Erik Anderson of Winston-Salem, N.C., had only been in business for four years when, he says, “I realized I couldn't continue working at this pace. We thought if we worked hard, we'd earn a good living. We were working really hard and we were hitting a brick wall.” That's when he joined one of the NAHB's 20 Clubs for remodelers.

After 20 years in business, David Crane of Nashville says, “I thought I knew everything.” But eight years ago, “I got to a growth curve in our company and … I felt out of control.” Crane turned to Business Networks.

When Jonas Carnemark's Bethesda, Md.–based company was, finally, steadily profitable, and he began to think about higher growth levels and an exit strategy, he was invited by Remodelers Advantage to join a Mentor Level peer review group.

At all stages and levels of business, more and more remodelers are finding value in peer review. The process is not magic; it's a simple concept, really — a forum for business owners to discuss common problems and solutions — but it seems to work magic for those who participate. For the nearly two dozen remodelers we interviewed, peer review groups have made all the difference in their business and subsequently their personal lives. To a person — whether they had a difficult experience; if they stayed for many years or left after a few; if they switched from one group to another — everyone said, “This is the best thing I ever did for my business.”

What's Out There In the remodeling world there are three industry-specific peer review models — Business Networks (BN), Remodelers Advantage Roundtables (RAR), the NAHB's Remodelor 20 Clubs (R20) — that are similarly organized (see page 90 for details). Each has groups made up of geographically non-competing remodelers at similar revenue figures and stages of growth. They meet two or three times a year, for two or three days at a time. Members share financials, forms, and ideas for growth; offer support for everything from firing an employee or opening a new office to dieting and marital issues; and challenge one another to meet goals — or face consequences.

The meetings can be rigorous and emotionally draining. Both RAR and BN do individual critiques. Crane says he went into his BN critique “with fear and trembling.” But it got his employees to “buy into the Network process and … on board with the changes we wanted to make.”

Other types of peer review groups are composed of members from diverse businesses, and some remodeler groups focus on education as well as peer interaction (see “Other Peer Review Options,”).

Common to all the peer groups is the sense that you're taking on a “board of directors.” “In any discipline you're only as good as the people you rub shoulders with,” says Sue Cosentini. “You can't do it in a vacuum.” Cosentini, who has been in the “Fat Cats” R20 Club for the past three years, attests to having “19 coaches.”

Peer group members also talk about how they no longer feel they're out there all alone. Crane says his network keeps in close contact via e-mail so when an issue comes up “nobody has to reinvent the wheel.”

Cosentini offers a specific example of how the group brain trust helped her business. Her firm, Cosentini Construction, Ithaca, N.Y, works on the design/build model. One Fat Cats cohort who had been in business longer gave Cosentini his design/build agreement pricing matrix. “Before, I did a dog and pony show,” she says, but after working from these documents, her new process has “no free estimates and no competitive bidding.” It took the other remodeler 20 years to develop the documents, she says. Having this is “off-the-scale value.”