From left to right: Rob Hellyer, Amy Robinson, Donna Buenik, Dan Bawden, Melanie Heinrich, Sherry Pruit, Kevin Vick
The Greater Houston Builders Association’s (GHBA) Remodelers Council, part of a local branch of the National Association of Home Builders, cleaned up at this year’s Council Awards for Demonstrating Remodeling Excellence (CADRE). The Remodelers Council won three of the six overall awards, and as a kicker, one of its longtime members, Dan Bawden, who runs local remodeling company Legal Eagle Contractors, was inducted into the NAHB Remodeling Hall of Fame. It was a good—and well-earned—night for the Houston group.
Houston’s Remodelers Council has nearly 400 members, making it the largest in the country by more than 150 members. Houston’s remodeling market is robust: In 2017, the city saw remodeling spending of $4.9 billion, according to the latest data from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University—which may account for some of the Council’s size. But compare it to spending in other markets—Chicago ($8.2 billion), Los Angeles ($8.6 billion), Minneapolis ($5.11 billion)—and the numbers alone aren’t a complete explanation. There’s something specific about this city’s Remodelers Council that makes it so appealing.
Ninety New Members in Nine Months
Sherry Pruitt, who serves on the Council’s board as past president, attributes the group’s sustained success to a multitude of factors, some circumstantial, and some by design.
The “circumstantial” is weather. “We spiked after Harvey,” says Pruitt, who owns remodeling company WHODID IT Designs. “We were one of the groups people were looking to for help getting their lives back on track. Remodelers wanted to help and joined.” From January to October 2017, the Council gained 90 members—and won a CADRE for recruitment and retention.
Houston RC members pose after renovating part of the Santa Maria Hostel.
There wasn’t really a backslide after Harvey though, the way you may expect. The new members stayed, and more came still. The stickiness (as marketers would put it) of Houston’s Remodelers Council is in its value proposition.
Creating Substantive Events
“We meet and communicate regularly with our members,” Pruitt says, mentioning regular emails and events. It’s something a lot of Councils can claim, but where Houston’s group differs is in substance. For instance, the Council puts on a monthly luncheon featuring speakers spanning a wide range of expertise, from long-time remodelers and attorneys familiar with the industry, to building officials who can speak to matters specific to the city.
“We pick our categories to be topical and useful,” Pruitt says. “In February, we had building inspectors from five local communities come in to talk about the permitting process, what’s new, and what we can do to better to make the system work better for us.” It’s not unusual for a luncheon to have 200 members attend, she adds.
Events like the luncheon are commonplace for the Council. The group also puts on Speed Selling events, where it connects vendors and suppliers with its members; hosts an annual garage sale; and takes part in community service projects.
“Each year we work through HomeAid for at least one large community service project,” Pruitt says. HomeAid is a nonprofit that operates as part of GHBA.”We will have 30-40 remodelers come out to work on any given project.”
This past year, the Council worked on two big projects. One was renovating a part of the Santa Maria Hostel, a women’s substance abuse treatment center. The facility includes a nursery so women can maintain custody of their children while in recovery. That area badly needed new cabinetry, lighting, and appliances.
The second project was a men’s shelter called Lydia’s Place. “It’s a place where men who are homeless and trying to improve themselves, or going through rehab, or have HIV, can stay for up to three years, so long as they have a job,” Pruitt says. “We went in and fixed the showers, which needed to be totally redone.”
Creating a Sense of Community
The Council’s annual charitable efforts, which extend beyond HomeAid-linked projects, include other remodeling acts of service. There are two annual scholarships (named after two longtime members Leo Meerman and Bill Carter). These efforts are a core aspect of the group.
Being a part of the community enhances the Council’s profile, but it’s also a part of the group’s moral fabric. “Values are an important part of our organization,” Pruitt says. “We intentionally appeal to values. We want to serve our community.” And just as when Harvey hit, these reoccurring events give members a chance to interact with the community and provide a service to a higher cause.
Camaraderie Over Competition
A challenge every industry organization inevitably faces is that its membership, at least to some degree, will be competitors. That’s certainly the case with the Houston Remodelers Council. However, the group has made an intentional effort to celebrate camaraderie over competition. “We introduce ourselves to new members and visitors, and encourage them to take part in activities,” Pruitt says. “We support each other. We’re a team.”
Council members are a resource for one another. “If one of us needs a framer, for instance, we can reach out to other members and they will connect us or help us find the labor we need,” she says. “We don’t look at it as being competitors.” Members tap each other for help and advice regularly.
Managing the Organization Well
The reason the Council has such interconnectedness, and is able to host events with substance, is that, frankly, the group is well run.
Specifically, it covers its financial obligations well, securing sponsorships and leveraging earnings from some events to pay for others. “Every single one of our luncheons is sponsored,” Pruitt says. “We have main sponsors and tabletop sponsors.” Basically, one big sponsor is responsible for the event, but other sponsors can “get in on the action” by having logos displayed on the tables. This most recent luncheon in March—which featured an expert speaking on the impact biophilia (i.e., the idea that humans want to connect with nature), health, and wellness have on home design—drew in five sponsors. The February luncheon with building inspectors drew in six.
“It’s not difficult for us to attract sponsors,” Pruitt says. “They know how active our Council and our membership is.”
With its annual garage sale, the Houston Remodelers Council earns money to help fund its yearly charity projects.
The luncheon is not the only sponsor opportunity either. “Sponsors cover all our events.” Sometimes that means covering the costs of events; other times, it means donating product. “During the Council’s annual garage sale, vendors and suppliers donate products to be sold,” Pruitt says. Even more clever is how the group uses those earnings. “The profits we make from vendor donations during the garage sale go to fund our charity events.”
There is not much waste in the Council, and all is done with the support of the GHBA. “Our builders association is a fantastic support.” It’s hardly a wonder the group won CADREs this year for Community Service Project, Public Relations, and Associate of the Year.