Courtesy Allen Townley

In 1993, Kansas City, along with the rest of the Midwest, was flooded in one of the worst natural disasters in the U.S. Allen Townley, awarded Big50 that year, had six feet of water come through his office and showroom in 15 minutes, leaving the building beyond repair.

For several months the company continued from Townley's basement, but he says the financial loss was too great to overcome. He found jobs for his employees with other remodelers and shut the company's doors in 1994. He says that in retrospect, losing his business cut him loose from a job that had taken him away from what he really loved: designing and building.

Townley, who has a background in architecture, worked for the next five years as an estimator in commercial construction, but never liked it. So in 2000, he and his brother James, a carpenter, created a business where each is a sole provider of services. Allen consults, estimates, and designs, and is project manager. James does the construction. “I don't miss being a full-service remodeler,” Allen says. “My time is my own, and I don't feel responsible for dozens of other people's livelihoods.”

Allen spent last December in New Orleans helping his wife's family refurbish their homes. “I wouldn't have been able to do that if I'd had a general contracting business.”