David Smith – Smithouse
David Smith was majoring in history at Penn State University when he began working at a home renovation company during school breaks. Seeing how happy this work made people, he realized the positive impact he could have on people’s lives—and pivoted his life.
“It helps that I realized I have sawdust in my blood,” he tells Blueprint with a laugh. “I immediately knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
For the past two decades, Smith has been the owner and general manager of Smithouse Design + Build. As far as he’s concerned, he’s made a career out of doing what he loves—transforming people’s homes through his full-service design and build firm in Cockeysville, Maryland. He’s also made a point to invest in his employees and make sure they’re happy, so the company can become the best designer and builder in Baltimore.
This is also why he holds a company call every Wednesday morning with all 45 team members. He checks in on project statuses and client morale and goes over production details. The meetings also include a soapbox section at the end, where one member of the team shares an interesting or amusing fact about themselves.
“Construction is my passion, sure, but more than that, I enjoy how it becomes a path for me to better people’s lives from our clients to our team members,” Smith says.
A ladder of training and support at every rung
For Smith, ensuring that his team is composed of the top, most highly skilled talent—and that they are passionate about their work—is step number one to satisfying clients’ needs and wants. To do this, he’s constantly looking for new trainings to implement.
For instance, in 2022, he signed a two-year contract with LinkedIn Learning so employees can take courses that appeal to them on a professional and personal level; they can learn skills in conflict resolution or on how to play the piano. He also continually develops and improves the Smithouse fundamental courses, which team members can access in the company library on LinkedIn Learning. These courses cover topics such as “asking good questions” or “leadership skills” and can be from 15 minutes to 90 minutes in length.
“Investing time, effort and money in people isn’t just the best way for a business to succeed,” Smith says. “It also shows that we’re never content with status quos, never content to remain where we are but to follow our core values of constantly growing and improving.”
This isn’t always as simple as it seems. According to Smith, training carpenter assistants is particularly difficult as they are beholden to tight project deadlines. Yet, he’s been more intentional about supporting them and recently began monthly trainings for them on key carpentry tasks such as base trim, crown molding or window installation.
To further guide neophytes and veterans alike, in the third quarter of 2022, he and the human resources team launched “Next Level Program.” This provides potential candidates and current employees with a roadmap of every position at the company and its requirements and responsibilities. It shows, for instance, the path for a carpenter’s assistant to become a project manager.
“Trainings and career development support like this is something very different and new, not just for Smithouse but for the industry as a whole,” Smith says. “It’s a learning process for all of us, but it’s worth it because we want this to be a major part of our culture moving forward.”
Renovating more than tangible structures
Smith’s passion for building a strong culture extends beyond the workplace into the community with Smithouse’s charitable donations and initiatives.
For the past two years, during the Thanksgiving and holiday season, he’s sent out surveys to 50 of Smithouse’s key clients asking them to choose three charities from a list of local organizations. He says 25 percent of the annual budget for charity goes to this campaign, which was $10,000 in 2022. The top three choices receive a donation; the one that obtains the most client votes receives the largest portion. In 2022, Smithouse made donations to Baltimore Life Coaching, Maryland SPCA and St. Vincent’s.
“Initiatives like this display our Smithouse values and our commitment to giving back to the community,” he says.
He—and Smithouse by extension—is also deeply involved with the “Better Baltimore” initiative, which is a term the company has coined, as those at Smithhouse don’t want to be just the best in Baltimore but the best for the city. The first two quarters of 2023 were spent on the planning and development phase of this new initiative, which hasn’t yet launched. According to Smith, the goal is to create a proactive plan that involves establishing relationships with organizations across the city to provide lasting support to the residents.
“We want to make a positive impact on the lives of those who live in Baltimore, to expand access to wonderful homes and job opportunities,” he says.
When he’s not working, he’s usually running to his five children’s sports events. Also, as a devoted animal lover with three dogs, he often volunteers with pet adoption organizations.
Yet, no matter, he always has Smithouse in the back of his mind.
“We are our clients’ biggest advocates, sacrificing time and money if needed—we jokingly call this mentality our ‘marketing budget,’” Smith says. “In a largely ‘word of mouth’ industry, we firmly believe that satisfied clients are one of the best investments we can make—the other is my team members—so that Smithouse becomes a powerhouse helping people and communities achieving their goals and dreams.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. VI 2023 Edition here.
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