It’s a tricky intersection to navigate, the crossing of human needs and business demands. In remodeling, as in other service-driven industries, we have to do it all the time. People and relationships matter so much in this business: our customers, whose homes we share; our colleagues, whose daily lives we share. Among the best businesspeople, a deep-rooted compassion for employees and clients exists alongside the drive to turn a profit.
Researching this month’s cover story on the aging of America, I found business after business where the owner’s greatest joy was in helping people lead better and happier lives by turning a home that had become a prison into the safe, comfortable haven it had been, before age and all its infirmities crept up. Did those owners ignore their business results? Not for a second. They up-sell when possible, charge what the market will bear and don’t consult for free. They saw an opportunity in the market, and they seized it.
During the first weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, business was pushed to the side as we focused on the people around us as well as those who were lost. Such worldly activities as buying or selling seemed to blaspheme the dead.
Still, we watched the Dow plummet and began to worry about the fate of our own companies as well as the fates of 5,000 people. We gave away money - the NAHB, NARI and countless other industry organizations have organized relief efforts - even as we wondered if cash flow and project backlogs would dry up.
That’s not what I’m hearing. Business has slowed some, but most remodelers say it’s still steady. Economists are gathering information to re-forecast and making informal predictions that bode well for residential construction.
"The chances that some parts of building and construction will fare even better during 2002 than we had previously forecast have - sadly and almost perversely - improved in the attacks’ aftermath," Cahners economist Daryl Delano acknowledges. "Interest rates have moved lower, and substantial monies have already been appropriated for rescue, recovery and cleanup. This unnatural disaster will undoubtedly see a great deal of government, insurance and private funds quickly appropriated for rebuilding and repair."
My best advice? Don’t worry about what the economy might bring. Act now. Scrutinize your market and develop a niche. Market those services to the most profitable clients. Invest in your employees’ training in ways that will have high return. And don’t ever forget the joy.