Longevity in the remodeling industry starts with loyal customers. “I’ve been doing business in this town for nearly 30 years,” says Tom Reilly, owner of Prescott Renovations, in Prescott, Ariz. “You don’t get to do that in a small town for this long by using people. You need credibility in following through.”
In a rough economy, remodeler Charles Russell says that having a large database of past customers who consider you part of their family helps to ease the hard times. Russell’s company, Westhill Design/Build, in Woodinville, Wash., has a formal timeline for customer contact that starts with project completion and extends out 10 years. The company contacts past clients three times during the first few years, then twice a year from years four through seven, and then annually until year 10. “We fix a sagging door for free, even eight years later. And before we’re done, we have a $10,000 job,” Russell says.
Russell began his company 35 years ago, and from the outset it has had a strong customer focus. “I’ve grown from a one, two, and three-man operation to a high of 50 employees,” he says, “and that [client-focused] philosophy and culture has grown and thrived through all those changes and growth.”
Currently Russell has assigned one of his lead carpenters to be the company’s customer service manager, also making him a member of the firm’s six-person executive management team. “He makes sure [the client] gets the job they want done,” Russell says. “He is the owner advocate. This lets [clients] know we want a customer for life.”
Today’s corporations have lost focus of what business is about, says Mark Williams, president of Remodeling Services Unlimited (RSU), in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Williams believes taking care of customers should be the core of business. He founded RSU more than 25 years ago with the goal of maintaining a high level of quality and customer service — principles that start at the top with him and trickle down through the company. He posts a laminated sheet on each jobsite that reminds field crew of the procedures for setting up lawn signs, communicating with clients, and protecting and cleaning the jobsite. He also rewards employees with bonuses for maintaining quality and service.
But outstanding customer service alone isn’t enough to ensure a company’s longevity. Other factors contribute to long-term survival.
Russell says that his human resources philosophy has always been: Hire for attitude. Skills can be taught. “Hire the best individual you can find,” he says, “and adjust the job description to fit. Create a job where they can be successful.” But because maintaining this philosophy can prove to be a challenge as a company grows, Russell says it helps to have middle managers employ the same thinking when hiring for their specific departments. The DISC profiling system has helped the company to hire more successfully by selecting employees with personalities that fit their jobs and the company culture.
Dolores Davis is general manager of CG&S Design-Build, which was founded by her parents and has been in business for 52 years in Austin, Texas. She says that when the remodeling company was smaller and younger, employees had a lot more flexibility and freedom. “Now,” she says, “we have more structure and systems.”
But, she points out, the culture still draws and keeps employees long-term. “People can do construction anywhere,” she says. “We hire people to do something they love to do, and they get a personal reward out of it.” Davis is turning to the entire team during this recession and involving everyone in the company. “We’re rallying the wagons around the company to keep it going and to keep that level of interest and urgency.”