Few areas have been hit as hard by the downturn as San Diego. Yet Jason Larson, president of Lars Construction, has managed to continue growing his business. Senior Editor Jonathan Sweet talked to Larson about how he’s keeping focused on the opportunities of the current market. Some highlights:
One thing that really strikes me is you have such a positive attitude about this. Why is that important?
You really have two ways of looking at this. You can be a doom-and-gloomer and think woe is me. I don’t think that gets you anywhere. It’s not going to fill your day. One of the things I do, and I teach my kids this, is to start your day with a smile. It sets the tone for the entire day.
It’s no different at my company. It makes the day go by so much better. It makes life so much more enjoyable. It’s infectious to all the people you come around. It’s really proven in my life that it attracts the good people that you want to keep in your life — tradesmen you really enjoy working with, good employees, clients. That’s going to create that environment that attracts the kind of people you want to get in your world.
There are so many opportunities if you really stop and look around. I’m getting more commitment and service from my employees because the people that are still working on the team — instead of being complacent — they are happy that they even have a job and they are very grateful that they are a part of the team moving forward.
We’re getting more service from tradespeople than we have for 18 years. We used to [feel like] we worked for the trades — we have to keep these guys happy so they will give us good service and good pricing. Now it’s kind of flipped around. We don’t take them for granted, but these trades know that if we have this long list of work coming down the pike, we’ll take care of them — they’ll be a part of this thing.
You’ve gotten very involved in social media, using LinkedIn and Twitter. What are you hoping to get out of using it?
You know, I don’t know at this point because it’s so new to me. I just know that if you’re not embracing this technology it’s a mistake. I feel like we have to embrace this and start moving in this direction and see how it works.
I can learn from other people all over the country, get feedback, get support. That will change the way we do business. Just today I must have received 20 e-mails from other remodelers from LinkedIn and Twitter. We’ve only scratched the surface on this technology, but this will be the wave of the future. If I’m not embracing this and moving us toward this, I think it’s irresponsible as the owner of the company.
Do you think this will drive new business?
This is something that is so deep, so sophisticated that you just can’t expect that overnight. That will come. If we can get a customer to contact us because of where we are, where we’re visible on the Internet, that’s a great thing.
This is the way we live, the way we do business, the way people contact us. I just heard a statistic that 32 hours a week is the average people spend on the computer. Sixteen hours a week is the average they spend watching TV. That’s amazing.
So where are your marketing dollars best spent? If more people are spending time looking at their computer screen, shouldn’t you be moving in that direction? That’s why I think the whole social networking thing is just sort of about getting your name out there. It’s an easy way to do it.
Even if I did not get a single client out of all my time spent on Twitter and other sites, but just talked to people and they could help me and I could help them, that’s a great thing, too.
How is the current economy affecting your business?
Unfortunately, it’s very difficult for banks to lend money right now, so that makes it difficult for people to do some of these bigger projects. We’re definitely down from where we were last year, but I think the product we’re delivering is far superior to what we ever have delivered.
There is interest there. Our calls have never been better. We’d normally get 40 to 60 appointments a month; we’re running 80 a month now, which is just phenomenal. People are still skittish out there, but there are a lot of people out there who love their homes and want to remodel.
Has this changed the way you handle the sales process?
What it’s made us focus on as a team is that the business we’re in is a people business. It’s all about building relationships and building trust in these relationships. It takes time. You need to build relationships that allow people to understand the value you’re bringing to the table.
I’ve told my designers, who are my sales team, that with some jobs you’re going to go out there and spend a couple days out there, getting to know what their wants and needs are, to see how our company is going to fit in this transaction.