A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of contributing to The Smarter Building Materials podcast with Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov of Venveo.

We discussed that to stay ahead of competition, today’s building materials manufacturers need a way to make themselves valuable and trustworthy to customers and how CEUs (Continuing Education Units) might just be the secret ingredient to that kind of success.

While our conversation was directed at the building materials sector, it is a strategy manufactures in the design industry should also pay attention to.

I encourage you to have a listen to the podcast: All About CEU’s: The ROI of Education in Building Materials.

Today’s post is a recap of the podcast written by Smarter Building Materials Marketing.

The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insights on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

Here is how our conversation went!

Introduction

Jan Rutgers is the president and founder of Vestabul School of Design, a hub of resources, learning tools and education for the design industry. Jan was given the Kitchen and Bath Design News Innovator award in 2020 because of her “strong voice” and dedication to education and mentoring in the industry.

She has more than 30 years of experience in home design, but she’s seen all sides of the construction industry, even opening her own millwork plant in Vancouver to produce her custom designs.

“I started teaching, lecturing, writing courses and bringing on other people that are passionate about the industry,” explains Jan. “And have landed now as an online educator, feeling that I can take a lot of the knowledge that I have and help transfer that to other people.”

She established the Vestabul School of Design in 2020 to instruct others about kitchen design. She’s dedicating her time to education now because of the growing need in the design and building materials industry for sustainability, efficiency and transparency.

And the rest of us in the industry should take notes — the future of the industry and our living environments depends on that kind of education.

Why Do CEUs Matter?

When it comes to building materials or home improvement products, “Consumers now have so much access to information,” says Jan. The rise of digital media and eCommerce in the manufacturing industry has made access to product information easier for home and building owners everywhere.

Interior Designers

But if your customer is a building materials professional, they need to dive a little deeper in their product knowledge. “And the only way that the professional is going to be able to go deeper is to get really relevant learnings from the manufacturer,” says Jan. “When I’m talking with manufacturers or if I’m writing educational programs myself, I speak to the professional. I don’t speak to the consumer.”

Many of today’s manufacturers actually have some form of a continuing education program on their website, in their community or through other programs. But not all of those CEUs are successful or well attended. Jan gave us two specific tips to ensure creating a CEU is worth your time.

  1. Talk to the professional: “What type of little tidbits can you offer to that professional?” asks Jan. “As the manufacturer writing a CEU, be okay with talking [about the] technical end of it but without making it dry. So that’d be the first thing — I’d go through making sure you were talking to the professional.”
  2. Think about your visuals: “You want to make sure any of the images that you’re using in your CEU are appropriate,” says Jan. (HINT: Get quality photos, not stock photos.) “I’ve seen mistakes from the big organizations right down to the small guy. They make the mistakes, they hand off that end of it to an intern to find some images to go with it — and they missed the mark.”

Being strategic about the content that you put together for education programs. It might take some time, but it can pay off and produce great results.

The Benefits of Building CEUs

We wanted to know what kind of benefits a CEU program will actually bring to today’s busy manufacturers because ROI isn’t always straightforward to measure. “I don’t think you write a CEU and the next week, you can count how many new orders you have. I think it is more long-term,” says Jan.

She points out that the biggest benefit to CEUs might be customer loyalty. “I think for the actual manufacturer, if the manufacturer gets really good at writing the CEUs and giving the good agnostic information, they will start to become the go-to for the professional,” says Jan. “Because professionals, we’re crazy busy. And there is not a lot of time to go and look at every manufacturer that’s making something.”

Business ROI

There are many ways to measure ROI — and it’s not always clear-cut, but if your audience keeps coming back, that’s a good sign. “If your CEU is dry and boring and people just tune out a few minutes into it. Yeah, don’t even do it,” says Jan.

She explains further how any marketing and promotion you do for a CEU program will need (of course!) a strategy. She broke some of that down for us further.

“I would probably, during the initial development of the CEU, make a determination. Are you going specifically after the architect or specifically after the designer this round? So if it was the designer, then it might be tracking your inquiries coming in for designers. It might be tracking designers starting to follow your blog. Is the phone ringing? What are your reps saying?”

Presenting a CEU

However you measure ROI, Jan suggests making CEUs worth you and your customers’ time and energy with a few final tactics.

  • Find a format and utilize it: “I don’t want to go through a lot of fluff,” says Jan. “If I were to give the biggest hint, there’s different ways of presenting CEUs. They can be live, they can be in a PDF form, online, they can be as a video. There’s lots of different ways to do it.”
  • Don’t make it all about you: “I actually will have more trust in a manufacturer if they follow the rules, and they are not giving me a sales pitch. And that the title that they put on their CEU actually is what they teach. And that the learning objectives that they put at the beginning are covered,” says Jan.
  • Get feedback first: “But another strategy I have — and I use this myself — is that I have put together my own personal designer council, and it’s a group of designers that are passionate about the industry, passionate about what I do,” says Jan. “And I will run my courses by them, or I’ll have them check them out, just to be able to give me feedback.”
  • Find a community: Determine your audience and who you’re targeting, then start making connections with relevant industry organizations. “And then go to that organization and get their criteria for the CEUs,” says Jan. “Because they’re promoting you within their organization, so you want to make sure you don’t try to muddle it all together and try to be something to all of them and miss the boat.”

We get quite a few questions about CEUs and whether or not they’re worth the investment, but it’s possible for manufacturers to see a return on educating their customers. “And if the designer, architect, builder, contractor are getting really good information from that manufacturer, I think they can build a good, strong following,” Jan says.

Be sure to check out the full episode: All about CEU’s: The ROI of Education in Building Materials.




Soon after my conversation with Zach and Beth, I presented a CEU at the Kitchen & Bath Industry show for NKBA’s Voices from the Industry conference.

I developed my presentation specifically for Kitchen Designers attending KBIS.

CEU presentations are how certified designers collect the educational hours they need to maintain their certification, and are an important part of the professional’s ongoing learnings.

Many in the audience were in attendance for CEU points, but it was great to also have several people in the audience there for the content.

If you are interested in talking to me about writing a CEU for your company, please reach out.

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Jan Rutgers has been designing kitchens and products for over 25 years and is a recipient of Kitchen & Bath Design News’ Top Innovators in 2020 for the Kitchen & Bath Industry. She has designed more than 1000 kitchens learning valuable skills with each one! Her experience in Kitchen Design, Millwork Manufacturing and Product Development has led her to create VESTABUL SCHOOL OF DESIGN where she educates and mentors people passionate about the Kitchen Design Industry.

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