Silver Lining in a Shrinking Market

To the residents of Long Beach, Calif., Zieba Builders, Inc. has been known as a luxury remodeler until the economy started to head south. Joe and Karen Zieba knew they had to do something quickly to change that image if they wanted to stay in business. In the midst of a shifting marketplace, they began to rebrand themselves in the public eye as a solutions-based remodeler, focus on face-to-face communication, strengthen their community involvement and educate young minds with engineering possibilities.

“Growth in this economy is kind of a nebulous word because our volume, like most people, has fallen off considerably from its height,” says Karen Zieba, vice president of Zieba Builders, Inc. “What we focus on are net profit and efficiency.”

Zieba Builders spent close to seven years creating the image as a luxury remodeler, but found that it began to work against them two years ago. Their leads fell off considerably as homeowners no longer saw luxury as a top priority.

“We had to shift our focus on rebranding ourselves as someone who is an expert at smaller projects,” adds Karen.

Rebranding themselves as a solutions-based design company, Zieba Builders brings the experience of high luxury work and attention to detail in terms of construction to all sizes of projects. The company now focuses on the problems of a remodel, aesthetic elements and addresses the budget. By addressing limitations like space, city ordinances and financial availability, the company designs solutions to the problems.

“Changing our focus seems to be paying off, especially in this market,” explains Joe Zieba, president of Zieba Builders.

What brought Joe to the NAHB was his inexperience on running a business. While searching for a resource to confirm he was making good, sound business decisions, he attended a custom builder’s symposium by the NAHB. From there he was introduced to the Remodelers’ Council and within two years he went from sole proprietor of his company, using shoeboxes full of receipts, to becoming incorporated with a fully integrated financial database, strong interviewing practices, 100 percent compliance with state and local construction and business codes, and running a profitable company with a good reputation.

“Our best business practice is face-to-face communication,” says Karen. “We try to have one of us or our carpenters make face time every day with our clients. By putting a person, instead of a company, in constant contact with our clients and the community it gives them a great deal of comfort.”

The Ziebas are involved with the community from organizing neighborhood block parties to raising money to rebuild a city park. They understand that by helping the community, it makes the area a better place not only for them, but also for everyone else.

Education is another area of interest for the Ziebas. When invited by a local Brownie troop to plan an activity, Joe and Karen used their engineering and educational backgrounds to give the girls a taste of architecture and space planning. The program was such a success, and the Zieba’s now grow and modify their program for different youth groups and try to teach it at least once a quarter.

“The goal is to really provide something to the kids that they wouldn’t ordinarily get in the elementary schools anymore,” says Karen.

Joe and Karen don’t want people to become discouraged by the news they see concerning the state of the industry. They have found a silver lining in a shrinking market allowing them to make new connections with people who would have been too busy five years ago chasing their tails trying to keep up with the work.

“It’s also given us a chance to reflect on the type of company we’re building and the kind of people we need to do it,” adds Karen.

Fast Facts: Joe Zieba, CGR, CAPS, CGBP, and Karen Zieba, CAPS

  • Company: Zieba Builders, Inc.
  • Location: Long Beach, Calif.
  • Years in Business: Started in 1988; incorporated in 2000
  • No. of Employees: 5
  • Industry awards and involvement: 2007 NAHB Chairman’s Award; 2008 Industry Icon Award; Karen is two-time past president of local council and continues to serve on the board and sits on the Public Affairs Committee at NAHB; Joe is two-time past trustee for NAHB and on the board of the local council for two terms.

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