Making a Difference

Jim Reif, president of Jim Reif Builders, Inc. in Francis Creek, Wis., started his business 15 years ago with the belief that he could make a difference. Working for a home builder, he saw a lot of things he would do differently. “I left there thinking I could do it better, make a difference and really make people happy,” he said.

“Our business has just grown twofold, because of the way we do business - treating people the way that they want to be treated and the way they should be treated. One of the things that I teach my employees and trade contractors is that, when we go to remodel someone’s home, we’re a guest in their home and we need to act like it,” Reif says.

Prompt and effective follow-up communications are both the key to success and the best business practice, according to Reif.

“If someone calls you, return their call promptly, whether it’s a new customer, current customer or someone you did work for in the past,” he says. “I had a gentleman we did work for in 2002 recently call with a little problem up on the roof. Even though it’s out of my written warranty, we’re going to send someone over there to take care of it. He’s not really concerned about the problem because he knows we’ll take care of it.”

To expand on follow-up communication, Jim Reif Builders implemented a new program two years ago. This new program employs a former customer to go out at the end of each project to interview the homeowners. Questions involve what was good or bad about the project so that Reif can work with his employees and subcontractors to improve the process.

“He sits down with them for about 45 minutes and tries to get all the little things out of them because it’s all the little things that really bother people, like not locking the door a couple of times or forgetting to sweep up one day,” Reif says. “We get those details and make sure we correct them. We e-mail those surveys to our trades so they can see what’s going on. We also get the positive, so if they really liked the plumber because he was very personable, we can see that too.”

The strategy has served Jim and his team well; they have a client satisfaction rating above 95 percent.

Word-of-mouth advertising also is important to Reif. “When you’re in a smaller community, you’re going to see customers at the grocery store all the time, and the last thing you want to do is hear them complain about what went wrong,” he says. “You want them to talk favorably about you and the work you’ve done and tell all their neighbors. That’s marketing right there, and you don’t have to buy that.”

Reif’s marketing efforts don’t stop there, however. In the past 18 months, he hired a public relations firm that specializes in small businesses to assist in press releases, filling out award information, developing radio and print ads as well as launching a successful billboard campaign. The company has also started a referral rewards program that rewards past customers with a free dinner for referring a new client.

Community is important to Reif. He and his company support numerous charity organizations throughout northeastern Wisconsin, frequently getting involved personally. Jim Reif Builders has sponsored and supported over 30 organizations and causes, including the American Heart Association, American Red Cross, the United Way and the Wisconsin Maritime Museum.

Another foundation for his success lies in his involvement with the local National Association of Home Builders group, Reif feels. Over the last 14 years he has dedicated time and expertise to the Manitowoc County Home Builders

Association (MCHBA) in Wisconsin, currently serving his second term as president. In this role, he helped to organize and coordinate the 2009 MCHBA Home Show and the Parade of Homes which involves a significant commitment of time and management skills.

In addition, Reif has been a member of the Builder 20 group, has received the MCHBA Builder of the Year Award twice and won two of the 2008 Wisconsin Builders Association Remodeling Awards.

“Being part of the NAHB definitely means that you’re a leader in your field because you’ve got that accessibility to all the latest information on products, research, business practices, ongoing education and legal advice,” explains Reif.

“I think people who are not involved and don’t belong to NAHB are missing the boat. It makes better business people and ultimately a better product for the customer.”

Fast Facts About Jim Reif

  • Company: Jim Reif Builders
  • Location: Francis Creek, Wis
  • Years in business: 15
  • Industry Involvement: Member of the Manitowoc County Home Builders Associations, currently serving second term as president; Builder of the Year twice; member of the NAHB Builder 20 group; currently finishing his CAPS certification