Rick Hjelm of Phase II General Contractors likes to keep a tight focus on his projects — both in geography and in targeting clients. Unlike most remodelers, he does not advertise or have a Web site because he believes that homeowners who work at finding Phase II through a friend or neighbor are better-qualified leads.
Phase II has been in business since 1978 in the Seattle suburb of Lakewood, with employees working within a seven-mile radius of the office. “If we have to cross a bridge or use a freeway to get to the job, I won't do it. It's too stressful,” he says. If a qualified client outside the circumference wants to work with Phase II, Hjelm negotiates for payment for travel time in the budget. He says he and his crew have worked hard to build this enviable existence. “We guard it carefully,” he says.
The seven members of his crew are responsible for producing eight jobs at a time, with one or two whole-house projects at $1 million and a few smaller jobs. They usually work in pairs, with one member of each pair responsible for scheduling and ordering materials.
Hjelm wants his crews to take responsibility for jobs and learn a variety of skills. “I want to give you the skills,” he says, “so if you leave me, you will be ready to run your own business.” Hjelm says it has taken him years to learn how to run a successful company. “I didn't have a coach, so it took longer. I want to coach younger remodelers.”
Hjelm has one full-time office employee, and his brother Ron is the production manager, overseeing 75% of the jobs. Rick handles the other 25%. “People hire us for detail, and I do not want that detail to disappear. That is why I continue to have a hand in the jobs,” he says.
HARD TO FIND Contrary to the popular belief that Web sites are a must for remodelers, Hjelm declines to have an online presence. He also eschews phone book listings and does not put his e-mail address on his business cards. “A Web site produces cold calls. I do not want cold calls. I want calls from people who have to work to find us. We are busy enough that I can do that — most remodelers do not have that luxury,” he says. “If they go to that effort to find you, you almost already have the job.” Instead of focusing on leads, Hjelm concentrates on creativity and taking care of existing clients.
One promotional opportunity Hjelm doesn't miss is the Master Builders Association of Pierce County's remodeled home tour. For 10 years, he has included one, often two, houses on the annual tour that draws anywhere from 500 to 1,000 visitors. “When someone comes into my tour home, I want them to experience it with all their senses, so they remember the house,” Hjelm says. “I always have someone baking cookies in the house. One year, during one day of the tour we brought in a chef from Dacor who cooked complete meals to show how you can bake cookies and cook a roast at the same time in their oven.”
He says that having two houses on the tour provides two perspectives into his company's designs and solidifies its brand in the minds of visitors. Also, he likes that 100% of the proceeds from the tour go to charity.
He runs ads in the magazine that is handed out at the tour. “Our ads are subtle,” he says. “Nowhere does it say ‘award-winning contractor.' I don't have to tell you we are award-winning, I want you to assume we are. I do not want to indoctrinate you on who we are with lots of words in an ad.”
Hjelm says this type of branding is an important aspect of reaching upscale clientele. He cites other high-end and large remodelers that use similar tactics — Neil Kelly in Oregon and Case Design/Remodeling in Maryland. “We want to set a similar position, so anytime you see the name Phase II, you know it's attached to quality projects.”