Embrace what is, not what was

April 13, 2011

I recently got to spend some time in Madison, Wis., for one of our PR Night educational and networking events.
Madison is one of those markets that has been relatively healthy throughout the downturn, with a strong white collar economy, led by state government and the University of Wisconsin. Even now the unemployment rate is below 6 percent.
That said, most of the remodelers I talked to there are seeing fewer jobs and those that they’re getting are much smaller, just like people all over the country.  They’re dealing with the same low-cost competition, even tougher lead paint rules (Wisconsin has taken over administration from the EPA) and many of the other problems we see in other markets.
While there, I talked to two remodelers who couldn’t be more different. We’ll call one Ted and one Fred. Both are full-service/design-build remodelers that built their companies on large projects during the boom. Both are doing about half the business they were just a few years ago, but that’s where the similarities end.
Ted told me that business was terrible, that nobody wants to pay for good remodeling service anymore, that the lead paint regulations are just another government attack on his business, how he just wants things to go “back to normal.”
On the other hand, Fred says business was tough, but the company is adapting to what the clients want. “Yeah, I’d rather have one project that fills weeks, but if I have to fill a month with two- or three-day projects, I’ll do it.”
He says they’re facing price challenges but they’re fighting back with detailed proposals and a clear sales message that explains exactly what makes his company worth more.
And the lead paint rules, he says, are just another chance to make a distinction between his company and the “Chuck in a truck” competition.
The biggest difference between Ted and Fred? Ted was telling me all about what was being done to him: how government regulations were hurting his company, how his clients were pushing him on price, how the competion was making it impossible for him to make any money. Ted is allowing the situation to decide his future
Fred, on the other hand, has decided to take all those same problems and turn them to his advantage. He’s realized that the “normal” Ted wants isn’t coming back. This is the new normal, so we better get used to it. He’s attacking the problem, and refusing to let the recession and everything that goes along with it set his direction.
(The recent Professional Remodeler webinar, The Future of Remodeling, with our columnist Mark Richardson, explores this topic a little more. You can check it out at www.HousingZone.com/futurewebinar.)
Fred’s attitude is the only one that will work nowadays. We can either embrace the new reality of remodeling or sit around waiting for something to change and wait ourselves right out of business.

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