Mark Robert Halper Photography

The most common question I am asked when I speak about the future of remodeling is, “When is it going to get better?” or “When do you think things will be back to the way they were in the past?” These questions come from working contractors who have seen dramatic changes in their market and have experienced extraordinary challenges to their success. Most are among the majority of the industry — I would say about 80% — who are still waiting and hoping for the conditions of five years ago.

To me, this is wishful thinking. Those days are probably gone forever, and no amount of wishful thinking or hopeful “waiting it out” will bring them back. I believe that the smart business mindset is to see the present market conditions as the new normal. Once you resolve yourself to this mindset, you can get back to being proactive and can really evaluate whether or not you have the right team to accomplish what it takes to be successful. I estimate that only about 20% of the remodeling community understands this, but those who do are seeing positive growth and profitability.

I find it helpful to think of our industry’s current predicament as a ship at sea in stormy waters. Becoming resolved to the “rough sailing” that lies ahead is a real eye-opener. Once you accept that future, your confidence builds and you can begin to plot a course that will ensure that your ship and its cargo arrive safely in the next port. This “ship at sea” metaphor reveals some important lessons:

Keep a “lookout.” Stormy waters are more treacherous than calm waters. Every decision you make can make the difference between reaching your intended destination and capsizing and sinking before you get there. As captain of the ship, you need to be alert to changing conditions while at the same time guarding against being swamped with extraneous information that could push you off course. Every decision counts, so make sure you know not only the “what” but also the “why” behind everything you do.

Batten down the hatches. You are sailing in uncharted ocean waters, not anchored in a familiar cove. Your business “ship” will take a pounding that can cause permanent damage and compromise long-term seaworthiness. For a voyage like this, you need to make sure your processes, your product, and your people are in tip-top condition.

Navigate. It’s easy to drift on a swift current, but you need to control your direction by setting a course and making whatever adjustments are necessary to stay with it. You need to be on the offensive, not the defensive, which means your business plan is more important than ever. And because you are constantly struggling against forces that can push and pull you in different directions, you need to monitor progress weekly, not quarterly, to stay on course.

Train the crew. Stormy waters challenge even the best sailing skills, so you need to ensure that everyone on your team has the knowledge and tools necessary to handle any situation. That means investing more time and energy in training, as well as committing to and communicating a vision in which failure is not an option. Strong remodeling businesses are investing three to five hours per week training salespeople, production crews, and future leaders.

Instill a work ethic. Navigating stormy waters is hard work. There’s no let-up and very little time for rest. If today’s conditions are 30% to 50% harder, it should take many more hours to accomplish the same results as it did in the past. Your employees and your trade partners need to roll up their sleeves to assist, even in areas of the business that they never addressed before. That is what hard work is all about.

Many remodeling company owners are unprepared to meet the challenges that lead to success in this environment. Commitment to the reality of the current business climate is the first step. Adjusting to stormy waters will make you and your business better, and in a few years when the waters are calmer, just imagine what you can accomplish.

—Mark Richardson is co-chairman of The Case Institute of Remodeling, which provides business educational tools and events for the remodeling industry.; 301.229.4600.