Staying Small and Liking It

Being big and growing doesn’t always spell success for a remodeling company. Charles Copeland, CKBR, president of CMC Remodeling, Kansas City, has built himself a profitable company doing just the opposite. He’s chosen to remain small. And with approximately $500,000 gross revenue in 2007, Copeland keeps his gross profit at around 36 percent.

Copeland started out in the sheet metal industry and after working in a commercial kitchen shop for 10 years, he began buying rental properties and fixing them up. When people took notice of the quality of work he was doing, he began to get offers to take on remodeling projects. From there, his business grew and became CMC Remodeling in 1979.

When Copeland and his wife began to start their family, his wife quit teaching. As the sole bread winner, Copeland set a cost-of-living benchmark and a lifestyle goal that didn’t require him to work 80 hours a week. He decided to price accordingly to make enough gross and set his profit margins high enough to be able to, in essence, support his family by himself.

After about 10 years of making his business work, Copeland’s next step was to take himself off the jobsites. In order to do that he would need to hire employees to turn things over to. “Usually they were people that had had their own businesses, remodelers, and for whatever reason had decided to move on from that or couldn’t make it at that,” explains Copeland. “So they had the experience of running a business, of being able to do the skill level of work, but maybe not the business side.”

CMC Remodeling was taking off and Copeland now had four employees. The amount of work was such that it kept everyone busy and Copeland found himself putting in more hours, but not making more money. Then in 1996, for reasons he’s not even sure of, his business dropped down to nothing for one year.

“I went back to working with my hands again, for about a year,” says Copeland. “I came out of that and proceeded to hire one and then two lead men, move back out of the field myself, and stayed on top of running the business instead. So partly by plan but partly by nothing that I chose to do with that bad year, I backed away from the bigger business, ended up smaller and more successful.”

Copeland attributes much of his success to controlling costs and keeping projects to about two at a time. He uses a private office at home with a separate entrance to keep down overhead. Being smaller and not taking on too many jobs at a time helps him also keep a more watchful eye on material purchases and breaks down cost categories so Copeland knows exactly where all monies are being paid. Copeland adds, “It doesn’t mean that we need to charge less just because we’re smaller.”

Copeland also feels that wearing lots of hats in his business is allowing him to be successful at the level that he’s at now. He works at sales and estimating, being a business owner, production manager and a part-time designer. He’s not hiring people to do those tasks and instead pays himself to do those things, but still only works about 35 to 40 hours a week.

The key to Copeland wearing all of these hats and remaining on top is prioritizing his time around his tasks. “For years I’ve used a day timer. It’s critical to good time efficiency,” states Copeland. “Not putting in a lot of hours partly has to do with being efficient and how you use your time.”

Mostly, time management is second nature to Copeland now. It is really important to that he’s aware of all parts of his job, so that if production happens to be what he really needs to spend time on he can be ready to step in. With a small team, Copeland understands there is less chance for communications errors, too.

Copeland feels there’s something about what he’s doing that is working, even if he doesn’t know why all the time. “My experience is that the gurus talk about success in the business, based on how big you are and how much you grow,” states Copeland. “I think I work fewer hours and make more money than most people I know.”