Any subject can ignite naysayers and curmudgeons. So it came as no surprise that when REMODELING posted a query about industry certifications in an e-newsletter read by remodelers, there were some remarks like this one from a remodeler in Florida: “I've always owned my company, and I don't need the piece of paper. I've kept up with everything since I got out [of school].” But those responses were few and far between. Most were positive, and came from remodelers with varying experience and professional goals — from those in the process of getting certified to those whose names are nearly lost in an alphabet soup of certifications.
Yet the scoffers ask valid questions. How important is it to get certified in something you may have been doing for decades? Is certification merely a marketing strategy? Do clients care about those letters after your name? And if certification is not required by a public body, do those letters have bite?
Designation Drivers Certification is not necessarily about making more money. In fact, most remodelers interviewed for this article say that their clients have no idea what the letters mean, nor do they care. “In all the years, maybe two clients asked me what ‘CGR' stood for,” says Mike Weiss, CGR, CGB, GMB, CAPS, RCS (see “Designation Decoder,” at right), who got his CGR in the early 1990s and later created the National Association of Home Builders' Professional Remodeler's Experience Profile (PREP) to aid in the designation process. “Certification does more for your business internally than externally,” he says.
Cory Hogan, CGR, agrees. The owner of Provo, Utah–based Upscale Downstairs, he is one of just three CGRs in Utah. Hogan says, “In our market, CGR isn't a designation that prospective clients recognize or seek out. Instead, it's an internal symbol of my commitment to learn more and earn more.” Hogan believes the CGR designation has helped with his company's bottom line, but that the most valuable part of getting the NAHB designation was the peer association. “You got some tips and tricks, but being in a classroom setting where people were sharing ideas was great.”
That an owner is taking the time to continue learning is a powerful thing for employees to see. Hogan, who pays for employees to take courses, says they are excited that he is not just asking them to improve but is working and learning himself. The effects are wide-ranging and affect a company's culture. Says Jim Mirando, CGR, CGB, CAPS, CKD, CBD, NCIDQ, “Continuous improvement is part of our company's core values.” Mirando's Excel Interior Concepts & Construction, Lemoyne, Pa., has an education budget; as of August it had spent more than $11,000. “It's a good investment,” says Mirando, who also believes that having employees with certifications helps attract better hires, “people who want to be the best, who want to keep learning.”
Yet many remodelers do tout certifications in their marketing. Peggy Mackowski, co-owner of Quality Design & Construction with her husband David Mackowski, CGR, CAPS, is working on her CGR and CAPS designations and says she will make use of the fact that she and David are the only husband-wife team in the Raleigh, N.C., area with both designations. She admits that she has to inform and educate clients about the certifications. But she also believes that they will appreciate that she and David are furthering their knowledge and that, in turn, they may show more dedication and professionalism than other local remodelers.
President of Zimmerman Associates, in Lakeland, Fla., G.F. “Sunny” Zimmerman III, CGR, CGB, CAPS, PBD, CGC, LID, GRI displays designations in his ads and on his Web site (www.za-design-build.com), but says the real marketing value is that “happy customers take great pride in telling their friends. That's when designations have great flair.”
The CAPS designation in particular seems highly marketable. Added to the NAHB's roster four years ago, there are now more than 1,100 CAPS designees. With a swell of baby boomers rapidly filling the retiree population, CAPS looks like a good differentiator for remodelers. The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) is working on a universal design certification, and has recently begun a green remodeling education program, which will be followed in early 2007 by a green certification program.
And yet, Tom Schliefer, Ph.D., a former contractor and now a professor at Del E. Webb School of Construction at Arizona State University, is not enthusiastic about certification. “It's hard to prove what good it does. With architects and engineers, there's licensing and it's powerful,” he says. With certifications, the certifying body is often an association rather than a public body. As a result, he adds, “it's difficult [for certification] to have value because people will question it.” As Randy Stephenson, owner of L&R Home Services, Wichita, Kan., puts it via e-mail: “What do all those abbreviations stand for? It must be confusing to the layman.”
It may be that certifications have to take root over a generation, and that consumers must be educated for those acronyms to be truly useful in the public sphere as differentiators and as a way to increase a remodeler's bottom line. To help that along, NARI, NAHB, and NKBA (National Kitchen & Bath Association) each have brochures, available to the public via their Web sites or through remodelers, explaining the certification or designation process. Nancy Stolz, NKBA's manager of certification programs, believes that “the public is beginning to recognize the benefits of working with a certified professional. With HGTV and all those home improvement shows, the public is more knowledgeable about products and trends, and is looking for people with qualifications.”