2007 Remodeling Company Innovators

The eight remodeling companies featured here were selected not because they have found a different way to do business. Whether it's a focus on green construction, an imaginative Web site or a dedication to quality and customer satisfaction, they've all found key business practices that have helped.

December 31, 2006


What makes an innovator? The following eight remodeling companies were selected not because they're the biggest or even the best known, but instead because they have found a different way to do business. Whether it's a focus on green construction, an imaginitive Web site or a dedication to quality and customer satisfaction, they've all found key business practices that have helped them create their success. Nominate a 2008 INNOVATOR.

Dennis Allen

Dennis Allen is well known as one of the pioneers in the green construction market. His company, Allen Associates, builds and remodels dozens of homes a year, all of which incorporate at least some green building techniques.

For Allen, green construction is not just about the products he uses, but also about the process. He wants to build and remodel homes that will last, so resources aren't expended 10 years down the road for another remodeling project.

Allen constantly looks for products that will be more environmentally friendly and cost-effective. Although most clients like the idea of green building, he still finds it difficult to sell if prices are significantly higher.

"One of our challenges is to give people as much green as we can and still stay within their budget," he says.

Allen tries to talk with clients about items such as energy efficiency and indoor air quality to emphasize the personal benefits. That's what will help green become more mainstream, he says.

For remodelers interested in learning more about green building, Allen cautions against trying to do too much too fast.

"Don't shoot for the sky initially," he says. "Try just one or two things on a project that you haven't done before. Everything has a learning curve, so just keep easing into it."

Allen Associates

Santa Barbara, Calif.

Owner: Dennis Allen

Founded: 1983

Employees: 78

Type of work: Full-service remodeling, custom homes

2006 revenue: $21 million


Joe Duval

With a high referral rate and plenty of repeat customers, Joe Duval knew his company must be doing a good job pleasing its clients. At the same time, he wanted to make sure that River Crest Design Build was doing everything it could to keep customers happy.

The company created a report card system that tracks customer satisfaction from the initial sales meeting to project completion. The report cards are postage paid postcards that the homeowner just has to drop in the mail.

The potential client receives the first card at the initial sales call, so the company can get feedback even from those who don't hire River Crest. Clients are also given a report card after the initial design meeting, during the design stage and every time there is a draw, with a final report card at the end of the project.

The cards ask the clients to grade River Crest on items such as attention, communication and cleanliness on a scale from 1 to 5. The scores average a 4.7, but it's the low scores that give the company an opportunity to make things right before the problem snowballs.

"Anytime a 3 comes in, it comes to the project manager's desk and my desk," Duval says. "That requires a call to the client to take care of the problem. A 2 or a 1 requires an immediate visit by the project manager to the client."

River Crest Design Build

Annapolis, Md.

Owners: Joe and Jeanne Duval

Founded: 1986

Employees: 28

Type of work: Design/build remodeling

2006 revenue: $5.75 million

Projected 2007 revenue: $6.3 million



John Habermeier


John Habermeier says too many remodelers don't embrace the technology they need to become more efficient.

By using a tablet computer, a Leica Disto laser and Chief Architect, Habermeier devised a process that cut his design time from 25 to 2 hours for the average project.

When a potential client calls the office, they go through a brief interview where the salesperson talks to them about their basement and makes sure they are a serious prospect. At that point, the client has to make two appointments — one in their home and a follow-up appointment at the Synergy showroom. The company won't schedule a first appointment without a second.

At the first appointment, Habermeier uses his computer and laser to gather measurements. The showroom appointment is as soon as the next day and always less than a week after the first appointment. The showroom is designed to look like a basement and includes a home theater area with an 8- by 5-foot television screen that Habermeier uses to give the clients a virtual tour of the two or three designs he has created.

The process has such a "wow factor" for clients that Habermeier estimates it allows him to charge 10 to 15 percent more for projects and has increased sales by 25 percent.

Synergy Builders

West Chicago, Ill.

Owners: John Habermeier and Steve Taylor

Founded: 2002

Employees: 17

Type of work: Finished basements

2006 revenue: $2.6 million

Projected 2007 revenue: $3.2 million


Jeff Kaliner

For most window and siding companies, the biggest problem is finding competent installers.

That was the problem Power Windows & Siding decided to tackle in 2004 with its factory training program for window installers, which they've named Total Care Installs.

"We wanted to do a better job of reducing service calls," says CEO Asaf Shaposhnick. "We were having too many callbacks and were ending up having to discount too many jobs."

Now, all installers are required to become certified by the American Architectural Manufacturers Association. The AAMA hopes the two-day certification program reduces callbacks, improves energy efficiency and teaches installers to work more quickly and efficiently. To maintain their AAMA certification, installers must be recertified every four years.

The program has resulted in a significant reduction in callbacks, allowing the company to install more jobs and increase business by almost 20 percent last year. The company has also seen an increase in referrals from satisfied customers, Shaposhnick says. The Total Care Installs program has become an important part of the company's sales presentation as well.

"It's something the competition's not doing, so it's a big plus for us when we're meeting with clients," Shaposhnick says.

Power Windows & Siding

Brookhaven, Pa.

Owners: Adam and Jeff Kaliner

Founded: 1987

Employees: 90

Type of work: Exterior remodeling

2006 revenue: $17.7 million


Rick and Terri King

From the time they decided to launch a Web site, Blue Canyon Construction owners Rick and Terri King knew they wanted it to be something special.

"We had a really strong vision of what we wanted it to be like," Terri King says.

By visiting the site, clients can learn almost everything they want about Blue Canyon before Rick ever makes a sales call. They can see the company's work in the portfolio section and learn about the firm and its employees.

"They know our philosophy and they really get a sense of our crew and what they do," King says. "It's amazing how many people have gone on to the site and read everything."

The site also includes an educational section — something that was very important to King — with articles on finding a remodeler and what to expect during the process.

"Most sites don't have an education piece, so we felt that was a real need," she says. "I feel like we're educating people for the entire industry."

One of the most innovative parts of the site is the Go Shopping section, which contains links to the sites for the company's vendors of items such as appliances, cabinets and flooring. It allows customers to go to one Web site and see what Blue Canyon offers.

Blue Canyon Construction


Owners: Rick and Terri King

Founded: 1996

Employees: 13

Type of work: Full-service remodeling, custom homes

2006 revenue: $2.4 million

Projected 2007 revenue: $2.8 million


Gary Marrokal

Gary Marrokal relies on trade contractors to provide most of the labor for his award-winning firm, so the quality of their work is key to his success.

"We are only as good as our subs, so we have to pay close attention to everything they do," he says.

The company constantly rates trade contractors on the quality of their work, timeliness and cleanliness. If a company's grades start to slip, Marrokal warns the owner of the problem. If the problems continue, he's not afraid to replace a contractor.

But building a positive relationship with trade contractors also requires being a good company for which to work.

"You have to treat your trade contractors with the same respect you treat your employees and your clients," Marrokal says.

That means letting them know when they do a good job and paying promptly, Marrokal says. Contractors also like working for him because they know how tough he is on the trades.

"A good framer likes working on a job where they know that the concrete guy is going to get his work done, clean up and be out of the way on time," he says. "On the other hand, you let one trade get away with poor work and the other guys notice, and maybe their work slips as well."

Marrokal Construction Co.

Lakeside, Calif.

Owner: Gary Marrokal

Founded: 1981

Employees: 27

Type of work: Design/build remodeling

2006 revenue: $16.7 million

Projected 2007 revenue: $18 million


Bruce Schweich

Standing out from the crowd in the remodeling field can be difficult. One way to do it is to offer a service nobody else does.

David Schweich Construction has found success converting crawlspaces into livable space in Minnesota's Twin Cities.

"There are thousands of homes in this area that have been built with only a crawlspace beneath them," says project manager Bruce Schweich. "This is a way to add on to the house without any additional footprint."

The average project is about 400 square feet and costs the client about $35,000 for an unfinished basement. About half of the projects are finished as well, Schweich says, adding another $30,000 to the project cost.

"It's something we've been doing for 30 years, so we have a track record of doing a good job with it," Schweich says.

David Schweich originally started doing crawlspace conversions as a way to keep crews busy during Minnesota's harsh winters. The company prefers to do the labor-intensive projects during the winter but still tackles them throughout the year.

"We don't disturb the existing foundation, so we have to go in and shovel out most of the dirt by hand," Schweich says. "It usually takes us four to five days to dig it out by hand, which is why we like to do it in the winter when we don't have as many other projects."

David Schweich Construction

Lakeville, Minn.

Owner: David Schweich

Founded: 1973

Employees: 17

Type of work: Full-service

2006 revenue: $2.4 million


Raymond and Therese Wiese

In 2005, The Wiese Co. saw business grow by more than 50 percent and faced the problem of juggling more projects while preserving the quality for which the company was known.

At the same time, owners Raymond and Therese Wiese faced a situation where their top lead carpenter, Tom Cochrane, wanted more challenge in his work.

The two problems ended up creating a unique solution. The Wieses decided to put Cochrane in charge of supervising the work quality of all jobs, offering him a new challange and maintaining the company's reputation. He still runs his own jobs, but once a week he also visits the jobs the other leads run.

"He ensures that quality is observed everywhere," Therese Wiese says.

For the employees, it took some getting used to, Wiese admits.

"It was a very difficult thing in the beginning because of the egos involved," she says. "The response from the other leads was 'What's this mean? He's going to be telling me what I'm doing wrong all the time?'"

The others have now accepted and actually appreciate the system; they realize that it's not about pointing fingers but instead doing the best job for the client.

Not only has it led to brainstorming among the leads, but the owners can better focus on business growth and practices.

The Wiese Co.

Natick, Mass.

Owners: Raymond and Therese Wiese

Founded: 1992

Employees: 14

Type of work: Design/build remodeling

2006 revenue: $3.5 million

Projected 2007 revenue: $4 million











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