Mark Robert Halper Photography

Since last year’s “perfect storm” of banking crisis, stock market crash, and housing foreclosures, I have traveled across the country speaking to thousands in the remodeling industry about “The Remodeling Outlook,” which looks both at the fundamental demographic of our industry and at changes that have taken place over the last few years.

Everywhere I go, I get questions that reflect the pain remodelers are feeling as well as their thirst for certainty. Many ask, “When will the market improve?” “How do I get the phone to ring?” “Will my business survive?”

A few years ago, the word “survival” was not in most remodelers’ business vocabulary. Most had experienced double-digit growth for so many years that they lost sight of the ingredients needed for a business to be healthy.

These basic ingredients are the same today as they were when I wrote about them more than a year ago, but this time the perspective is that of someone who has seen the scars and bruises that many have suffered in the past year.


All businesses today need the right mindset. Given what we have experienced over the past 12 months, this mindset needs to begin with the notion that survival will be a team effort, not something carried on the back of the owner or leader. Business owners who are working their way through this muck are not acting shepherds leading sheep, but instead have made survival a team priority.

Another critical element of right mindset is maintaining a positive attitude. In times like these, a negative attitude is like a cancer that will eat away at a business. Work ethic is also essential. The status quo isn’t enough anymore, and success may require working longer hours and some weekends.

Finally, the right mindset depends on being more creative and flexible and less dogmatic. Processes and systems are important, but don’t let them be a ball and chain that pulls the business under.

Basic Business Fitness

To survive this economic hurricane, businesses need to not only bail water when the boat is sinking but steer the boat to calmer waters. Many businesses today are so focused on getting through the week and meeting payroll that they are getting further and further off-course. Their goal is short-term survival, but without a vision for medium- and long-term health.

Finding a balance can be difficult, but as with your personal health, if you don’t invest some energy into staying fit, you will move further away from being in shape. Take time out for a business fitness check up, and then invest 10% of your week into those areas that need attention.


Although change is critical to survival, most businesses are reluctant to change and must be dragged into it against their will. This is a sorry state of affairs, because, as a friend of mine once said, “If businesses are not changing, they will become irrelevant.” Wow, who wants to become irrelevant?

In the remodeling business, change begins with understanding how your client has changed, how marketing strategies need to adjust, and how fundamental business priorities and structure are being transformed. The common denominator among the businesses I have touched during the last year is that they think they are changing, but they are not changing enough.

Change also needs to be managed. The faster and more dramatically you change, the more difficult it will be to get everyone onboard. That means you need a plan not just for the change itself, but for how you will communicate the change and handle the fallout it creates.

Survival requires looking for specific solutions in the context of your clients, your market, your product, and your team. With the right approach, you can do more than just survive in this market — you can thrive.

—Mark Richardson, co-chairman of Case Design/Remodel, recently accepted a one-year appointment to Affiliate in Housing Studies at Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.; 301.229.9580.