How did I get into the remodeling business?

People are often asked, 'How did you get into business?' Many times, it’s surprising to find out it all happened by accident.

March 31, 2000
Jan Williams, CGR, 2000 Chairman, NAHB Remodelors Council


Chairman’s Message: People are often asked, "How did you get into business?" Many times, it’s surprising to find out it all happened by accident. To understand why a civil engineer (my husband Harry) and a history/government major (me) would pass up traditional, safe careers for their own business with an 80-percent failure rate within three years, one must understand the driven nature of entrepreneurs.

We built our first house, the House of Tomorrow - designed by a Frank Lloyd Wright student - in a conservative, wood-shuttered community. When it didn’t sell, it became our first house and office. After 10 years of custom and speculation building with architect-designed, contemporary houses with no real profit, we knew it was time for a reality check.

Our assets were a reputation for quality work, a skilled work force, our good health, and our driven spirit. Our liabilities included poor financial systems, competing in the wrong market place, and a weak management team. We had never considered remodeling, but with escalating land costs, lower sales prices, and good existing houses in need of improvement we thought the market called for it.

We crafted our mission statement to reflect Williams-Builder’s commitment to provide a design/build service combining creativity, craftsmanship and affordable home improvement.

We hired a competent accountant, and like sponges absorbed all the management skills training available. We faithfully attended all NAHB conventions and, we didn’t realize it at the time, we started the first Remodelor 20 networking group.

We realize that to make a business grow one must become a coach and manager and establish a real management team. We wrote job descriptions, established incentives and commission programs, and started 401(k) programs. We grew our own people - commencing carpenter and foreman training programs using the skill test developed by the NAHB manpower program.

We were very successful. We acquired an office building and a design center, took vacations, spent money earned from discounting, and luckily, always managed to build a cash reserve. When crunch time came in the early 1990s, we lost two-thirds of our business, which quickly depleted our cash reserve. A scaled-down version of our company remained. With hard work and a great many hours spent in correcting sloppy procedures, we regained lost ground and have finished another successful year.

These days, the Internet and computers will change how you run your business, but in my opinion certain fundamentals never change:

You and your organization must have a passion for your business. You must have a clear, well-defined business statement that all your employees understand. You must surround yourself not with buddies, but with people whose talents and skills reinforce yours. You must develop a business system. You must continue to learn and grow.

Take advantage of the Remodelors Council - the CGR designation, Remodelor 20 clubs, educational programs and seminars. It’s been invaluable to our business.

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