The three remodeling business owners profiled here still wear a lot of hats, and still exist — despite the number of years they have individually given their businesses — in what remodeling consultant Judith Miller would call “early growth” stages, those businesses with very involved owners. They have spent years honing their craft and learning about business like many remodeling company owners — the hard way, through trial and error. But they are all in the process of making changes that will lead to growth and profitability. Each has experienced small victories along the way to reaching these larger goals.
ASKING FOR HELP
Dylan Wadlington, owner, Wadlington Remodeling
Pine Grove Mills, Pa.
Owner's domain: estimating, sales, purchasing, marketing, some field work
Office: 2 off-site consultants
Earlier this year, Dylan Wadlington, owner of Wadlington Remodeling, was interviewed for a REMODELING article about using subcontractors. He seemed glad to be a sole proprietor with no employees and little overhead. He liked working with trade partners because he felt they had the entrepreneurial spirit. He said then, “I find that there's a different pool to pull from — those who want to be an employee and those who want to be self-employed. The level of craftsmanship is better [among subs].”
But six months later, he's talking about making his first hires — two lead carpenters — “[So I won't have to] show up and order things and have everything seem like an emergency rush.”
Wadlington is typical of many remodelers. He loves to build, but didn't know the first thing about business. He was an environmental and urban sociology major at Penn State and put himself through school building and remodeling; he graduated in 1999. His first whole-house remodel he did between classes, and he figures he made about $8 per hour. “It was terrible,” he says. “The homeowners said they wanted to be the general contractors but really they just wanted to pick colors.”
He soon got work as a subcontractor on a retail space project and learned a lot from the general contractor. “I was a sponge,” he says. “Anything I didn't know, I wanted to find out.” Eventually he got more jobs on his own and did less work for others. In the first year, he didn't make enough to live on. By 2003 things had picked up, and by 2005 his gross sales had doubled to $361,000. “I was overwhelmed and stressed out,” he says. “I was working seven days a week. I developed a weird bald spot on the back of my head. I was crazy. I ran multiple jobs but I didn't have the business acumen.” His office was in his truck in a beer box. “I was six months behind on billing and stretched out on credit.”
It's crude, he admits, but he says, “I had my first CRE [cranial rectal extraction]. I pulled my head out of my butt. I realized I didn't know enough about this business, and I didn't know what I was doing.” Instead of giving up — or getting a steady job as his wife suggested — he began asking for help.
“I looked for any training I could find. I went to the  Remodeling Show in Baltimore and realized that this is what I needed. It was a wealth of information,” Wadlington says. Up until then, he had not read any trade journals, and saw himself as a loner who didn't need the world.
Before Wadlington went to the Show, he wrote a business brief, identifying areas in which he needed help — estimating, scheduling, contracts. “I brought that brief on my laptop, and anyone teaching a class I would show it to, and try to get feedback,” he says.
He took the turnkey class with Dave Lupberger and realized that he needed a coach and mentor. “I still call him and talk to him,” says Wadlington, who has since connected with many successful remodelers he has met at the Show and later through the National Association of Home Builders' Certified Graduate Remodeler (CGR) network and his local NAHB Remodelers group. “People are willing to share because they've been in these hard spots,” he says. “Your success is their success, in a sense.”
Wadlington says that the informal mentoring and sharing was the best thing he'd ever done. Now he feels like he's starting over. But he's doing so from a better position — one in which he has more knowledge and confidence.