1.49 so you can get your "Hot Momma", though.

Alright, so the reports we write have a shelf life, right? They are only good for that specific client in the next short while as they make their way through their real estate transaction. But, we're not talking about the reports themselves, we are talking about your "Brand".

At this point don't forget, we are trying very hard not have a shelf life. Every time they call us or come into the store or order online, they are buying the brand; the experience, the personal touches, the connection. That is what makes the brand stand out. Think of it this way, Pepsi-Cola is the same today as it was 75 years ago, right? Why, because their longevity and connection to our culture has enabled them to claim that. Why are Harley Davidsons motorcycles iconic? I don't know, because I've never known anything else, that's why!! You and your business do not have a shelf life. Get that in your head and then do everything in your power to get it into your potential clients' heads.

Finally, the good stuff, let's talk about the money. We said earlier that in order to be viewed as a commodity, our price must vary enough to justify creating a market for the product/service. Home inspection prices can vary widely nationwide and to somewhat of large degree regionally. But, for moderate sized population centers, the prices should be within 5-10%, from the bottom to the top. WTH does that mean? Well, the guy that's conducting $250 inspection on an any size/any age home anywhere within 100 miles of his office, yeah that guy. He's probably not going to be the most reputable, experienced or quite honestly, not even very business-minded.

“When you compete on price you exist only for the lifespan of the product. A brand, however, spans product life cycles and lasts for years.” (2) So, we're back to the shelf life of our product/service thing? Yep, that's where we're at. It all connects... You know, the circle of (business) life, thing.

Strong brands on average command an approximate 13% premium over weak brands and an approximate 6% premium over average brands. So, the questions is, why be that guy? He's going to go crazy killing himself doing XX number of inspections, get paid significantly less, not have time for the personal connections that will make or break his long term success, etc... The drawbacks are significant, with probably the worst being the lack of meaningful work (no time, no connections, no bigger picture) So, let's recap: Don't default to competing on price alone. It's easy to do because it's a tangible thing that is universally understood (to a certain degree). But, it can lead to a race right to the bottom of the barrell.

I have laid bare my thoughts on NOT BEING A COMMODITY. It's just not something that will go away either. You must work hard at making those personal connections. Consumers are drawn to emotions. They like the connections and feeling like they are being truly taken care of. So, do just that, take care of and connect to people.


Roy Breshears is a Certified Professional Inspector (CPI) and the Idaho Chapter President of InterNACHI. He owns WIN Home Inspection in southeast Idaho. He can be reached at 208.604.0422 or by visiting his website here,