Mark R. Kessler, CAPS, CGR, CGB, CGP, says he knows of no magic bullet that will guarantee the success of a remodeling business.
Yet, the president of Kessler Construction Co., Inc. in Loveland, Colo., has been in business for 20 years, and his remodeling and insurance restoration business employs 11 people. The company was founded by his father, Mark J. Kessler, who passed away two and a half years ago.
“What’s kept us going for 20 years is dependability, reputation and trust,” he says. “I’m not flashy and I’m not a salesman, but I believe if you do what you say you’re going to do, that’s what [clients] want — dependability.”
The bulk of Kessler’s jobs these days is insurance restoration work, and most of that work is performed by in-house staff. That staff, in addition to Kessler, includes a bookkeeper, and estimator and a project coordinator to handle the insurance-related paperwork. Kessler’s company performs its own drywall work and has its own carpenters, painters and laborers. “We do as much in-house as we can,” Kessler says. “We’ll sub out the usual mechanical, electrical and plumbing work.”
Insurance restoration work may not be for everybody. It requires extra effort and attention to detail. “Essentially, we have two clients. One is the homeowner, and one is the insurance company. We have to try to keep both of them as happy as possible,” Kessler says.
In addition, he says, insurance restoration can be a lot more detailed than standard remodeling. “With insurance restoration there’s a lot more paperwork; that’s probably the biggest challenge,” Kessler says. “We have to be very detailed and document everything along the way. Once we’ve finished and get a sign-off from the homeowner, we have to work with the insurance companies to get paid.”
Another difference is that while remodelers generally work with clients who want to embark on a project, Kessler’s insurance restoration clients have been forced into doing something by circumstances most likely beyond their control. “They have special needs. They need to know how long they are going to be out of their home,” he says.
“Whenever anybody does have damage in a house, you’re trying more often than not to match the materials that existed. We probably have a bigger materials database than the average remodeler when it comes to how many vendors we deal with. We don’t just stick to one or two brands of windows for instance. We’re constantly researching and finding out where to get this brand or that brand,” Kessler says.
Ducks in a row
Also, with a routine remodeling job, the customer likely has already gone out and researched products and they know what they want. When it comes to insurance claims, the customer hasn’t done that, Kessler explains, “so that’s where we step in and help them get their ducks in a row.”
And while most insurance restoration customers don’t want to become repeat customers, reputation and customer satisfaction is just as important to Kessler as to any other remodeler. The insurance company presents the homeowner with a list of preferred contractors and having a good reputation with friends, relatives and neighbors of the prospective client is crucial.
“It’s very important to us to have a good reputation with the insurance companies. We’re representing them to the homeowner, and they don’t want to use a contractor who is going to make them look bad,” Kessler says.
Continue to learn
In addition to dependability and trust, Kessler advises that, above all, remodelers should continue to learn. “If you don’t know something, find somebody who does. Surround yourself with people who know what to do,” he says. “There is just no way in this business that you can know everything there is to know about construction.”