Remodelers Share Success with Designers

Published: January 20, 2024

Like almost every remodeling company, ours boasts of humble beginnings. In comparison to many companies, we may still be rather humble. My dad, a custom home builder, started his business in the late 1970s. As a kid, I remember sitting in his office in the mornings – the room so full of cigarette smoke you could hardly see – while he and his business partner made phone call after phone call before taking off for the job sites. With no interest in learning the trade or taking over the business, I went off to college to try to find something better to do.

Lo and behold, the voyage of life did carry me back to dad’s company. After spending several years in another line of work, and eventually purchasing an older home that required quite a bit of ongoing carpentry work, I realized that the sawdust was still on me and that I did indeed have a knack for this type of work. Now I was enrolled in graduate school at dad’s alma mater, UDH (Under the Damn House!). Over the years, after experience, education, networking, discovery and dad’s retirement, we have transitioned away from home building and are now a full-service remodeling company. Though the humble origins will always remain a part of our foundation, as remodelers, we now find ourselves with a much more sophisticated image and approach to business.

Some of the best advice always seems to come from folks with good common sense. For example, we underwent a profound shift in 2015 after I attended a conference with Michael Stone (Construction Programs and Results), whose unquestionable authority rested on the fact that he had crawled more miles underneath a house than the years many contractors had been alive. Stone teaches contractors and remodelers how to run their business like a business and not a hobby. This includes not doing work for free, calculating your correct mark up, using contracts correctly, good basic sales skills, and so much more. His teaching was revolutionary for us as remodelers.

Several years ago, we did our kitchen remodels by using cabinets from the box stores and installing them ourselves. As we were attempting to design a similar kitchen, we had our draftsman creating some drawings showing a new layout. Our customer (another person who specialized in common sense) pulled me aside and told me she wanted to work with a designer she had found and that “that boy didn’t know anything about kitchens.” She was right and I appreciated her boldness to suggest that even though the young man we used to draw plans did a nice job, he did not have the insight of a skilled designer who knew exactly how a kitchen should be laid out. She needed someone who spoke her language and she found them.

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The Importance of Partnerships

That was our first job working with Elm Home Design. Since then, we have done many kitchens and other whole-house remodels by working together.

Their approach is very winsome to us and to our customers. They create the design and drawings; guide the customers in selecting finishes, appliances and fixtures; and then also provide and install the cabinets and countertops. It is almost a one-stop-shop for us, and the number of factors we must coordinate is greatly simplified.

Sometimes we have them working under our umbrella and contract. On other projects, we work in tandem with them, each under our own contracts. It just depends on who gets the initial lead. They also conduct their own independent jobs without us, just as we also have many projects that do not require their services.

It is also worth noting that they are not cheap. We are paying more for cabinets and countertops working through Elm Home Design than we would if we went to a box store or another cabinet supplier. But what we (as a contractor) and our customers are getting is a level of service that goes beyond the design expertise and certainly beyond the box stores. As most good remodelers find out, price is not the top concern for most customers. Certainly, it is a concern, but it comes lower on the list under weightier priorities. These would include regular communication, listening and blazing a trail to get them what they want in a reasonable time frame. We often hear customers speaking about cost concerns early in the process, only to be adding extras after they begin to see the level of service they are receiving.

Remodelers Expanding on Strategic Relationships

Our website now features several showcase projects where we detail a kitchen remodel with before and after images and the design plans with a direct link to the Elm Home Designs website. This is all done under the guidance of another strategic partnership with MyOnlineToolbox (they work as an architect for our online marketing efforts).

A secret to success as a remodeler is finding and maintaining winning partnerships with other companies. Sometimes we are searching for these partnerships, and other times we may just stumble upon them, like what happened with our finding Elm Home Design. While each of these partnerships is unique, good communication and a willingness to promote each other’s success is key. These partnerships include our own employees, subcontractors, suppliers, lawyers, accountants and numerous other relationships we must foster to promote the success of not only our own companies but of our industry and our noble task of providing safe, beautiful and lasting home renovations.

Again, the common sense seems to bring it all together: Many hands make light work.

—By Todd Milton, owner of Appomattox, Va.-based Milton Construction Company LLC

Photo credit: Stephen Coburn / Adobe Stock

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