If you’ve attended InspectionWorld® in the last few years, you might have met Curtis Niles. He’s a home inspector with a not-so-hidden talent—he’s created a comic hero known as “Krome,” featured in his Armored Comic series, that helps Curtis communicate home inspection information with his current and future clients. Intrigued? Keep reading and learn more about how Curtis uses his passion for comics to market his business...
What led you to start your career in home inspection?
In the late 1990s, I started noticing that the physical demands of my occupation at the time were taking a toll on my body. Then one day, I was thumbing through a trade magazine and happened to read an ad for home inspection training. As they say, “The rest is history.”
Were there any areas that you struggled with as you started out?
I was relatively young (33 years old) when I began performing home inspections. I soon realized that when homebuyers called me for an inspection, they imagined that they would meet an older, well-seasoned individual, probably with gray or thinning hair, who would educate them on all the important aspects of the home that they were about to purchase.
Back then, the internet was not so widely used and clients did not have the tools available that they do today to research an inspector fully before hiring him or her. Shortly after I began performing inspections full time, I hired a person who fit the aforementioned description quite well. During his training period, he accompanied me on many inspections. Because my trainee was much older than I, clients often thought that he was the “go-to” person to ask questions or seek advice. These dear folks quickly realized their mistake when they heard me speak. These experiences helped me learn early on to exude confidence to win the respect of my clients.
Have you had influential home inspection mentors?
Many inspectors who belonged to the local chapter that I first attended were influential. Early on, I volunteered for a position on the chapter’s Board of Directors after a call went out for the role, but no one else in the chapter seemed interested. Having served in the U.S. Navy from 1986 to 1994, I felt compelled to offer up my volunteer spirit and use whatever skills or talents I had to help.
Why did you join ASHI? Have you attended InspectionWorld®?
I became an ASHI member in August 2016 when ASHI “adopted” the members of the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI) as their own. In the early days of my career, I felt that I could make a measurable contribution to NAHI, so I became a member and served in many areas of leadership within the organization, including serving as President for two consecutive terms. Looking back, I recall that I always admired and respected ASHI for its organized involvement in the political arena, and for its professionalism. Even when I was a leader in NAHI, a competing organization, I knew that one day I would be an ASHI member.
When I did become a member of ASHI, I volunteered to serve on my local chapter’s Board of Directors. I also attended the ASHI Leadership Training Conference in 2017 and InspectionWorld® in 2018. IW was everything I hoped it would be. Every inspector who is serious about his or her business should attend this conference (and others like it) as often as possible. Making such investments in yourself and in your company can reaps dividends for years to come. Each year, I attend as many educational conferences as I possibly can.
Have you always been a fan of comics?
I can remember being smitten by comic books as a pre-teen. I recall having a deep appreciation for the artwork. My first attempt at drawing was of a muscle guy that I saw in a comic book advertisement. My drawing was pretty good (or so I told myself) and that initial drawing sparked a tiny flame within me.
I didn’t have a lot of discretionary funds to invest in comics in my youth, but I do recall reading any comics that I could get my hands on. It didn’t matter what it was—Marvel or DC—every series had characters that held my interest. I can still recall drawing Batman and Superman, among others, from these colorful artistic masterpieces.
What led you to create your own? How did you come up with the character of Krome?
Fast-forward a few decades… I was led to start my own comic series out of a desire to recognize and use the talents of one of my oldest and best friends. But before I conceived of the comic book idea, the “Armored Man” icon came to me first. One year when I attended an inspector conference much like IW, a marketing expert talked about “persona-based” businesses versus “iconic-based” businesses. I realized that I had a persona-based business because, at the time, my last name was in the title of the business (Niles Professional Home Inspections), so I was branding “me” or my “persona.”
There’s nothing wrong with that; many companies do quite well with such a business type. However, I felt that if I was to grow my business, I would need more inspectors to perform more inspections and I didn’t want everyone who called the business to expect that only I (Mr. Niles) would perform their inspections. Therefore, the wheels in my head started spinning and I prayed about the idea of having an icon for my business. I was led to a biblical description found in Ephesians 6:11-17, a passage about putting on the “whole armour of God.” The description of this armor included the Helmet of Salvation, the Breastplate of Righteousness, the Belt of Truth, the Sword of the Spirit, the Shield of Faith and the feet Shod with the preparation of the Gospel of Peace. This imagery spoke to me and led me to create “Krome,” Armored Home Inspection’s iconic knight in shining armor. I already had the name “Armored Home Inspections” and I felt the icon “Krome” fit perfectly with it.
The thought for the comic series stemmed from a connection I had with my old friend, Hector Rodriguez, who is a far better artist than I. When I learned that he was illustrating his own comic series as well as illustrating for others, I asked him to initially design my Krome character and I gave him the biblical passage previously mentioned as a guide. When I received his rendering for review, I was amazed with his interpretation, which matched my concept perfectly. And when I told him about my comic series idea, he loved it.
I confess, I was quite ignorant about the comic world at this point. Luckily for me, Hector was quite entrenched in the genre. He was the president of a comic book guild and he knew how to put out a quality comic book.
Did you always intend the comic to be a marketing tool for your business?
During the time I was contemplating the comic series, Hector invited me to attend a ComicCon event with him. In case you haven’t heard of ComicCon, it’s a gathering where everyone and everything within “the comic scene” gets together for a few days to buy, sell or exchange comics, get celebrity autographs and showcase artists of all sorts. It is not just about comics.
When I joined Hector and his colleagues at their vendor table at ComicCon, my reaction was: Wow! I was totally blown away by the sheer volume of people and vendors—there were literally tens of thousands of people who attended the convention over the course of three or four days!
I immediately wondered how many of these folks were homeowners or prospective homeowners…in other words, “prospective clients.” The best part was that there was no home inspection competition to be found. So, the answer to the question is a resounding “yes”—I absolutely intended for the Krome Comic Series to be a marketing tool for my business.
What other marketing ideas have you used for your business?
It’s difficult for me to recall any substantive marketing ideas I had prior to Armored Comics and Krome. I had a busy home improvement business in my early days, so I didn’t worry too much about marketing initially. I did what was taught in my home inspection training, such as real estate office visits, company apparel, truck lettering, business stationery and so on. I believe all these things are important in establishing a professional brand in the marketplace.
However, what has changed quite dramatically, thanks to the internet, is how businesses advertise and how consumers have the ability to rate companies. The client experience is so important; therefore, I tend to focus on the client’s experience with the inspection and produce materials that will help clients remember my business. Business cards and brochures are great, but they are not necessarily keepsake items. In my opinion, a well-produced, autographed comic book is a more memorable and valuable keepsake.
What are some other marketing tactics you use to promote your business? How do the Krome comics fit into your bigger marketing plan?
Read any marketing book out there and you’ll learn that you should only spend marketing dollars on an idea if you can measure the results. Although that is good advice, my marketing ideas are geared toward bringing “value” to the relationships that I have with my clients. What I mean by this is, I seek to tailor ideas and marketing strategies that will help referring real estate agents in their businesses.
As inspectors, all too often our marketing strategies are geared toward “getting” business from real estate groups. After all, that’s essentially what we’re taught—put your brochures, cards and candy in real estate offices, routinely visit them and “court the heavy hitters in the offices.” I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with that strategy. It works! However, I strive to implement initiatives that reward my clients for their referrals and loyalty, for example, by offering appreciation luncheons in honor of loyal supporters. In addition, we have devised a point system by which our clients can redeem discounts on our services. Armored Comics and Krome are an integral part of our marketing plan. By designing educational materials about what we do in a “cool” comic format that is skillfully and professionally produced, we’ve opened many doors of opportunity.
What kind of reception have you gotten from clients and peers for your comic series?
It’s very rewarding to see how well-received the comic series has been. What’s surprising to me is discovering how enthusiasm for comics transcends demographics—young and old, wealthy and not-so-wealthy, white collar and blue collar, educated and not-so-educated, talented and not-so-talented. The consensus is that everyone can appreciate a decent comic.
Clients have told me that the information they picked up from the Armored comic series was so memorable that they felt they couldn’t go wrong by hiring us for their home inspection. New clients have also told me that when their colleague, family member or friend showed them the comic book that they received with their home inspection, they heard rave reviews about the whole experience. As a result, the
new client wanted to have that same kind of experience when they were ready to buy their home. Buying or selling a home can be stressful enough, so I strive to make the inspection experience one that is educational, informative and enjoyable.
What results for your business have you seen by implementing the comics as a marketing tool?
I’m not sure that I can measure the results specifically, but what I can say is that Armored Comics and Krome have allowed my business team to have an icon that we can all have fun with and that we can use to produce marketing materials to keep in front of our target market.
For example, 2019 is the 20th year that I have been in the home inspection business. As a result, my team thought of a way to celebrate and have a little fun at our home inspections—we call it ARMORED Spin the Wheel Game. We use branded Krome poker cards that we’ve used in the past as giveaway items. We place these cards on a wheel and our clients spin the wheel. The jokers, kings and queens all equate to discounts and free items, including additional autographed issues of the comic series other than the one they received in their home inspection folder. When the wheel lands on a red joker, the client is awarded with a free home inspection. Can you imagine the social marketing and goodwill value obtained from such an experience?
Have you seen others doing something unique to market their business?
I have seen some scratch-to-win lottery cards to win prizes and discounts. That, to me, is pretty clever and better than just giving out coupons with company brochures. I’m sure there are many unique marketing ideas out there, but I devote my time to developing my own ideas and not keeping an eye on what the competition is doing.
What’s your advice to home inspectors—especially related to combining their passions or hobbies with home inspection?
If given sufficient thought, you could probably come up with a way to share your own passion or hobby in your inspection business that others would not only appreciate, but also would certainly remember. Remembering you and your business is key to getting referrals and repeat business. It is not enough to do a competent home inspection to get repeat business or to have a wide range of referrals via word of mouth. Let’s say that your passion is dog training—you could connect with folks who are passionate about dogs and you might be surprised what becomes of it. Of course, you’ll have to periodically put your company’s name in front of your audience, through email campaigns, anniversary card mailings or magnetic sports team calendars, for example.
What do you see for the future of the home inspection industry?
As long as people are buying, selling and living in homes, there will be a place for home inspectors to earn a living. I think that inspectors can do a better job of educating the public, real estate agents and their own clients on the importance and value in maintenance inspections, including how such inspections can reduce home maintenance expenses and how maintenance inspections can improve resale values.
Do you have any favorite quotes or mantras that keep you focused?
If you truly enjoy what you do for living, you won’t work a day in your life.
Curtis Niles currently resides in Pennsylvania with his wife and their three teenagers. He maintains licenses or certifications in Home Inspection, WDI Application/Inspection, Mold Indoor Quality, Lead Work Safe Practices, General Contracting and Real Estate. He also performs field training for new inspector prospects. Curtis enjoys motorcycling and animal husbandry, and he raises chickens and alpacas on his family’s small farmstead.
You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 610-352-2212 (office) or 610-931-1684 (cell).