The “traditional” business path for a remodeling company owner is someone who starts in the field and eventually drops the toolbelt and gets behind a desk. But what if you don’t want to give up working with your hands yet still want to be an owner?
A high percentage of remodeling companies go under because good carpenters with little business sense try to do it all. To make the carpenter-as-boss business model work, says Richard Steven, owner of Fulcra Consulting in St. Paul, Minn., “determine what data you’ll need to know — P&L, cash flow, checks — and how often you’ll need to know it. Then hire, for example, a general manager. But you still have to be the ‘boss’ and you can’t give up final decision-making.”
Brett King, owner of Brett King Construction, in suburban Philadelphia, wanted to stay in the field and hired a bookkeeper about 14 years ago. That job, held by Diana Miller, developed into a position that includes payroll, billing, following up with leads, answering phones, contacting trade partners and suppliers, getting pricing, and communicating with clients. King does the final estimating.
“I have a lot of strengths,” King says, “but I recognize I can’t be strong in all areas. It’s more profitable for me to be in the field than it is for me to be writing checks in an office.” Two lead carpenters, a laborer, and King’s wife, Kim, who does marketing, round out the staff.
Allowing someone else access to the money is what holds most owners back from this kind of business model, but King proceeded cautiously. Miller was recommended to him by a friend, “a savvy businesswoman,” and he did a background check. An outside accountant “keeps close tabs on the company; he’s been a great resource for us,” says King, who calls hiring Miller “a wise risk.”
As for his field co-workers, King treats them as equals, yet they still know he’s the boss. King wears a suit to meet clients early in the day or late afternoons, switching into or out of fieldwork togs.
He works 7 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Monday through Thursday and eight hours on Friday. The $2.6 million company, which does mostly high-end work, is profitable says King, and he is, he says, able to “keep a good balance in life and business without the business running me.”