Key Innovations: “The remodeling industry suffered from a lack of good, solid information and statistics,” he says. “We had to really dig to find the information that was out there.” A key resource was proprietary research by marketers — but they often didn’t want it shared widely, and it tended to skew to the company’s needs. Baker combined those sources with government statistics, and he presented his findings at an annual breakfast at the National Hardware Show that became a key event for marketers.
His efforts helped interest the government in quantifying its remodeling numbers more precisely. In the mid-1990s, for instance, HUD expanded its data on home-improvement projects to include nearly 50 categories, using a large sample. “We saw some discrepancies between their new reports and their previous quarterly surveys and pointed them out,” he says. “That got them doing some soul-searching about why these discrepancies existed.” The Department of Labor now breaks out remodeling establishments as a category, which it didn’t do even five years ago, he notes.
Looking Ahead: A senior research fellow back with the Joint Center since 1995, Baker continues his efforts to quantify remodeling and ensure its impact is included in government estimates. “Precisely defining the market is still a problem, but there have been tremendous gains,” he says. “The government has begun to listen to the industry and understand it better. There’s a much higher level of sophistication about whom they’re dealing with.”
Company: Case Design/Remodeling, Bethesda, Md. Years in Industry: 1961 – present
Early Years: Case began working as a carpenter at 12, following in the footsteps of his mother, who ran her own new homebuilding company and became the first female member of NAHB. He worked his way through college doing carpentry and intended to leave the business behind, “but concrete gets into your blood,” he says. He founded Case Design/Remodeling in 1961. Recently, he established the franchised Case Handyman Services LLC, which helps remodelers profit from these difficult-to-handle small projects.
Key Innovations: Case was an early proponent of the design-build system of working on a project from concept to completion, ensuring that drawings could be built and that the plan optimized the contractor’s skills. “The process of using an architect and then turning the project over to a contractor was awkward and didn’t always meet the homeowner’s needs,” he says. “By combining design and construction, it made it much more efficient.”
Case was deeply involved with educational efforts, including peer-group reviews. Following the formation of NARI, he helped convince the organization to move to Washington, D.C., from New York City due to the importance of national lobbying efforts. He also aided in creating NARI’s certification process, which has become a key ingredient in enhancing the industry’s professionalism. He was inducted into NAHB’s Hall of Fame in 2002.
Looking Ahead: “Remodeling is a huge business, but it has many small operators, and there is a long way to go in developing the industry’s business sense. I’m encouraged that some young people are coming into the industry with business degrees, sophisticated approaches and management skills that help them get going. Management is the hardest thing to teach.” He also finds that customers are calling handyman services for larger and larger projects. “Ultimately, this could lead to a national remodeling company for us that will continue using design-build ideas.”
Helping Companies Grow
Company: Remodelers Advantage, Laurel, Md. Years in Industry: 1961 – present
Early Years: Linda Case began helping her husband, Fred Case, with Case Design/Remodeling, which began in their basement in 1961 and later moved into offices. Following her divorce, she opened Remodelers Advantage in 1982 “out of fear of job-hunting,” she says. “I didn’t think my family-business background would be taken seriously on a resume.”
Key Innovations: Case has been an advocate for improving professionalism and creating a strong marketing presence. She began writing articles and promoting those needs, leading the NAHB Remodelors Council to ask her to write a book. “The world of remodeling had no infrastructure and no sources to learn from,” she says. She produced the NAHB’s first-ever book for remodelers, ‘Marketing for Remodelers,’ in 1986. She then began presenting seminars on the book’s topics for local NRC chapters.