Mark Robert Halper

Several months ago I ran into an old friend who is a successful executive in the technology industry. When he asked me about how we were handling the soft housing market, I told him about some new products and services we were introducing and the new offices we were opening. He said, “Wow, you are really making it happen.” I thanked him for what I thought was simply a polite reaction, but he explained that he had chosen his words carefully. “In a tough environment,” he said, “there are three types of businesses: those that make it happen; those that watch it happen; and those that wonder what happened.”

I have been thinking a lot about that conversation lately, and I think my friend was engaged in more than clever wordplay. His three types provide a useful way to evaluate how remodeling companies react to adversity.

The current remodeling environment is the same for everyone, but some companies are growing while others are not. After observing remodeling businesses all over the country, I think the reason has to do with which of these three attitudes is in play.

“Making it happen” is a mindset. It is a decision you make to adjust your business strategy to match the changing market environment. It doesn’t mean you have to abandon your values, but it does require adjusting your sales and marketing strategy to address your clients’ changing interests and their growing fears and uncertainty. “Making it happen” means diversifying and developing products and services that strike a chord with your clients in this market.

Five Questions

Some of you are cutting staff, reducing marketing costs, and generally hunkering down in an effort to ride out the poor economy. I think it’s important to understand, however, that these decisions are not being forced on you, and that there could well be another approach that will serve you better. Here are five questions to ask to determine if your company is moving toward the “making it happen” category.

1. Are you investing 10% of your energy on new stuff? I know how hard it is to get out of the trenches in a tough environment, but it is critical to a “make it happen” mindset. Make appointments with yourself to focus on new ideas. Test some of these in a limited way to see if they help position your company for the future.

2. Has your product or service changed during the last three years? If not, then you are “watching it happen” not “making it happen.” You might change by giving clients more ways to buy — time and material vs. fixed price, for instance. Or you might shift to smaller projects to better match market demand. Or alter your product offering to match growing interest in green products. Change may also require different people or new skill sets.

3. Are you trying to attract new clients in the same old way? The marketing approaches of the past don’t work as well today. Clients don’t like being sold, but they respond well if they are being helped. Instead of offering coupons, offer solutions and education.

4. Are you riding the wave with the latest technologies? Technology is revolutionizing the remodeling industry, just as it has many other areas of our lives. Homeowners now use the Web as a first step when looking for contractors; they prefer e-mail to phone calls; they want immediate answers to their questions. Take inventory to see if your company is keeping up. Remember, you don’t need to be on the cutting edge, but you don’t want to fall behind, either.

5. Does your team have a gung-ho attitude? In tough times, your team needs to be more aligned than ever. It’s worth investing whatever is necessary to make sure that this is happening.

For some people, “making it happen” is part of their DNA. But it is also a choice that anyone can make. Don’t let this environment control your success and future. Make it happen.

—Mark Richardson is president of Case Design/Remodeling, in Bethesda, Md.;