A prospect calls you and says, “I'm interested in remodeling my kitchen. When can we meet?” You suggest Tuesday at 10 a.m. They say, “I can't, I work.” It's a typical conversation, and unfortunately, many remodelers respond to the request with an evening or weekend appointment that may work for the potential client but not necessarily for the remodeler or his or her family.

“I respond by saying, ‘That's funny; I work, too,” says Steve St. Onge, owner of Rhode Island Kitchen & Bath, who has made family and downtime a priority. People usually laugh at St. Onge's response, but they get his point: If you are a professional, then you should be willing to work with a professional.

Illustration: James Kaczman


When St. Onge started out in 1989 he worked crazy hours and wore all the hats. It wasn't until he heard kitchen designer Robert Kreiner speaking at a Remodeling Show (produced by Hanley Wood, the company that publishes REMODELING) that he decided to make a change.

Kreiner had a specific need to take time from work, and he figured out a way to do it. St. Onge, who has four children, decided that he would make it happen because he wanted it to, without waiting for a specific need. So St. Onge developed an organizational chart with every position in the company laid out — despite having just one employee. “You'd think we were a giant company,” he says, “When you have all the hats on your head, you have to juggle a lot. It's virtually impossible to get it all done in an eight-hour day.”

As the years passed, St. Onge began replacing himself. “To get some sort of life, you have to let someone else sell your projects for you or you have to have somebody doing the installation so you can organize and order materials. Or you just decide to do small volume. You'll accomplish as much as you can in a day, but you won't be breaking any records in income,” he says.


Too often, remodelers say, “No one can do it as well as I can.” If there's something you feel you must do, then keep doing it but give up something else.

Brett King, owner of Brett King Builder-Remodeler, in Quakertown, Pa., knows that his strength is working in the field. He wore all the hats when he started out 25 years ago. But it was really important to him to be able to coach his son's baseball team and to spend time with his wife, Kim. “I like what I do, but it's not who I am,” says King, who hired people to run the office so he could continue working with his hands.

He also is adamant about running a professional business with hours from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. He meets clients during those hours and won't work evenings. The staff works four nine-hour days and an eight-hour day on Friday. “We just quit at 4:00 and get in the trucks at 4:15,” says King, who, along with Kim (who works in the office), now spends his free time following his son's college baseball team.

It comes down to commitment, says Clay Nelson, a remodeling industry business consultant who focuses on work-life balance issues (www.claynelsonlifebalance.com). “Before anything else, you have to be committed to having your life work — you have productivity time and life time [downtime] that's not about work.” Nelson says to create a plan that includes downtime in the schedule. “Plan your day and play your team around it. Train someone to take on what[ever] comes up that can get in the way of you being what your plan says.”

St. Onge, who recently spent a year sailing with his family and returned to a smooth-running business, gives himself the time he needs by entering an appointment with himself on his calendar. “I code it ‘NSA meeting,'” he says. “‘Nothing Society of America.' No one who has access to my schedule knows the difference. My time is booked and I won't fill it with another task.”