Craig Carpenter says he is not the jack-of-all-trades, he’s the master of one—and that suits him just fine.
On the cusp of celebrating a 30-year anniversary in the home remodeling business, Carpenter remembers starting up Custom Remodelers in Lino Lakes with brothers Kevin and Chad and older sister Corinne. Back in the early days, growing the business meant taking on almost every remodeling project, relying on any available subcontractor who showed up to work and collecting money personally to keep the cash flowing. But it soon dawned on the Carpenters that the business couldn’t thrive by trying to do everything all at once.
Simplification led to success, Carpenter says, and the family focus shifted to customer care and streamlining the business model to specialize strictly on siding, roofing, windows, doors and a deck or two. Now, the Minnesota-based remodeling specialist has served more than 50,000 customers, employs 130, and owns a 32,000-square-foot facility where it stocks specialty supplies in bulk—an amenity they say their competitors aren’t able to offer.
“We found it is better to specialize in an area and be very good at what you do,” he said. “If you can deliver what you promise and do quality work and handle the tough questions up front, you won’t have to provide excuses at the end.”
All in the family
Nothing is worse during a Minnesota winter than having to get your windows replaced. Gusting winds and freezing temperatures are enough to make any contractor swear like a sailor while trying to get a window to fit.
Having worked at another remodeling company early on in their careers, the three brothers decided to take matters into their own hands and start their own business.
Chad focused on marketing and lead generation; Craig headed up sales; Kevin took on manufacturing and installation questions; while Corinne handled the books. In no time, they roped in their brother-in-law who owned a manufacturing plant close by. With a couple of clever business partnerships with the Ohio-based siding company Alside, and Lindsay Windows, they became a supplier to themselves and a strategic reseller to others in the construction industry. One major advantage was that they could buy in bulk when their competitors could not, Carpenter says.
Locked and loaded, Custom Remodelers focused on their two specialized products: customized windows and high-quality vinyl siding.
With a customized touch, the family now builds each customer’s windows to spec with whatever species of wood is desired, through their exclusive partnership with Lindsay. The siding they offer, Carpenter says, is cut to a specified 16-foot length exclusively for them, is attractive and without a fake wood grain, has fewer seams, a smooth matte finish and a rigidity bead on the locking flange with no bubbling. All of the pre-construction is done off-site at the warehouse, which means installers do not need saws to make the repairs on-site.
Storm fronts and customer service
When winter storms steamroll through the Great Plains and damage buildings, Carpenter says what appears to be a blessing for the construction business is, in reality, a curse.
Faced with a potential shortage of skilled workers, it creates a backlog of business and affects their direct sale process, putting them out-of-touch with non-storm-related business. When the skies clear, those customers might have moved along.
“Normally it’s a good problem for companies that are the ‘storm chasers,’ but it throws our business out of whack,” Carpenter says.
To establish order amid the chaos and deliver customer service beyond whatever external factors affect the business climate, the company took the initiative; it assigned two members of their team to address only storm-related concerns, allowing the rest of the sales team to attend to business as usual. Carpenter says they also made a big commitment to train employees in best practices and upgraded computer software to make the whole customer-service experience seamless.
Ultimately Carpenter says once customers realize their home is an appreciating asset, their salesforce (which often grows during a recession ‘like fish jumping into a boat’) is often welcomed back to make the quality investment into the property.
“Where before it was survival, we are concentrating now on the quality of our work and customer satisfaction,” Carpenter says, commenting that steady growth is the long-term goal. “If we concentrate on the customer’s experience, the rest will take care of itself.”
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