Don't be afraid to innovate

December 7, 2011

This month we named our Remodeler of the Year — Anthony Home Improvements in Elkins Park, Pa.

We chose the company for a number of reasons, but reason No. 1A is the company’s ability to adapt to a changing climate, something many firms have struggled to do.

That willingness to constantly change goes back to company CEO and second-generation owner Stephen Klein, who you could safely call a serial entrepreneur. He’s not been afraid to take chances, to try new things to help his company not just survive but thrive in this downturn.
Anthony Home Improvements has added lead paint training, universal design bathrooms, a new business aimed at raising the professionalism of the industry and more.

The natural inclination in any downturn is to entrench and try to wait it out. Companies try to do business as usual and refuse to recognize that the climate has changed. That is how once great companies fall by the wayside.

(Our industry adviser Mark Richardson talks about this subject in his ongoing video series, “Change or Become Irrelevant,” that you can find elsewhere on HousingZone.)

On the other hand, some of the most successful companies in the world have been started during economic downturns. General Electric, IBM, Microsoft, Disney and Apple (to name just a few) were all started during recessions or depressions.

In our industry, companies have used previous recessions to grab market share. Case Design/Remodeling (another former Remodeler of the Year), for example, has come out of every previous downturn with a bigger share of the lucrative Washington, D.C., remodeling market.

Even for established firms, it can be a time to reinvent yourself. You can make an argument that the Apple we know today actually started in the early 2000s recession when the idea for the iPod came about.

And Apple is a great model for how companies can innovate even without being first. Whatever you think of Steve Jobs, Apple under his direction was a master of making things just work better.

There are very few categories where Apple was first, but the company created a better experience for the user. Remember the HanGo Personal Jukebox or the Diamond Rio? They both were on the market years before the iPod. The iPhone came to the game after other smartphones.

There were tablet computers well before the iPad, but it wasn’t until the experience was made pleasant that we saw the current explosion in the technology.

Maybe in your market it’s a turnkey approach to energy audits. Maybe it’s a process for remodeling kitchens and bathrooms that simplifies product choices. Whether it’s something new or just something better, you have to keep moving and never sit still.

Jonathan Sweet is the editor in chief of Professional Remodeler, an award-winning trade publication for remodelers and home improvement contractors. He started his career covering homes and small businesses at a daily newspaper and has spent more than a decade writing for several construction trade publications including Qualified Remodeler, Construction Pro and Concrete Contractor+Jonathan Sweet


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