How do you control costs in a down market, or when job costs run over budget? What's the hardest part about growing your company? How do you motivate production staff? What's your opinion of cost-plus pricing? In a "town hall meeting" for remodelers, the owners of three successful but very different remodeling companies answered these and other questions from a capacity crowd of hundreds of attendees of the 2007 Remodeling Show in Las Vegas. The panelists were John Abrams of South Mountain Company, a $7.5 million design/build firm in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., Karen Zieba, of Zieba Builders, a $1.5 milllion company in Long Beach, Calif., and Dylan Wadlington, of Wadlington Remodeling, a $600,000 company in Pine Grove Mills, Pa.

The Town Hall meeting came on the second day of The Remodeling Show, the 16th annual trade show and conference for remodeling professionals. Sponsored in part by Hanley Wood and REMODELING Magazine, the show is held at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

The moderator of the panel was Tom Swartz, president of J.J. Swartz Co., a fourth-generation remodeling company in Decatur, Ill.

Asked how to get job costs on track, Zieba noted that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Track job costs weekly, she advised; "take microsteps the whole way through" to prevent jobs from running dramatically over budget in the first place. Regarding the challenges of growth, she noted that her company grew $700,000 in one year -- and lost $140,000 the same year. "We didn't pace ourselves," she says in retrospect. To correct course, her company scaled back, turning away projects and investing in staff training. "Figure out where you're weak" before undertaking any major growth initiatives, she said. "Growth will magnify your weaknesses."

The topic of green remodeling also generated discussion. "Green is sexy, it's all the rage," said one audience member from the Midwest. "But what do you do when the rubber meets the road -- how do you convince homeowners that it's worth paying more for something that may take a while to recoup its costs." All three panelists agreed that the keys are education and a simple common-sense approach. "Green doesn't necessarily cost more," said Wadlington. "Building green is building well."

Kicking off the Town Hall Meeting was the presentation of the first Fred Case Remodeling Entrepreneur of the Year Award. The winner of the $10,000 cash prize was John Abrams. The three finalists for the award, each of whom received $2,500, were Iris Harrell of Harrell Remodeling, Mountain View, Calif.; Dennis Allen of Allen Associates, Santa Barbara, Calif.; and Gerry Rogers of Mr. Rogers Windows, in Virginia. Case Design/Remodeling founder and CEO Fred Case endowed the award.

The meeting was "very insightful," said attendee Devon Hartman of Hartman Baldwin, a design/build company in Claremont, Calif. "We're all humans, we all have somethng to share," he said. "The Town Hall cuts beneath the veneer of the superficiality and hyperprofessionalism" that often prevents many remodelers from admitting that they're still learning.