Listen to Leaders

To be a business leader, you don't need The New York Times to remember you when you die, but you do need consumers to remember your company's name.

December 31, 2003


Kim Sweet

On the first day of December 2003, Gertrude Ederle died. In 1926, at age 19, she became the first woman and sixth person to swim the English Channel, the 21-mile stretch of sea between France and England. Despite a storm that lengthened her trip to 35 miles, she beat the existing record by more than two hours. The swim cost her most of her hearing, but she went on to teach deaf children how to swim. With her death, we lost a leader - someone who imagined the unimaginable (popular wisdom held that a woman couldn't swim the channel), planned and worked to achieve that vision with the help of the crack team she assembled, and inspired everyone around her.

The start of a new year is the perfect time to look to leaders past and present for ideas and inspiration. Take remodeler Patty McDaniel, president and owner of Boardwalk Builders. Her team's shared quest to capture its market niche, construct great homes, work with the best people and delight its customers earned Boardwalk a Silver Award in the remodeling division of the 2004 National Housing Quality Award program. Any remodeler trying to make the transition from working in the business to working on the business can learn from Boardwalk's story.

In this month's pages, you'll also find words of wisdom from some of Professional Remodeler's first crop of Benchmark Market Leaders. These 100 remodelers from across the country are leaders in their local markets but have great practices against which anyone can benchmark. In addition to asking for the factors in their success, we asked them to envision the future of remodeling. Here's a summary of what they had to say on the four topics that came up most often:

The economy: Taking a page from Alan Greenspan, these remodelers have a "cautiously optimistic" outlook for 2004. Most see the economic climate and, by extension, remodeling demand holding steady or slightly increasing from what they saw in 2003.

Positive short-term indicators include the stock market's rise, which is good for high-end clients with "discretionary" remodeling projects; 2003 refinances driving middle-market remodeling demand; and record-breaking home sales in 2003. The wild-card factors are the presidential election, global instability, interest rates and job creation.

Consumers: Clients, they predict, will do their own shopping online and demand a wider range of products and materials. Some of the home improvement frenzy, they say, will turn into do-it-yourself projects. The baby boomers, however, will be the industry's focus for years to come. Communication and speed will be essential.

Technology: No one expects technology to transform business overnight. Remodelers do predict more use of technology to streamline and improve communication, sales presentations, design, estimating and project management. Those who don't take advantage of technology might find themselves out of business or working for the competition.

Consolidation: Big-box retailers will dominate small projects and installed services, the Market Leaders predict. Many believe that the service and convenience of design/build or a full-service approach addressing every need related to the home will be the best alternative models for smaller remodelers.

Differentiation clearly will be a must for those who want to thrive, not just survive. Can your company be the first? The fastest? When things go wrong, will you re-imagine the situation and reinvent your company? To be a business leader, you don't need The New York Times to remember you when you die, but you do need consumers to remember your company's name.

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