Retirement Isn’t for Him

Leon Noel of Your Kitchen and Bath Design/Remodel in Roseburg, Ore., is several years past the age at which many people retire, but he still enjoys running the remodeling firm that he purchased in the 1990s after trying his hand at retirement for about six weeks and finding it not very stimulating.

The small general contracting firm that he purchased had revenues of approximately $180,000 per year. His modest goal was to triple the business in 10 years, something that he has more than achieved, growing the company into a $1.5 million business.

“Frankly, I’ve never looked back; I’ve enjoyed it, and I still enjoy it,” says NAHB’s December Remodeler of the Month.

Aside from giving up retirement to run a remodeling business, Noel is atypical in other ways. He “never wore the tools,” he says, and even today his employees jokingly keep power tools out of his reach.

Noel’s background, however, is not entirely unrelated to the industry in which he now finds himself. For 30 years he was vice president of operations of a wholesale building materials distributor. As such, he worked with DuPont to fashion a program to connect kitchen and bath designers and dealers with Corian fabricators.

The fabricators were “wonderful technicians but terrible salespeople,” he notes. Nevertheless, he says, they were essential components of the business.

“In my experience, it takes three kinds of personalities to run a business: one being an entrepreneur, the other is a manager, and the last is a technician. The technicians are really the ones who make the company, he adds.
Of his employees, Noel says, “they can make a mistake here, but never fail. They’re the ones who have made this company, not me.”

Noel’s extensive background in sales has stood him in good stead in the remodeling business. “If you lose a sale,” he says, “it’s either because of poor preparation or poor presentation. We do a lot of training on preparation and presentation. I think that customers are really looking for value and a reason to do business with a contractor.”

But there is a huge difference between selling as a distributor and selling to homeowners as a remodeling contractor, Noel says. The relationship with contractors or building materials dealers is a long-term relationship based on trust, but when you’re dealing with consumers, you never have a chance to make a second impression. He also notes that remodeling contractors often have a poor reputation collectively and consumers often come to the relationship with a feeling of distrust.

One of the things that sets Your Kitchen and Bath Design/Remodel apart is its 1,800-sq.-ft. showroom. No other contractor in the county has a similar facility, Noel reports. It creates the impression that the business is stable and established, he explains.

However, the showroom can intimidate would-be clients who conclude that the firm is out of their price range. Noel always tells them that while Your Kitchen and Bath may not be the cheapest, it is the best.

Another factor that Noel feels has contributed significantly to the success of his kitchen and bath remodeling enterprise is participation in a peer group networking program. “I think belonging to a peer group is advantageous for anyone who wants to be successful and wants to be in business for a long time,” Noel says. Systemize, organize and standardize are the underlying principles of the group to which he belongs, and ones that apparently have worked well for him.

Fast Facts About Leon Noel:

  • Company Name: Your Kitchen & Bath Design/Remodel
  • Location: Roseburg, Ore.
  • Year founded: 1993
  • Industry involvement: Member, Umpqua Valley Home Builders Association, 16 years; served on board of directors from 1994-2002; member, National Kitchen and Bath Association
  • Mottoes: Service Is Where It Begins; CARE (Customers Are Really Everything)