Taking Over the Family Business

It was 25 years ago that Scott Mosby bought a $1,300 workers’ comp credit from his father, effectively taking over the two-man family construction business.

November 30, 2008
Executive Summary

Scott Mosby has built Mosby Building Arts from a "mom and pop" operation to one of the largest remkodelers in the St. Louis area over the last 25 years.
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

It was 25 years ago that Scott Mosby bought a $1,300 workers’ comp credit from his father, effectively taking over the two-man family construction business. After nearly 40 years in business, his dad was ready to take a step back, and Mosby was “just smart enough and young enough to realize the name was valuable.”

Fast forward to today and Mosby is overseeing Mosby Building Arts, a 70-employee company that will end the year with $9.5 million in 2008 sales.

“I wound up in a place in 1983 where I had to sit down and figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up,” Mosby says. “I decided 'I’m really good at this and I really like this.’ I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

When Mosby took over the company, he never imagined he’d end up with 70 employees or a company approaching $10 million in annual volume. While he knew he wanted to expand on what his father had started, initially he wasn’t sure how to go about doing it. Even when growth came, it was secondary to building the kind of team he wanted.

“I’d love to tell you it was a plan,” Mosby says. “It was a desire for me to work with smart people.”

Mosby knew that good employees would want to be where there was a chance to grow professionally. In a small remodeling company, that’s hard to do because you can only advance so far before you slam right into the owner. That was what had caused Mosby to lose his best employee in the mid-1990s when his “right-hand man” left to work for another remodeler that provided better opportunities for him.

“I’ve got a bunch of smart people behind me, so I grew because I wanted to keep those good employees,” Mosby says. “My growth was to keep talented employees in the boat rather than competing against me.”

On the air

One of the biggest factors in the growth of Mosby Building Arts has been the weekly radio show Scott Mosby has hosted on KMOX radio for 13 years. For three hours every Saturday, Mosby answers home improvement questions from listeners.

The greatest benefit of the show, Mosby says, has been in recruiting employees. Many other professional remodelers and contractors tune-in to the show. Those former self-employed contractors often make the best employees.

“The business model has been for 10 years that I want to be the place that worn-out remodelers go when they’re tired of working 16-hour days,” Mosby says. “Our most extraordinary, very successful field people were typically in their own businesses and would listen to me every week out of curiosity.”

Mosby has a lot of respect for the talented craftsmen in remodeling, and that respect comes through on the radio, Mosby says. So when those craftsmen have enough of working for themselves, they often come to Mosby Building Arts.

The radio show also helped increase business, but not as much as you might expect. Everybody knew who Scott Mosby was, but it wasn’t until Mosby Building Arts started advertising on the radio station four years ago that the company saw a marked increase in sales from the show.

“It was an incredible branding experience, but through my experience I learned the difference between branding and marketing,” Mosby says. “KMOX is considered the voice of St. Louis, so I would probably say I am the voice of remodeling in St. Louis, but people didn’t call until I started looking like a guy looking for a job.”

Once he started advertising, though, the response was immediate. The branding from the radio show had made Mosby a well-known name and once it was supplemented with traditional advertising, the company had phenomenal success.

“The business has grown over the last four years because of us repeatedly telling people, 'This is what we do. Please call.’”

Radio is now the No. 1 source of leads for the company, even outpacing referrals. The company has also been successful generating leads from the Web, with print advertising a distant fourth.

The company originally created the Web site, www.mosbybuildingarts.com, in 1997 as a way for Mosby to promote the company on his radio show without violating FCC rules by directing listeners to the site for more information on various topics. Over the last several years, the company has used the site as a marketing tool on its own to attract younger clients and to make sure the company doesn’t become too dependent on the radio show to drive new business.

“I visit a Mosby job site, and if the employees are 35 or younger, they’re listening to Sirius, not broadcast radio,” Mosby says. “They really don’t watch much on broadcast TV, and when they want something, they go to the Web.”

The site, which Mosby describes as “good, not great,” is loaded with information, including a large section devoted to the radio show. Site visitors can submit a question to the Mosby team, and the answers are posted under the Frequently Asked Questions section of the site. Mosby spends a few hours a week answering questions that come in through the site.

Toby Weiss, the company’s marketing director, also has a blog on the site that the company uses to keep visitors up to date on what’s going on with the company. Weiss also blogs outside the company at http://tobybelt.blogspot.com, where her following helps bring attention to the company, Mosby says.

“We wanted a Web site where they can experience Mosby Building Arts,” Mosby says. “Outside of the radio show, our marketing is primarily the Web site and blogging.”

Planning for the downturn

Although the company has been able to grow volume over the last few years (from $6.2 million in 2006 to $9.5 million this year), Mosby is trying to be proactive to make it through the slowdown.

An important part of that has been what the company calls “solution sales” — small repair jobs that don’t require any architecture or design.

“Basically, we’re back to doing what we used to do 20 or 30 years ago,” Mosby says. “Even if someone’s house is worth less, they still need to maintain it. That’s where our strength is now.”

Those smaller jobs will represent $3 million to $3.2 million, or about a third of the company’s revenue this year. The average job size is less than $20,000, compared with the average design/build job at $152,000.

As for those design/build jobs, the company is continuing to emphasize its service and quality as an important differentiator. Another difference, which Mosby has had for years, is that the company has architects on staff. It’s been a useful marketing tool over the years.

“The reason we are licensed architects is mostly for marketing,” Mosby says. “People have this idea that remodelers are all crooks, so I just won’t be one of those guys.”

Mosby figures that he would need to have designers on staff anyways, so why not spend the extra money to have architects and reap the benefits. Plus, with the large projects the company builds, there would most likely be an architect involved anyway. Even with plans from an outside architect, the Mosby team would still end up doing a lot of design work.

“Every business that didn’t serve us adequately, we went into that business, whether it was architects, painters or carpenters,” Mosby says. “That’s how we became a full-staff remodeling company.”

How President Scott Mosby spends his average 60-hour week
Direct selling/reviewing contracts 20 hours
Meeting with key members of management 10 hours
Reviewing company numbers and planning 4 hours
Marketing and product planning 6 hours
Visiting projects 2 hours
Long-range planning 2 hours
Hallway discussions with co-workers 2 hours
E-mail 6 hours
Answering Web site questions 3 hours
Weekly radio show 5 hours


Executive Summary

Mosby Building Arts, Kirkwood, Mo. 
President: Scott Mosby
Specialty: Design/build 
2007 projects: 191
2007 volume: $7.3 million 
Projected 2008 volume: $9.5 million
Employees: 70
Founded: 1947
Biggest challenge: Managing the overhead costs of 70 employees while delivering high-quality work at a price the market is willing to pay.
Web site: www.mosbybuildingarts.com

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