Stan Ehrlich, owner of Depot Homes in Clinton, N.J., is leaving remodeling to start a financial-planning company. Ehrlich has given seminars across the country and was featured in Professional Remodeler’s premiere issue. He offers lessons he has learned over the past 15 years:
I started my remodeling business in 1985, when the New Jersey building boom allowed anyone, even a college professor like myself, the opportunity to construct almost anything and make money. Over time and business cycles, the necessity to learn how to run an efficient, successful business was born.
I learned how to go out on sales calls, use our customer base for high-percentage referrals and analyze cash flow. I learned how to dissect money-losing jobs, which jobs to avoid and which jobs to pursue.
In addition, I learned how to share. I attended remodeling shows and eventually spoke at them. I read any publication I could find on how to run a remodeling business. I cultivated good subcontractors and learned that price was secondary to performance. And I learned that good customers appreciated performance more than lower prices. I learned that certain customers could never be satisfied and had no intention of allowing me to earn a decent living. So I got new customers who appreciated what I knew, what my men could do and how a disciplined team could satisfy their residential problems.
I made some lifelong friends, mentored some young remodelers and found out not everyone was receptive to my way of thinking. I also discovered that remodelers who weren’t willing to change or learn often failed. If they somehow managed to keep their business going, they didn’t make much money. But above all, they had very little personal satisfaction from their hard work.
After 15 years and some wonderful honors, I’ve decided to close my business. I do so because I have options. My education allows me to open other doors and pursue new ventures. And as I approached 50, I realized it was time for another challenge.
There are good people in this business. I met many, worked with some and have heard of yet others. For those who might be interested, I leave you with the following thoughts:
Even during your busiest day, take a moment to think about tomorrow. For every minute you spend planning, I promise you’ll benefit multiple times.
Don’t forget about your family. I got to watch my children grow up. I attended their sporting events on a regular basis. If your customers or employees don’t understand the importance you place on your family, get new customers and hire new employees. Don’t react to what they say you need; do what you want.
I never had a customer lose their life of suffer a terminal illness if their bath, kitchen or other remodel was finished a day later. Learn what’s important in life. Learn when to press the panic button and when it’s OK to realize there’s always another day.
Don’t be obsessed with sales. You have a greater chance of your business failing if you have too much work than if you have none at all. Take those jobs that will add to the bottom line of your business. You’ll soon find that taking work to keep your men working is counterproductive. And taking a job because you think your customer will be a conduit to new business is usually fruitless.
I enjoyed owning a remodeling company. I’m proud of the work we did and the people who worked for me. If you don’t feel the same way, change how you do business. Or do you have another choice?