Remodeler of the Year

Shortly after Josh Baker and Larry Weinberg founded BOWA Builders in 1988, they had a vision that their small remodeling company could grow into something big if they kept their focus on integrity, customer service and continual improvement, among other things. Almost 19 years later, the company that produced $300,000 in revenue that first year will pull in roughly $38 million in 2006 with a ne...

November 30, 2006

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Snapshot

Shortly after Josh Baker and Larry Weinberg founded BOWA Builders in 1988, they had a vision that their small remodeling company could grow into something big if they kept their focus on integrity, customer service and continual improvement, among other things.

BOWA Builders CEO Larry Weinberg (left) and President Josh Baker.  Photography by Bill Geiger

Almost 19 years later, the company that produced $300,000 in revenue that first year will pull in roughly $38 million in 2006 with a net profit percentage of just over 8 percent. Although those core values have changed very little over the years, the most important element in its exponential growth and success — including being named Professional Remodeler's 2006 Remodeler of the Year — would appear to stem from one company trait in particular: the endless quest for improvement.

"That's always been our mentality," says Weinberg, CEO of the McLean, Va.-based remodeling firm and custom home builder. "In a lot of what we do — our goals, our vision — the tweaking and continual improvement have certainly been a key. It's just a process of reevaluating and realigning the model and moving forward."

It's a goal that's easier said than done. Many successful remodeling companies hit a ceiling at a certain volume — whether it be $1 million, $5 million or $10 million — and remain there. One of the remarkable things about BOWA is that this has yet to happen.

"One of my personal mottos is 'never peak,'" says Weinberg. "If you go back to your high school reunion, sometimes you see the most popular guy, and he peaked at 18. And you see the same thing in college. At different levels, you even see that from a company standpoint. There are companies that kind of get there and then they've made it and they peak. One of our goals and one of my personal goals is to never peak. It's certainly part of the corporate culture here."

Culture of success

Most of the growth stages BOWA has gone through included adding employees, so early on it became apparent that employees are the organization's most valuable resource. The company has been recognized as one of the best remodeling firms to work for (Professional Remodeler, 2005), having the best bosses (FORTUNE Small Business, 2005) and being a great place to work (Washingtonian Magazine, 2003). Some of the benefits it offers employees include stock options, profit sharing, job sharing, quarterly bonuses, 401(K), telecommuting, flex work hours and tuition reimbursement.

"We've focused on corporate culture and how important that is to the success of a company," says Baker, president of BOWA. "We're not a company that's just about the profits. We've got people who are the first ones in their family to ever own a house. We have people who have sent their kids to college for the first time in the history of their family."

BOWA's management team takes great pride in the company culture it's created.

One of the goodies BOWA offers its people is the opportunity for career advancement and personal development via its employee review process. Quarterly goals urge BOWA personnel to achieve specific performance objectives in return for both monetary and professional gain.

"Perhaps what I appreciate most is the opportunity for growth — both professional and personal," says team coordinator Stefani Wong, who has worked at BOWA for 12 years. "On the job and off, BOWA encourages employees to challenge and enrich themselves through training, mentoring and goal setting. Whether it's learning new carpentry skills, pursuing a passion in green building or training for a marathon, the BOWA team does everything it can to ensure our employees succeed."

At quarterly meetings, the company hands out a Core Value Award, which reinforces the values — heroic customer service, continual self-improvement, integrity, hard work in a fun atmosphere and sharing the success — that has helped BOWA achieve such substantial growth in the competitive Washington, D.C., market.

"BOWA's unwavering commitment to quality craftsmanship and heroic customer service is profound," says Director of Marketing Kathy Kelly. "At every level of the organization, employees are committed to these principles, and examples can be found every time you turn around. This culture is in part what brings our clients back time and again, and our employees take great pride in that."

On a hiring spree since the mid-90s, BOWA has all but perfected the art of hiring quality people. Through the use of personality surveys and computer tests for office workers, for example, the company strives to take subjectivity out of the hiring process. Once employees are hired, they attend an orientation session, which ingrains the company's core values immediately.

An employee handbook (including an online version with live links to all company documents) was created earlier this year to help new employees get up to speed more quickly and have ongoing access to company best practices. The handbook was produced by a committee including representatives from production, sales, human resources and upper management and includes a job description for every position in the company, plus company procedures and checklists for every process, and all company documents, forms and contracts.

Best practices

Sales and marketing are two key areas of strength for BOWA, which has managed growing revenues nearly every year of its existence.

Ongoing training for the eight-member sales team includes weekly meetings for sharing best practices and on-the-job experiences, plus frequent sessions with outside professional trainers.

"We do a consultative sale," says Baker, who has been the company's sales manager throughout its history. "And I think that's a lot different from some of the order takers and ex-field guys who are now sales people for some companies. We give them the tools in terms of training to be professionals. If you look at our volume compared to the number of sales people, we have numerous people who sell over $5 million a year and a couple who sell over $10 million a year. These are superstars. They're super-trained and we've set them up to be successful."

Most of the sales staff BOWA hires have an architectural background, so they thrive in the consultative sales environment. All sales trainees spend a year at the side of a seasoned salesperson.

"It's very much hands-on training," says Baker. "There aren't any classes; it's essentially a shadowing program. They are sort of a fly on the wall observing and then actually becoming the lead sales person throughout the year as they become more confident and competent."

BOWA's market is structured into geographical areas, and each sales person oversees one territory. This allows the sales people to become experts in their own market, and to provide valuable insight to Baker and Weinberg for strategic planning.

"People that are at that professional level are very driven," says Baker. "They want to be able to be creative in how they develop business and want to make sure the effort they put forth is going to eventually produce. And to really do that, I think you need a clear idea of what their territory is. This has been very successful for us."

BOWA focuses on the high-end market in the Washington, D.C., area. Its average job size in 2005 was $786,000.
Top photo by Greg Hadley Photography
Bottom photo by Bob Narod Photography

The marketing strategy takes a page from this book as well. BOWA operates two separate marketing plans: one is conceived and executed at the corporate level over its entire market; the other is planned and implemented separately in each geographic area.

"We allow the various sales people in their geographical areas to create budget and marketing for their particular area," says Baker. "And then we do some global, corporate marketing as well. We've been doing it this way for about two years. Everything we do is geared toward accountability and making sure everything is aligned appropriately. Why shouldn't the folks who know the territory the best have a good sense of where the dollars that are going to be spent will have the most impact to benefit them? It just seems to make sense."

In May 2006, BOWA instituted an on-time guarantee that it had been pondering for some time. Because the company's sweet spot is the high-end market, guaranteeing finished projects on time presented a fair amount of risk. The solution BOWA devised came in the form of a partnership agreement of sorts between BOWA and the client. At contract, the customer is informed that they must meet all project preparation and product selection deadlines — and stay under a certain percentage of change order increases — to qualify for the guarantee. In return, BOWA guarantees the project will be finished on time or it will reward the customer with a luxury trip to an Exclusive Resorts destination.

"I felt that if we wanted to make a statement, and this is what everybody hates about the remodeling industry or the custom home, that their project is taking so long, then that's got to be our guarantee," says Weinberg. "Talk about putting our money where our mouth is. But it had to percolate for a while because at the ultra-high end, a lot of the schedule is driven by the client and whether their selections are made on time or whether they bring in a designer that wants to design as you go. There's so much that we can't control."

Going forward

Heading into 2007, one of BOWA's goals is to turn its latest geographic expansion, in Loudoun and Fauquier Counties, into a vital profit center. The company opened a new office in Middleburg, Va., in October 2005 after receiving numerous inquiries from past clients and new prospects in that area, and it's already proven to be a good move.

"It's getting busier and busier," says Baker. "We've got a couple projects going there now and more on the books. We're going to do a nice bit of business there in 2007. We're certainly doing more marketing. We're actually doing some advertising. We're supporting more golf tournaments and private schools and that sort of thing because we need to make more of a splash."

To gain some brand recognition in the new area, BOWA even took on a rare commercial renovation, at the Middleburg Tennis Club. It even had several hundred towels made with both the BOWA and Middleburg Tennis logos on them because the club's laundry service would be down.

"It's a little bit out of our sweet spot, but it's one of the main social clubs in the town, so there's a lot of visibility," says Weinberg. "It's the kind of thing that in the heart of McLean we probably would have shied away from. But when you're breaking into a new market, and it was an architect that we've been wooing there, and it's a sort of a rescue project, which is higher risk. But if we can come in as the white knight, it's good for us, especially in a new market where we're trying to make a name for ourselves."

 

Snapshot

BOWA Builders
Founders: Josh Baker, President; Larry Weinberg, CEO
Corporate headquarters: McLean, Va.
New sales office: Middleburg, Va.
Type of company: High-end residential remodeling; custom homes
Years in business: 19
Full-time employees: 85
Sales history (total installed revenue):

2002 $22,258,000
2003 $21,518,000
2004 $26,579,000
2005 $37,468,000
2006 $37,401,000


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