Building on a Tradition

Mike McGowan, CGR, CGP, CAPS, president of the McGowan Corp. in Binghamton, N.Y., doesn’t remember waking up one day with the knowledge that his destiny was to become a remodeler, but it’s not surprising that he did.

His father was Ed McGowan, CGR, the sole National Association of Home Builder’s (NAHB) Remodeling Hall of Fame inductee in 2003. The elder McGowan, who died in 2005, was a senior life director and former Area II vice president.

He played an important role in the development of the Remodelors Council’s Certified Graduate Remodelor (CGR) program. He was also past chair of the board of trustees of NAHB’s Remodelors Council.

Ed McGowan started McGowan Corp. in 1959, and the company has gone through a number of transformations since then, adapting to economic and demographic changes like any successful remodeling firm, Mike McGowan reports.

At one time the firm had three divisions: remodeling, roofing and siding, and new housing. But the market in Binghamton changed dramatically some years ago with the end of the cold war. The city, McGowan relates, had a significant number of high-tech, defense-related employers, and many of those jobs were lost.

Strange as it may sound, those events may have lessened the impact of the current economic downturn and the bursting of the real estate bubble experienced in other parts of the country. The good news/bad news scenario is that property values never appreciated to the extent they did elsewhere, nor have they fallen as drastically, says McGowan.

Just as economic changes have buffeted the remodeling industry, successful remodelers have had to adjust in other areas as well. Clients used to be interested in the final product, McGowan says. They wanted a family room, and they wanted to know when it would be ready.

Now, it’s about the experience, too. “We spend a lot more time keeping in touch with people about what’s going on and on cleanup,” McGowan says. “It used to be customers didn’t really care about the process. They understood there was going to be a mess.”

Green remodeling is another area where McGowan is actively involved. “I’m a big proponent of what I call ‘practical green’ — green that makes dollars and sense. We analyze almost everything we do for a payback and try to steer our clients to what makes sense economically,” he says.

McGowan also is dialed in to other trends in the remodeling industry. He’s currently vice chairman of NAHB’s 50+ Housing Council, which addresses the particular needs and market represented by an aging population of homeowners.

While change is inevitable in the remodeling business, there’s also a case to be made for not changing what has worked well in the past. For McGowan, one of those things has been being involved in professional organizations, notably NAHB.

His allegiance clearly has a precedent in his father’s commitment to professionalism and education. “When I was younger, I tagged along to all of the NAHB meetings. I met remodelers from around the country,” he says.

Indeed, McGowan’s advice to a remodeler just starting out in the business is to get involved. “Take the CGR classes and learn all that you can. If you’re going to make it a profession, treat it like a profession,” he says.

Community involvement, for remodelers like McGowan, often goes hand in hand with participation in industry groups. He’s currently serving as president of his local Rotary Club, and he’s been a part of many community service projects initiated by his local home builders group, the Southern Tier Home Builders and Remodelers Association.

An important lesson to be learned here is to change when you must but preserve the traditions that have served your company well. Mike McGowan obviously has done that.

Fast Facts About Mike Mc Gowan

  • Company: McGowan Corp.
  • Location: Binghamton, N.Y.
  • Founded: 1959
  • Industry Involvement:
    Southern Tier Home Builders and Remodelers Association (STHBRA), president, board of directors
    New York State Builders Association (NYBSA), president, director
    STHBRA Governmental Affairs Committee
    Broome County Planning and Economic Development Advisory Board, chairman