Remodeler of the Year: Mosby Building Arts

While always open to new management ideas, project excellence and customer satisfaction are unwavering goals for this year’s Remodeler of the Year.

December 15, 2014

Co-owner Judy Mosby, Chief Operating Officer Mark McClanahan, and President/co-owner Scott Mosby of Mosby Building Arts, 2014 Remodeler of the Year

Ever since he bought his father’s St. Louis remodeling business in 1983, three things have shaped Scott Mosby’s company: a commitment to top standards of product and service; the drive to achieve consistently high levels of customer satisfaction; and a thirst for new ideas and industry wisdom to make Mosby Building Arts a successful business, supportive employer, and effective community advocate.

Mosby Building Arts scores high on all three fronts, earning recognition as the Professional Remodeler 2014 Remodeler of the Year.

 

Tools of the Trade

Samuel Mosby launched the Mosby company in 1937, building cabinets in his garage. By the 1960s the company had expanded into full-fledged remodeling, with Samuel designing and building room additions. In 1969, when Scott was in high school, he began doing carpentry for his dad as a summer job. He loved it. Over the years he continued to help his dad, in the process gaining expertise in construction. After earning a college degree in finance and real estate appraisal in 1976, he joined the Mosby company full-time as a carpenter. Then, in 1983, Samuel decided to become a full-time home inspector. For the $1,300 price of worker’s compensation insurance, he sold the business to Scott.

“I realized the value of the Mosby company name and reputation” in the local Kirkwood, Mo., area, Scott says, and he harnessed that reputation, plying his carpentry tools as sole proprietor of a home repair and remodeling business. But when he met Judy in 1986, it became clear that his tools in administration were lacking. As accounting manager for a commercial construction company, Judy was surprised to discover Scott’s bill paying system—-invoices organized in stacks on the floor for payment. Soon after, when Judy married Scott and took over accounting and administration for the company, “we took a big leap forward,” says Scott, acquiring “robust accounting software.” 

For Scott, the software was a tool to strengthen his company. “I think of things as tools,” he explains, whether they are software programs, management systems, marketing programs, or team building concepts. Acquiring smart ideas, innovations, technology, and other business tools over the years has put Mosby on a path of continuous improvement and sharp-edged competitiveness.

How do the Mosbys find these valuable tools? They look for gaps in their knowledge or company skills—that is, indicators of what they don’t know. And they are self-described education junkies, soaking up tips and ideas from other remodelers and from business consultants. Until they went to their first national remodeling event in 1994, says Scott, “we were reinventing the wheel for every business method.”

Meeting experienced remodelers from around the country and attending industry convention seminars showed Scott and Judy that “there are folks who can help us and expose us to so much more. The world got bigger.” Mosby quickly became active in industry associations and attended remodeling conventions, taking advantage of the opportunities to network, learn, and share. Scott says, “I really went to school. Trade shows were my college; peer groups, such as the Remodeler 20 Club, were my graduate school.” 

He’s earned numerous industry credentials, from Certified Graduate Remodeler to Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist and Certified Green Building Professional. He’s served on the board of home building, remodeling, environmental, and charitable organizations. In each of these areas, he hones his knowledge and shares ideas with other professionals.

 

Marketing Advances 

Because of the company’s local name recognition and reputation for quality work, Mosby maintained volume in the early years without any formal marketing. All leads came via referrals. Judy says the company rolled out one annual marketing initiative: banana bread. She made about 300 loaves to give to past clients and vendors at the end of each year. When the gift list grew to 500, she decided that enough was enough. It was then that Mosby Building Arts began more formal marketing efforts, and the real growth began. 

In 1996 a major local radio station, KMOX, was looking to start a weekly call-in program on home remodeling. With his remodeling knowledge and ease talking to people, Scott became host—-and he’s hosted the three-hour show every Saturday since. “I became the new expert; it gave us a strong brand,” he says. “We had rocket-like success,” growing from a volume of $1.6 million in 1995 to $2.5 million in 1996 and $3.3 million the next year. When Mosby Building Arts set up a company website in 1996, Scott was able to refer listeners there for information. The website features a home improvement information library, a blog, and a place to sign up for a Mosby e-newsletter filled with tips.

As a radio personality, Scott was paid to stand in booths at home shows. After a few years, he began manning sophisticated home show booths for his own company and greeting show attendees there to draw in new leads for Mosby Building Arts. Today, the home show booth for Mosby Building Arts and its Right Bath division features a bathroom built to scale and a stage where Mosby staff offer presentations on an array of home remodeling topics. 

Mosby Building Arts acquired shop space for construction materials and job staging as early as 1985, but Scott and Judy continued to run the company from their home office until 1999. Moving to a commercial location gave us “more presence in the community,” explains Scott. The company opened two more locations around town before consolidating the entire operation in one Kirkwood, Mo., building in 2008 to improve efficiency and to convey an image that fit the size and capabilities of the company. Mosby has no showroom; instead, the headquarters features a product selection center and a design team that can turn clients’ wishes and preferences into customized CAD designs.

In 2010 Scott and Judy were ready to take the company to the next level of marketing and business management. Through a networking connection, they met Mark McClanahan, a young executive with a track record of marketing success and business leadership in the music industry. He and the Mosbys clicked, and his skills seemed a good complement for those of Scott and Judy. McClanahan joined the company as marketing manager, quickly boosting leads by 20% with a new marketing program featuring television spots. Having settled in at Mosby Building Arts and gaining the trust and support of the staff, McClanahan became chief operating officer in 2011. Two years later, he brought in a crackerjack marketing pro, Kate Ewing, as marketing director. 

Mosby hosted client focus groups, taking away the message to communicate more effectively about its warranty and client relations department. The company tailored and expanded its print advertising to reach more segments of its target audience, updated its television spots, and aired them on additional channels and high profile programs, including a local Olympics sponsorship. Radio advertising shifted from pre-recorded spots to live endorsements. With associates dedicated to social media, Mosby increased client engagement through Houzz, Facebook, and Twitter.

 

Business Acumen

Scott says, “We’re always investing in infrastructure,” mobilizing tools to strengthen company operations. In 2004 Mosby bought ACT project tracking and client communications software, then invested $40,000 to customize it to align with Mosby systems. Even then, says Scott, the company found it was adjusting its processes to fit the software rather than the other way around. So three years ago Mosby Building Arts wrote its own software, using the skills of an in-house IT associate. “The software follows our processes,” Scott says, and seamlessly links field and office personnel through project monitoring and management processes. “It’s more sophisticated than any program we could buy,” says Scott, and it supports systems that have proven their effectiveness for the company.

Scott won’t argue that he’s very good at both construction management and sales. But when company revenues plateaued at $6.8 million in 2005 and 2006, he and Judy realized it was time to delegate some management responsibilities to others. They promoted a gifted project manager to production manager, allowing Scott to concentrate on sales. In 2007, revenue climbed to $7.3 million.

Then, with the economic downturn, “We went over the cliff,” says Scott. Despite his rainmaking talent, company revenue plummeted 24% in 2009. Scott and Judy reached out to McClanahan not only for marketing help but also for strategic planning leadership and organizational control work they did not believe were their own strong suits.

He got started right away. In 2011 he facilitated a three-day strategic planning retreat where Mosby leaders drafted a blueprint for proactive business planning, tactical controls, corporate organizational structure, and personnel management systems. The strategic plan laid out short- and long-term goals and identified initiatives to achieve them. The group formed teams to implement the ideas, and set up a system to measure progress toward implementation.

McClanahan introduced regular leadership training, sometimes provided in the company’s monthly management meetings. He launched a schedule of companywide staff meetings three times a year. The scheduled meetings “reinforce trust and lead to better productivity,” says Judy. At the meetings, observations and questions from field and office personnel have helped Mosby Building Arts fine tune company practices when needed to maximize efficiency, productivity, and customer satisfaction. 

McClanahan instituted performance contracts for all employees that outline their objectives for the year. The contracts provide direction for employees and are “tools to help run the company,” says Scott. In weekly, one-on-one meetings and in several regular reviews throughout the year, the employees and their direct supervisors keep track of achievements, monitor skill development, and, if appropriate, adjust the contracts. Managers coach and mentor employees if needed to help them succeed. The emphasis is on achievement, not fault-finding. In this and all other aspects of the Mosby Building Arts culture, employees work to realize the company’s core values. Called ICART for short, they are: integrity, commitment to excellence, accountability, respect, and teamwork.

 

Expertise and Specialization

After visiting the company in August 2013, remodeling business consultant Mark Richardson suggested Mosby establish an advisory board to harness knowledge and ideas from people with expertise not fully represented by the staff. The company now has an advisory board with three outside members—an experienced exterior remodeler from another state, an ace in finance and accounting, and Mark Richardson. Scott and Judy are on the board too.

Richardson also recommended the Mosby organizational chart be revamped to clarify roles and streamline reporting relationships. McClanahan agreed. Across the top of the chart is a horizontal band that lists managers of corporate-wide disciplines such as finance and accounting, corporate marketing, and technical systems administration. In the last two years, McClanahan has enriched that roster of management experts by adding new positions for a part-time chief financial officer, a human resources manager, and the marketing director.

Emanating from the corporate band is a series of vertical bands, each showing positions within one of Mosby’s remodeling divisions. The number of these divisions continues to grow. Design-build came first. In the early years, Mosby was so busy doing design-build projects that, when clients needed small jobs, the company referred them to other contractors. Then Scott realized, “It was about the client, not the size of the job.” In order to say “yes” to homeowners, whatever the remodeling request, Mosby opened a division in 1989 to handle home repairs and small projects. That division, now called Solution Sales, greatly broadens Mosby’s service capabilities, and accounts for annual revenues exceeding 50% of what the design-build division brings in.

Within the design-build division, Mosby added the first licensed architect to his staff 10 years ago. Having staff architects “differentiates us as a firm,” says Scott, providing a superior level of design capability and enabling the company to handle all plans processing and stamping in-house. Again, the idea was to have a full complement of services on tap to meet client needs.

Recently the company identified a small-job niche that represents high demand and growth potential. Mosby responded by launching a third division, Right Bath, in 2013. The concept is to deliver quick updates to standard-size, 5x8 bathrooms, revamping them in a week with new fixtures, fittings, and finishes. The company plans to open Right Kitchen in 2016 to target a similar niche—fast, affordable kitchen facelifts within existing walls. Mosby will launch an exteriors division in 2015.

The decision to add all the new divisions is based on three factors. First, clients trust and rely on Mosby for all of their remodeling needs, and Mosby wants to be there for them. Second, with a broad base of capabilities, Mosby is positioned to grow with market demand, while having the diversity to stay strong despite fluctuations in remodeling business sectors. Third, Scott and Judy believe strongly that nobody is good at everything, but everyone is good at something. Specialized divisions enable field employees to do what they do best and love, putting most of their time and energy to what Scott calls “the highest and best use.” The benefits extend even to the remodeling tools, because employees need to carry only the equipment required in their specialty. “It simplifies internal operations,” adds Scott. “There’s no training needed in exteriors, for instance,” because the work is being done by crews who are experts in exteriors. “We are in the most efficient place, devoting our time to what we do best.” 

 

Forward Thinking

The Mosby Building Arts mission statement commits the company to “make a positive difference in people’s lives every day.” That includes not just clients but also employees and the community at large. Mosby helped provide accessible housing for local victims of gun violence and, through Rebuilding Together St. Louis, teamed up with other local contractors to construct a house for a veteran. The company actively supports Toys for Tots, the St. Louis Crisis Nursery, and other nonprofit organizations. Scott readily mobilizes Mosby resources to help community causes, and likes to spearhead wider volunteer efforts as well. “He does not grab the ring,” says Judy. Still, his generosity of spirit pays forward in community repute. Mosby has received many local and national awards for community service as well as quality remodeling and business management.

The company shows equal dedication to its employees. “There are a lot of careers involved” at Mosby Building Arts, says Judy. Scott says the company has put together a team of managers, with McClanahan at the helm, that offers “the best shot of success” for everyone in the company, even after the Mosbys retire. “Sustainability of the enterprise is what drives our succession planning.” 

McClanahan says this forward thinking and positive company culture has translated into “a very low attrition rate.” Mosby Building Arts is a successful company positioned for long-term growth. The Mosby team is poised to make that continuing success happen, and to share in its rewards. PR

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