Anniversaries are happy occasions when we get to look back at the progress we've made. The bulk of this issue does just that, with a series of features that look at how far the industry has come in the 20 years we have been publishing this magazine, and where it seems to be going. It's a pretty good read, and it's a generally promising outlook.
As a counterpoint, I thought I'd use this space to point out a couple of areas where remodelers and the remodeling industry haven't made much progress. Not to be a party pooper, but I think these are things that we all need to think about. So here goes.
We still have a lousy image. That state of affairs isn't going to get better by itself. In fact, if remodeling keeps up at its current pace — and all signs are that it will — things will get worse image-wise before they get better. Look at hurricane-devastated Florida. The hundreds of fly-by-night contractors who have poured into the state to take advantage of desperate homeowners and beleaguered insurers are merely an extreme example of what happens every day to remodeling customers shopping for services in a market where demand far outstrips supply. As long as reputable firms can't keep up with the work, not-so-reputable firms will have a field day.
We still don't have uniform licensing laws. And even where licensing laws exist, there is often not enough enforcement to prevent contractors — and homeowners — from circumventing the rules. Not all builders and remodelers support licensing. Some fear it will raise subcontractor costs, others point to the inefficiencies in the system — the delays in processing, the poor enforcement — or to the lack of rigor in the exam. These are all valid complaints, but merely bemoaning the sad state of affairs won't change anything. Licensing policies and enforcement won't change until the industry forces the issue, and that means becoming activists at the local level. State legislatures control licensing laws, and that's where remodelers ought to make their case.
We still have two associations. Speaking of making the case for remodelers, it would be a lot easier to do if the industry had a single association to represent it. Today we have two major national associations operating hundreds of local branches. It's a cacophony of voices that makes it difficult to advance issues to the governmental agencies who can create real change. Licensing is one example of an area where a unified association effort could pay dividends. Insurance is another.
We still don't join the associations we have. That said, until more remodelers get involved in associations, not much is going to change, either for their businesses or for the associations. Those of you who are reading this who are not members of a national or local remodeling association are missing out on the very real benefits of learning from your peers. Your local organization may not be perfect, but it's still better than going it alone. That's not something you will be able to shrug off much longer. The business climate is growing more and more complex every day. A boom economy often pushes small start-up remodelers to grow faster than they're ready for. If you're not getting the kind of help from other remodelers that an association provides, you're in more trouble than you think.
We still don't have a technical skills training program. Enrollment in vocational schools is down, and every remodeler is responsible for training his own personnel. Immigrant labor is bridging the gap, but those workers need training, too. I think the impetus for technical training has to come from those who have the money to follow through, and that's the manufacturers. Do we have to wait until there's no one left who knows how to properly install a door or a window, flash a roof penetration, or tile a shower pan before we put some real effort into technical training?
Sorry for being cranky on our birthday. Let's go have some cake.