Remodeler of the Year: Lindus Construction

Entrepreneurship, partnering, and a dose of trial-and-error characterize a family company’s three-decade rise.

December 16, 2012

Fearless. Nervy. Bold. Somewhere on the spectrum of self-confidence is a sweet spot where Kevin and Emily Lindus settled in 1979 and started a family business in rural Woodville, Wis. Thirty-three years later, Lindus Construction’s annual business is $18 million and auxiliary branches of the enterprise flourish across the Midwest.

Gumption isn’t the company’s only defining characteristic, however. Pride of workmanship is another. Sound management. Progressive business practices. Astute marketing sense. And glue. “I am the glue. I keep everything together,” said company matriarch Emily Lindus, who then laughed good-naturedly during an interview.

All of the above—including congeniality—have helped catapult Lindus Construction into the first ranks of remodeling enterprises. It is Professional Remodeler’s 2012 Remodeler of the Year.

Let’s start a company

Times were generally tough in 1979 with gasoline prices about to leap above a dollar a gallon and interest rates and inflation rising into double digits. It was hardly an ideal entrepreneurial moment, but Kevin Lindus had time on his hands: His brother had laid him off and then an electrician did the same.

“So we started the company and were poor for three years after that,” Lindus recalls matter-of-factly, as if any unemployed person would have done the same. The company was run out of the couple’s rural home, with Emily keeping the books and the barn becoming a warehouse. From Woodville, the company soon moved to Baldwin, about five miles west of Woodville and 20 miles from the Minnesota-Wisconsin line.

Lindus Construction LeafGuard Family Tree


LeafGuard St. Cloud, Minn.
Sold to Tom Borresch, a partner to Lindus Construction at the time.

LeafGuard Rochester, Minn.
General Manager is Scott Wynia. This franchise is currently owned by Kevin And Emily Lindus.

LeafGuard Central Iowa, Granger, Iowa
Started by Lindus Construction and sold to Joe Smith in 2007 who has since opened a branch in Omaha, Neb. (see Anataomy of a LeafGuard franchise).

LeafGuard SE, Muskego, Wis.
Sold to the General Manager, Valorie Corsolini in 2010.

LeafGuard NE, Neenah, Wis.
Will sell on January 1, 2013 to General Manager Josh Keeney and his wife Amy.

LeafGuard of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis.
General Manager is Andrew Larson, the Lindus Family plans to sell the franchise to him in the upcoming years.

For the next dozen years, Lindus crews worked exclusively in Wisconsin, mostly siding houses, doing a little electrical work, and building decks. After customers requested it, the company began to replace windows and remodel kitchens. It moved through the ‘80s this way, doing whatever work was needed to keep a stream of income from drying up completely.

Lindus Construction proved resilient. By the early 1990s, it was doing $2 million a year in business. Then the company’s fortunes spiked dramatically.

Kevin Lindus established a routine reflecting his positive business outlook. He asked each employee to devote one hour a week to poring over trade magazines in search of new opportunities. At a weekly meeting, salesman Scott Detmar, who retired from Lindus Construction in 2005, pulled out a clipping about a franchise opportunity called LeafGuard.

It was the brainchild of Pittsburgh, Penn.-born Herb Englert, who started a metal roofing and gutter company in 1966. In 1993, after years of development, he introduced LeafGuard, a one-piece leaf and debris-shedding gutter system. It came with a lifetime guarantee. Lindus Construction quickly signed up to franchise the gutter system and took a mighty leap forward as a company.

From 7,000 to 70,000 feet

Lindus Construction was contracting about a hundred jobs a year before becoming a LeafGuard representative. The first year with the gutter system, an extra 35 jobs were billed, with about 7,000 feet of guttering installed. The next year, LeafGuard work jumped to 70,000 feet, the following year to 200,000 feet. It has settled in as a 400,000-500,000-feet-a-year piece of the business.

Anatomy of a LeafGuard franchise


Professional Remodeler recently spoke with Joe Smith, President of LeafGuard Central Iowa, Granger, Iowa on how he began his remodeling career, thanks in part, to Lindus Construction.

Since purchasing the LeafGuard franchise from Lindus Construction in January 2007, business has been booming for Joe Smith, President of LeafGuard of Central Iowa, Granger, Iowa.

Smith first became involved with LeafGuard in the summer of 1997 working as an installer alongside his cousin Andy Lindus. 

“I have been working in the remodeling industry in one way or another my whole professional life,” says Smith. Eventually, he purchased the LeafGuard franchise in 2007 using an SBA loan combined with some of his own equity.

“It has been very successful and I am glad to be a part of the LeafGuard franchise,” says Smith. “We would not be where we are now without the help of great team and a great partnership with Lindus Construction. They have been a valuable asset to us when dealing with growing pains. They also answered our questions that allowed us to grow from a company with sales starting below a million in 2007 to more than 6 million in 2012.”

According to Smith, revenue has been increasing, partly because his franchise added roofing in the last two years. “But LeafGuard sales have been up as well,” says Smith. “Overall, 2012 was a great year.”

Smith expects great things for his franchise in 2013 as well. 

“We are projecting a 15 percent increase in sales year over year,” says Smith.

“It grew so fast,” Emily Lindus says. She facilitated some of the growth after attending a business convention in Atlantic City in 1995. She returned with a production manager hired away from another company. At the prompting of the new manager, the company expanded west into Minneapolis-St. Paul. Today, LeafGuard accounts for 38 percent of business out of the Twin Cities office. The other business is divided among remodeling, design-build, roofing (both metal and asphalt), siding, windows, and decking.

Expansion quickly ensued, beginning in St. Cloud, Minn., where a son, Andy, and his wife were enrolled in college. To help pay their way, the younger Lindus sold and installed the guttering. After he returned to Woodville, that first branch of the company was sold, but the in-out business pattern was not repeated. Today, besides the Twin Cities office, Lindus Construction has LeafGuard franchises operating in Rochester, Minn., Des Moines, Omaha, and, more recently, Green Bay, and Cincinnati.

In the early days of expansion in 2001, the company bought a company in Milwaukee and was taught a valuable lesson: Not every expansion move is smooth. “We learned one of the hardest lessons ever about buying a business,” Andy Lindus, the firm’s chief operating officer, says. “It took us the better part of two years to clean up install messes they made and to overcome bad service work they did. It really was a nightmare.”

Besides coming away with a greater appreciation of due diligence, the company learned that hiring good branch managers was no guarantee of performance. “We realized that whoever we hired, unless they had some kind of ownership we couldn’t make the whole wheel turn,” Andy Lindus says. So when the company opened its next two branches, each manager became a partial franchise-holder. “Now everyone has some skin in the game.”

Emily Lindus believes franchising LeafGuard through partial ownership is the most successful business model among the estimated 72 LeafGuard dealers in the country. “You can almost see the initiative come to the surface,” she says. “People approach us now and say, ‘Would you please consider us the next time you branch out?’”

Marketing a growing company

When Kevin Lindus—now company CEO —was finding work at night and building it the next day, the company’s marketing was limited to occasional ads in a local newspaper. That changed when the LeafGuard juggernaut began to propel the company forward. The market potential for the guttering work required the company to gear up its sales force and launch a sustained marketing program.

Lindus Construction Fast Facts


MANAGEMENT:

Kevin Lindus: Co-Founder/Chief Executive Officer
Emily Lindus: Co-Founder/General Manager
Andy Lindus:  Chief Operating Officer

REVENUE PROGRESSION:

1979            Start-up
1993            $2 million annual business volume
2012            $18 million annual business volume (Baldwin Offce)
                    $30 million annual business volume (All Offices)

ANNUAL NUMBER OF JOBS:

Early 1990s    100 per year on average
1994               135, approximately
1995               450, approximately
1996               1,100, approximately
2012               2,400, approximately

HEADQUARTERS:

Baldwin, Wisc.

BRANCH LOCATIONS:

Minneapolis, Minn.           
Des Moines, Iowa          
Rochester, Minn.           
Green Bay, Wisc.          
Omaha, Neb.           
Cincinnati, Ohio           

TYPES OF JOBS:

Gutter Installation; Window Replacement;
Asphalt/Metal Roofing; Steel/Vinyl/Fiber Cement Siding;          
Home Improvement Remodeling; Construction Management;
Design-Build, Insulation; Decks; Rainwater Harvest Systems;
Solar Panel/Thermal Energy Systems; and Roof Snow/Ice Dam Removal

FORECAST FOR 2013 (percentage of revenue increase):

5-10 percent      Lindus Construction (Baldwin)
10-20 percent    Lindus Construction enterprises (all offices)

Encouraged by his mother, whom he considers a marketing mentor, Andy Lindus diverted company funds into promotion of the company and its products. He soon found more mentors.

“I was 19 and Dad took me to Las Vegas for a seamless siding convention,” he says. There he heard Rick Grosso, who had become the largest replacement window retailer in the country before becoming a motivational speaker. “I hadn’t really had any sales training and I became something of a sales junkie.”

He subsequently became acquainted with Rodney Webb, who is a sought-after sales coach to the home improvement industry. Andy Lindus gave Webb his first gig as a standalone speaker and established an enduring friendship. “He really is a good friend of mine. We talk one-on-one. He comes to the office twice a year. He even does ride-alongs. Rodney really has helped me a lot, teaching me a better way to do design-build selling.”

Another promotional channel is AM radio. After doing one or two home improvement shows a year on Minneapolis station WCCO, the company was asked to turn it into a weekly program.

“It was the most coveted radio program in the metro area and they loved our company because we always got a good response when we were on,” Emily Lindus says. “When an opening for a weekly program became available, we were the first company they came to. Andy had been telling us to do it, so we decided to give it a try for a year.”

That was three years ago and Andy Lindus says the ongoing program has “really grown the remodeling and construction side of our business.”

However, the Internet is the No. 1 source of leads, with more than 1,200 leads per year out of the Baldwin office. Andy Lindus believes the website’s potential is far from maximized.

“I’ve started taking money from the other parts of advertising, such as direct mail and radio, and kicking it to our website (www.lindus.com),” says the chief operating officer. “We have a person who is going to put 40 hours into all of our sites to get them to rank higher. In fact, we are going through a whole redesign of the site. We want to update our You Tube videos, which have attracted 102,000 views and have really grown this year.”

Five different video presentations are planned for the site next year. The titles to the existing videos—most of which star Andy—are constantly changed so they search better, a vital consideration in the SEO era. He says he is beginning to see results from all the tweaking.

Using MarketSharp software, Andy Lindus also is overseeing a year-long e-mail campaign. It systematically re-contacts leads and sends old customers one or two letters a year. Other than leaning on software to tickle leads and reassure old customers, Lindus Construction does not operate a heavily systematized office. In fact, Andy Lindus characterizes his system as trial-and-error. “Everything we have is a system: If it works, then we keep doing it over and over again.”

But Emily Lindus believes the core system for the company is its utter refusal to let go of a person once he or she has become a customer.

“We get our customers into our system and we never lose them,” she says. MarketSharp is a key tool, but she says the more important element is that “we follow through. Each person here has a job to do to take care of our customers. Whether they are making appointments, supervising the work being done, or doing the follow-up, we never forget that customer. I think you could ask any person in our company and they know that to be true.”

How thoroughly is customer satisfaction ingrained in the culture of Lindus Construction? Andy Lindus makes a personal phone call to any customer who has expressed dissatisfaction with a job. This helps explain why the company enjoys an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.

Company with a future

What down economy? After tightening its belt as the economy collapsed, Lindus Construction has just posted two of the strongest years in its history with business growth averaging 5-10-percent a year. Including the company’s scattered LeafGuard franchises, the growth rate probably is nearer 10-20 percent per annum, Andy Lindus says, with revenue for the entire enterprise approaching $30 million and employees numbering about 200.

Some of the stable growth is a consequence of Lindus partnering with industry-leading companies, such as LeafGuard, GAF and Englert metal roofing systems, and Pella windows and doors. But the company’s independent design-build and remodeling services also are a driver. Andy Lindus believes it is reasonable to expect the construction company to do $30 million in annual business. He says strategically growing the core business to that level will ensure that quality workmanship is not sacrificed along the way.

The company’s environmental line—solar panels and rainwater harvesting roofing—suffers from the pricing and narrow profit margins that bedevil many green products. However, Andy Lindus says the company is committed to making them a profitable component of the business.

So confidence still is surging in Baldwin. The company’s workmanship now carries a lifetime warranty. Its workforce numbers nearly 100 people. Canada is being eyed as a new market. Perhaps most important of all, LeafGuard gutters keep shedding leaves and attracting customers.

The entrepreneurial instinct that gave birth to the company in a high-risk era seems fully intact 33 years later, still guiding management as it consolidates and grows the company’s core and tertiary enterprises. The innovative “ownership” model that Lindus Construction created for branch managers to stabilize and energize its outlying offices continues to pay dividends up and down the vertical spectrum.

All in all, Lindus Construction is a remodeler undaunted by economic slumps and challenges, and quite willing to reinvent itself, if it comes to that, to safeguard its future. PR

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