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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 31, 2015 5 years ago

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Two home-remodeling firms on the Gulf Coast recently earned recognition as being among the best in the nation. They share some of their secrets to success.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

Executive Summary
Companies. Beattie Development and Abbie Joan Fine Living Industry. Home remodeling Key. Growing bigger is not necessarily better.


It's the little things that count.

Just ask Paul Beattie. A $50 drywall repair for a new customer in 2011 turned into a contract to build a $350,000 waterfront home in Cape Coral.

It's that kind of attention to the job — no matter how small — that earned Beattie Development of Cape Coral a spot in the 2015 Big 50 awards from Remodeling magazine. Hanley Wood, a respected construction industry tracker, publishes Remodeling.

Beattie and Abbie Joan Fine Living in Naples were the only two remodeling construction firms on the Gulf Coast to gain that magazine's national recognition this year. Only one other firm in Florida was recognized: Alta Home Remodeling in Miami.

For Beattie, the award is especially sweet because he launched his company in the depths of the recession in 2009 in Cape Coral, the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis on the Gulf Coast. He started it even as his wife, Donna, was pregnant with their second child and had notched a successful career with large homebuilder Centex.

“Everybody told me I was dumb to stick around,” Beattie chuckles. “Tell me I can't do something, and I'll do it that much better.”

Now, you'll have to wait until spring to get on Beattie's roster of projects. The same holds true for Abbie Joan Fine Living, which has a loyal following in Naples. “They're happy to wait through our backlog,” says Abbie Sladick, president of Abbie Joan.

You don't have to be a home remodeler to gain insights from Beattie and Sladick's business practices. “They are role models in your area,” says Craig Webb, editor in chief of Remodeling.

Building relationships
One out of six home-remodeling businesses fails, giving the industry a bad reputation. “Almost any time a professional remodeler walks into a room, they start with a deficit,” says Webb.

That's why it's important for remodelers to establish a bond with customers that goes beyond trying to sell them a service. “When you're doing full service remodeling, the relationship is everything,” Webb says.

For example, once a year Sladick entertains her clients with an elaborate dinner and party at her estate home in Naples for 100 people. “We put up tents and we do a sit-down dinner,” she says. Each guest receives an invitation in a special box. “There's entertainment, amazing food and drinks and a couple surprises,” she says

Sladick no longer buys advertising in local publications, preferring to spend much of her marketing budget on the annual dinner party and other events for her customers. She estimates she spends $100 per person on the dinner party alone.

Throughout the year, Sladick also hosts other events, including cooking classes and a ladies' tea party. “We give them great social experiences,” she says. “In four years, we have done no advertising.”

Referrals are critical for growing any business, but especially in remodeling.

In the early days of his business, Beattie took on a $7,500 remodeling job at The Forest Golf and Country Club in Fort Myers. He even lost money on the job because he had underestimated the costs.

But word spread in the Forest. “I just closed my 61st job in there,” Beattie says.

Adding services is another way of building stronger customer relationships. For example, Sladick recently launched a concierge home-management business that takes care of customers' homes while they're away. That's important in Naples, which has a high ratio of seasonal residents who spend summers in northern states.

Sladick says the concierge service will check on a home while residents are away and even pick them up at the airport and shop for groceries when they return. “We know them so well during the remodeling process,” Sladick says.

Sladick also launched an interior-design firm in response to her customers' demands. “My clients said, gosh, I don't want to get involved with anybody else,” she says.

In Cape Coral, Beattie did the same. “I have an interior designer on staff and a showroom,” says Beattie, who also opened his own cabinet company. “I did that to maintain quality,” he says.

Now, his customers can shop for all their interior fixtures in one place. “I do everything I can in-house,” he says.

Mission control
Key to success is managing growth. Instead of riding the wave of the recovery by adding lots of employees and taking on many more jobs, both Beattie and Sladick say it's important to maintain control.

That's the case even though the backlog for each firm stretches out to next spring. “I'm looking for sustainable growth,” says Beattie.

Last year, Beattie notched more than $6 million in revenues and he estimates $5 million this year. But his profits have doubled in recent years. “It's not all about the revenue,” he says.

“We know how much work our team can comfortably do,” says Sladick, whose company has been in business in Naples for 16 years. “A good percentage of our clients are willing to wait.”

Maintaining control over the amount of business also translates to a happier boss. “I want to have a business I love and enjoy my clients,” says Sladick.

Sladick has established good relations with her subcontractors, but she gathers them together in person for breakfast once every six weeks at her office. “We go over challenges and work schedules,” she says. “It's opened a whole new line of communication.”

For Beattie, who grew up serving people in his family's restaurant businesses in upstate New York, controlling growth allows him to remain hands on. “I'm still involved in every sale. I visit my job sites every week,” he says. “I don't want to lose that. That's how I want to keep my business.”

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