At 51 I was at a crossroads in my life, one faced by many a corporate employee in times of downsizing, layoffs, and mergers. After 30 enjoyable years as a middle manager for a Fortune 500 company, my patience for corporate life had expired. I was anxious to retire, although my definition of retirement varied dramatically from that of my cohorts — I wanted a second career as a remodeling contractor. I now work twice as many hours for half the money, and it's the most rewarding, enjoyable job I've ever had.
PREPARATION I've actually had a lifetime of preparation: a B.S. in management, coupled with a strong financial background; carpentry knowledge, thanks to my father and the work I did on several of my own homes; and my own natural abilities.
I planned my business over the course of a year. I read everything I could regarding starting a construction company, researching subjects such as estimating, business organization, tools, licensing, and insurance. I met with the Small Business Administration (www.sba.gov), took online courses in cash flow and QuickBooks at the Remodelers University (www.remodelersuniversity.com), and attended estimating seminars by HomeTech (www.hometechonline.com).
Seventy- to 80-hour weeks were the norm, but I hardly noticed because I loved what I was doing: Here was an opportunity for me to work with my hands and also to use my business management skills.
GROWTH To attract business, I told everyone I met what I was doing, including former colleagues, many of whom ended up as my customers. I also joined a local chapter of Business Networking International (www.bni.com), which meets weekly. BNI's sole objective is for members to refer businesses to one another. Only one member from each profession is allowed in the group. I have been a member for more than five years, and it has served me well.
I also joined the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (www.nari.org) — a superb way to meet other contractors, share information, and build friendships. One membership benefit is the certification programs NARI offers. Recently I completed the 10-week part-time Certified Remodeler (CR) program, designed to help people become well-rounded remodelers. I am the only Certified Remodeler in my city and I am already trying to capitalize on this achievement.
During the past six years I've made many mistakes — most notably, under-pricing jobs, which has been costly. I recognize that problem and work diligently to avoid it. I now have one part-time and two full-time carpenters. My wife, an interior designer, also works with us as a part-time office manager and designer. We specialize in remodeling kitchens and bathrooms. Occasionally we do a small addition. Business is good.
THE NEXT CHALLENGE At 57, I am preparing for my next challenge: retirement, my way. I'm developing an exit strategy that will allow me to continue owning my business while spending more time enjoying my family and other interests. The strategy involves keeping my business thriving and growing by implementing a written business plan, job descriptions, and an employee handbook, and by defining objectives and budgets and assembling a sales team.
Another large part of this plan is transitioning responsibilities to my team by using the lead carpenter system. I hope to eventually find someone to take on most of the day-to-day management of the business. Although I am willing to relinquish the reins considerably, I do hope to continue as an owner for many more years.
In this process, I am being assisted by Marlborough, Mass.-based Paradigm Strategies (www.paradigmstrategies.com), a consulting firm that specializes in helping construction companies improve all aspects of their business and become more profitable. Succession may be my most daunting challenge yet. — Gary Morrison can be reached via his Web site at www.morrisonremodeling.com.