A Good Time to Start Again

The legendary ad man Leo Burnett, whose Chicago-based firm went on to create Tony the Tiger for Kellogg’s, the Marlboro man for R.J. Reynolds, and the “friendly skies” campaign for United Airlines, among others, launched his firm in the 1930s, in the depth of the Great Depression. Educated working people were selling apples in business suits on street corners. So you can imagine the audacity, then, of Burnett offering visitors to his office a bowl of fresh apples. He was thinking big. He was thinking ahead to a period after the Depression ended. And in many ways his success was defined in the crucible of economic hardship.

I am not suggesting that the times we are experiencing are anything close to what happened back then. We are, however, in many parts of the country, experiencing a slowdown that feels pronounced. The question is: What is your plan? How will you stand apart from your competition? How can you make your team better, more efficient? Do you have the energy and desire for success that will push you successfully through to better times? Will your firm be in the best position to capitalize on the next broad expansion in business?

As I talk to remodelers, many of the most successful firms came up in similar times as these, the early 1980s. Today’s economy is not as bad as back then either. Jobs were hard to come by. Labor was cheap. Double-digit interest rates and high inflation made home improvement loans very expensive. Remodelers who navigated these waters successfully earned their chops and honed their systems and processes to an extent that thriving in normal or even good times was second nature.

Today, with low-interest rates, and scads of remaining home equity to be tapped, (albeit shrinking as house prices moderate), the times are still relatively good. But consumer confidence is lower, so you’ve still got to hustle to win the jobs and make them pencil out to a decent profit.

Many remodelers of a certain vintage are more than capable of handling the challenge posed by this moderation of activity. They’ve been there and done that. And they’ll do it again. For the younger set, who only know the go-go era of the late '90s and the 2000s, I am suggesting this is your time to really earn a spot in this business. Yes, you may, at this very moment, be losing money on many of your jobs. You may be barely getting by, but keep at it. Network through a peer group or your local NARI or NAHB Remodeler chapter to meet others who may ultimately offer solutions you never knew you needed to learn.

I am convinced that, in the long run, it is better to start or relaunch amidst a challenging environment. You are forced to learn that nickels and dimes saved lead to whole dollars on the bottom line. You learn that discounts for early pay are real money. You learn how to focus your team on the end results. See the opportunity. It is your chance to build a business that will go the distance.