By REMODELING Magazine Staff. Kacey Fitzpatrick, Avalon Enterprises, Mountain View, Calif., Big50 2001 The stock market slump affected sales in our target market, Silicon Valley, as residents lost the portfolio liquidity to fund home remodeling projects. We've learned that we must be lean and flexible to weather local economic fluctuations. So we've downsized our staff and office space and increased our marketing efforts. Avalon also restructured to include a small projects division -- not only because of the sheer quantity of the jobs available but because they can act as a feeder for the big-ticket projects we specialize in. Doug Dwyer, DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen, Waco, Texas, Big50 2000 Several of our DreamMaker franchises hired the wrong production or sales managers, and the mistake cost their businesses a lot of money. As a result, we've improved our system of profiling to get a better sense of job candidates' character and values. Are they a go-getter? Are they flexible and can they work under pressure? Do they share our values? Some people have the skills and experience you're looking for, and you assume they have the right personal characteristics. Our new profile makes interviewing a logical process, rather than an emotional one. Larry Parrish, Parrish Construction, Boulder, Colo., Big50 1993 We failed to treat our own 2,500-square-foot office-remodel project like we would a client's. We built a working showroom with three new offices, a high-tech conference room/library, and a show-shopper bathroom. Because I hadn't assigned a project manager, I ran it in my spare time. We built it as we had time available and figured it out on the fly. It took longer and cost way more than I expected, and it was disruptive because we lived through the remodel. The positive spin is that now we're more in tune with what our customers go through, and we'll be better contractors as a result. Tom Avallone, Cobb Hill Construction, Concord, N.H., Big50 1999 My biggest mistake was going into a new geographic market without doing the proper research. We've worked in New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts. This year we were invited to build 10 homes in a new subdivision in Essex, Mass. It's an expensive area -- and fussy in terms of regulations, planning and zoning codes, and ecological issues. We lost time because of regulatory delays and lost money because we were paying 5% to 10% more per line item for every sub. It's been painful going into what we thought was a predictable market we could do well in and realizing certain things were out of our control. What I've learned is that you've got to know the territory you're working in. Richard Groden, Groden/Stamp Construction, Miami, Big50 1997 A few of our clients in the hospitality industry were hit really hard by September 11. Two of them had their primary businesses in lower Manhattan. We were building a gym for one, a restaurant for the other. We had to come up with creative ways to keep the jobs going and wound up downsizing the projects. So we had to let go of about 10 out of 40 employees. We thought we were going to have a banner year, but we ended up having to tighten our belt. You have to be ready for anything.