When I got started as a remodeler, contractors were valued for being good with their hands and not much else. Back then, those of us who were trying to change that image didn’t have many places to turn for help, least of all each other. Conversation among contractors at the lumberyard counter was limited to exaggerated claims about how much work they had but never about how profitable it was. Some simply didn’t know, and those who did weren’t saying for fear of giving away a trade secret.
All of that changed in the 1980s with the publication of two new magazines. First to appear was New England Builder, better known today as THE JOURNAL OF LIGHT CONSTRUCTION or simply JLC. Its first-person accounts of practical, field-tested know-how created the first forum in which contractors could talk with one another about common problems without having to worry about being competitive.
The other was REMODELING magazine, (also published by Hanley Wood, which publishes JLC). It first appeared in 1986 and did for the business side what JLC did for the technical side. Its two original columnists set the tone. One was Walt Stoeppelwerth, who gave vision to an industry that was struggling to find its identity and taught a generation of remodelers how to place value on the service they performed.
The other was Linda Case, whose column first appeared under the heading “Image,” but quickly expanded beyond marketing and public relations topics into every nook and cranny of a remodeling company’s business.
But Linda’s biggest contribution by far was simply this: She made it truly alright for remodelers to talk to each other — and not just about the good stuff, but about the problems and daily failures for which we were too proud to ask for help. She showed us that nobody knew it all, that there was an advantage to sharing what we had learned, and that educating ourselves was an essential part of our business.
The result was Remodelers Advantage, one of the first peer-to-peer consulting groups in the nation, an organization that formalized Linda’s vision of remodelers helping remodelers.
I’ve been reading Linda’s columns for 26 years, first as a remodeler and for the last 10 years as editor of REMODELING. During that time, I’ve watched as she helped thousands of remodeling contractors transform their “accidental businesses” into successful, directed companies leading the way into a new era of enterprise and professionalism.
This month, Linda is officially retiring from her consulting business and also from her columnist duties. She plans to turn her energy toward the nonprofit craft community, Craftworks at Cool Spring, which she founded near Charles Town, W.Va. We hope she enjoys as much success in her new venture as she has brought us in ours.
Linda, we are better people for having known you. Thanks for everything.
—Sal Alfano, editorial director, REMODELING.
Read on for more about Linda Cases’s contribution to the industry:
Greg Antonioli (Out of the Woods Construction & Cabinetry, Arlington, Mass., and REMODELING contributor): When moving our office in 2004, I came across notes from a phone consult with Linda from (I’d guess) about 1994-95. I think we were doing around $350K annually at the time. Linda suggested I begin thinking about taking my toolbelt off and I thought she was crazy so I didn’t follow up until 2002. Just like the teenager whose dumb parents somehow get smarter 10 years later, from 2002 on, I was impressed by how much smarter she’d become ... and just in time to keep me from going out of business! If only I had listened in 1995.
Fortunately, at times when I was lacking courage, I had Linda Case in my corner pushing me through the fear. (There’s a lump in my throat as I write this.) I can point to specific watershed events in my evolution as a business owner when Linda knew just what I needed, whether it was a kick in the pants, a challenge to my ego, or just compassionate listening. Thank you, Linda. You have helped me, my family, and countless other remodelers (and their clients) achieve more peaceful, stable, rewarding lives. You helped shape an industry for the better. You have paid it forward. You deserve nothing but pure joy in your retirement.
Ridley Wills (The Wills Co., Nashville, Tenn.): Linda has profoundly affected my company and myself personally. In Remodelers Advantage she created a safe environment where small-business owners can be held accountable for effecting changes in their companies and their lives. For those who are willing and brave enough to allow themselves to be vulnerable, Linda’s vision and leadership created a place where we can effect true change. Each time my partner and I were willing to address a core issue, we come away enriched by the experience she has developed. She has left a legacy that has made a fundamental impact on me personally. It’s the core values that drive us as individuals and that are critical to success of each of our companies. Success was driven by my desire to get it right and get the quality, but that was exactly what held my company back because in order to grow I needed to empower others and step back from that control. Remodelers Advantage and those values are not a panacea for everybody, only for those willing to step out and step up. The easy stuff is the marketing plan or whatever.
Donna Bade Shirey (Shirey Contracting, Bellevue, Wash.): When I started attending national meetings in the early 1990s, I came across this woman Linda Case. I have always been a good marketer, but when I started following Linda and read every one of her books, I became a great marketer. Linda has been a mentor to me and I thank her for the vision she gave to small remodelers. Her career flourished as did those of her followers. Linda recently has done some coaching with me and she helped be get over a difficult business situation that lead to a difficult emotional situation. Linda is a rock in the remodeling industry and has a heart of gold. I will always be thankful to her for the effect she has had on me professionally and personally. Thank you, Linda.
Liz Wilder (Anthony Wilder Design/Build, Cabin John, Md.): I met Linda in late 1993. Linda was the difference between us being successful and not. She helped in every aspect of our business. I latched onto her after going to a seminar about remodeling that she gave in Baltimore. I was new to the industry and didn’t know that much about remodeling but I knew we needed help. Linda consulted with us weekly. She would give me a to-do list and I would do my homework. She taught me how to run a successful remodeling company. Without her I could’ve stumbled along the way. I can’t even tell you how grateful we are to her. For advice that was spot-on. She never hesitated to tell us if we were not on track and did it all with a lot of love but very directly. No feelings came into play. She checked her feelings at the door. It was about being successful and doing what we needed to do to be a successful company. Linda explained markup and what you need, what was your break-even. She sat down and walked me through her whole book on managing and making money. I didn’t know what a work-in-progress report was, how to read a P&L, how to create payment schedules, or get billings in advance so we weren’t charging clients interest. Every tool you need to be successful — marketing, production, job descriptions ... all the practical things — Linda taught us. All the networking, all the highly successful people we were exposed to as a result of meeting Linda. We love Linda. She is the best.
Shawn McCadden (consultant, speaker, and REMODELING contributor): I am old enough to have been a young and aspiring remodeler when Linda was a rising star speaker/consultant/guru for our industry. I still have photocopies of her early articles I found and saved in a binder when I was building my business starting back in 1991. Times may have changed but Linda’s wisdom shaped and is still a part of what I do and share with others every single day. Thanks Linda for all you have done for me and the industry during your career!
Jerry Liu (D.G. Liu Contractor, Dickerson, Md.): I’ve never told Linda that her framed 8x10 photo (got it from Remodelers Advantage staff) watches me from across my office. She is watching to ensure that I utilize the skills I have learned from Remodelers Advantage and Roundtables to survive and thrive in a demanding business. She is also watching to ensure that I maintain balance in my life, that personal and family (employees included) welfare are served by the business and not the other way around. Linda is uncomfortable accepting gratitude and praise for all she has done, but I know my life would not be nearly so rewarding were it not for her teaching and caring, so thank you Linda. Thank you.
Iris Harrell (Harrell Remodeling, Mountain View, Calif.): One of the many workshops that Linda Case gave at least a decade ago, she told the many contractors attending that they needed to hire someone who was smarter and better than they were at their business than they were. There was this huge collective gasp heard throughout the room. The audience was asking, “If we hire someone smarter and better than we are, why would this person continue to work in my company?” Linda’s response was, “If you don’t hire to your weakness and get people into your company who are stronger and smarter than you are, how will you be able to improve the company? And more than that, how would you ever be able to retire without just closing your doors?” “Hire to your weakness” was a totally new concept among contracting businesses, yet it was blindingly obvious that someone contractors would listen to needed to bring this up. Linda Case has always been great at stating the obvious and looking at things from the 30,000-foot view. She has made a huge contribution to the maturation of contractors in business today.
Bob Gallagher (Sun Design, Sun Design Remodeling Specialists, Burke, Va.): Some of the first interactions Craig [Durosko] and I had with Linda, years and years ago, were when she was helping us put together a vision. She was really hard-core. And she kind of threw me a little bit. She is really straight-up and the to-the-point. And then we joined Remodelers Advantage Roundtables and got onto the roundtables. We were prideful and stupid and she knew it. She was just trying to wake us up to the riskiness of how we were going about doing business. I thought: My gosh, this woman is really in your face and hard-core.
As years progressed I realized that Linda is doing that out of love. She is always direct and to-the-point and is willing to put herself out there in a way that could even be perceived as too straightforward or even negative, but she is trying to make you see the light. She knew where the light shone and we didn’t. And she was making sure we would see it. She got me off my high horse. We’re still here. Getting involved with Linda was one of those things that was a directional change. I’m not sure we would have the kind of business we have today or that my business partner and myself would have the kind of relationship that we have, if it wasn’t for her. The things she communicates are never the things you want to hear but the things you need to hear. There have been a few people who have made me stop and think about why I am doing what I am doing, and Linda is one of them.
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