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Business Observer Friday, Oct. 28, 2016 4 years ago

Reaching out

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Gilbert Design Build looks toward the future with a new name and second location.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributing Writer

Gilbert Design Build may have a new name and a new location in Sarasota, but the company has long ties to this area.

The Bradenton-based firm began 16 years ago as a general contracting company, Gilbert Construction, doing everything from new builds to additions and window replacements.

“We had some early success,” says founder Ernest Gilbert. “But a couple years in, we found that you can't be the best at everything. So we tightened our focus to work more exclusively on kitchens and baths.”

That led to the purchase of a DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen franchise in 2006. But when that 10-year agreement came to an end earlier this year, Gilbert chose not to renew. Two of his sons, Evan and Jarrod, had joined him and his wife, Jessica, in the business. The company gained a reputation for its quality work and integrity.
Rebranding the business as Gilbert Design Build put the family name front and center and highlighted one of the firm's major differentiators.

In many cases, homeowners remodeling a kitchen or bath might work separately with designers, contractors, plumbers, and other construction professionals. Gilbert Design Build operates under a single source of responsibility, with everything done in house. Customers start out working with one of the company's interior designers, and all supplies are ordered and work is done by other Gilbert Design Build employees.

“Part of helping customers have the best experience they can is not making them have to worry about different aspects of the job,” says carpenter and licensed contractor Jarrod Gilbert. “We want to walk with them from beginning to end. It really brings a completeness that helps the client feel a little more at ease about the project.”

Opening a second design center in Sarasota at the Expo on Clark plaza will help the firm reach more customers in the southern part of Sarasota County who didn't want to drive all the way to Bradenton.

“Ernest always says strike while the iron's hot,” says Evan Gilbert, who serves as the company's finance director. “With the economy improving pretty quickly, now's the time to go ahead and expand.”

The business had grown to a couple million dollars in revenue before the 2008 housing crash and subsequent recession. Downsizing to a skeleton crew of four helped it ride out the rough times. Things started turning around for the company in 2011. Its revenue and staff are now five times what they were in 2011, though the company declined to share specific numbers. Ernest Gilbert expects everything to double with the new Sarasota design center.

The family plans to add a couple dozen new staff members during the next 24 months to service the Sarasota location, with some positions easier to fill than others.

“We're all thankful for an improved economy,” says Ernest Gilbert. “But it has brought a challenge of finding the right people. There's a limited labor force. But we've made a decision that we'd rather ask a client to wait longer to do a job than bring someone in who is not up to what we feel our standards are.”

The company has started an apprenticeship program to help address that labor shortage.

“We need younger people like myself interested in this line of work,” says Jarrod Gilbert. “We want to give them the skills and teach them how to do things the right way, even if down the road they go to another company. The culture today stresses go to college, be a doctor, be a lawyer. I think it's often missed how enjoyable it is to work with your hands.”

Gilbert Design Build also offers free monthly seminars to guide consumers through the remodeling process, regardless of whether they work with the firm. And the family has taken what it learned from the recession to shore up for the next slow cycle in the industry.

“As long as you're prepared and know what you would do if something bad happened, then you can proceed moving forward optimistically,” says Ernest Gilbert. “We learned what we could do without. We learned how to streamline and be more efficient, which helps even when times are good. And we learned to appreciate the clients, because the clients are what allow us to exist in the first place.”

The Gilberts have been working with Grapevine Communications on the rebrand and to help get the word out about the firm and its new location.
“We've been told we're the greatest secret,” says Ernest Gilbert. “I'm tired of hearing that.”

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