Our first 30 years covering the remodeling industry, from 1975 to the present, has been marked by continual change and improvement, for remodelers and for the remodeling public. Over 30 years, associations have blossomed and grown, pushing industry education and standards ever higher. Manufacturers and distributors have spurred the growth in remodeling with new and better products.
Over 30 years, industry professionals have improved the way we estimate, the way we design and the way we interface with clients. According to the people who know best — remodelers — the following 15 people have had a major impact on the industy.
Editor’s Note: As part of our 30th Anniversary issue, we present to you our list of industry innovators as compiled and written by QR’s longtime editorial director, Craig A. Shutt. Following our list of Innovators, we look at the events, milestones, and innovations that shaped the remodeling industry, beginning on page 42.
Lastly, we present to you the top-line results of our 30th Anniversary research project. More than 700 recent remodeling customers rated their experiences. The results show that communication, cleanliness and timeliness are among the differences between the best remodelers and those who tend to give the industry a bad reputation.
Teaching New Lessons
Company: Asdal Builders LLC, Chester, N.J. Years in Industry: 1976 – present
Early Years: After gaining an undergraduate degree in industrial education and a master’s degree in school administration, Asdal worked as a shop teacher and then spent six years as a licensed principal while moonlighting as a carpenter. He formed Asdal Builders to do carpentry work in 1976 and two years later left schoolrooms behind when an opportunity arose to build a home. “I went from building birdhouses to real houses,” he says.
Key Innovations: While a shop teacher, Asdal took the month’s best student to the local association meeting. “I always have looked at trade associations, media and professional-development opportunities as resources to become more successful. As I became more involved, I looked for holes in programs where I could add value for others.” Asdal has worked with the Partnership for Advanced Technologies in Housing (PATH), USDA’s Forest Service Products Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Graduate School of Urban Planning and the Environmental & Energy Building Association as well as with local and national associations.
A key initiative has been his work to rehab the New Jersey building code, which led to its incorporation into the Nationally Applicable Recommended Rehabilitation Provisions (NAARP), a model code for renovation. “We proved we could produce 22 percent savings with a code specific to remodeling work.”
Looking Ahead: “I believe the innovations this industry has achieved to date will pale beside those that are coming.” That results primarily from the sophistication of remodelers and their recognition in the market. “In the next decade, we’ll see continued development of professionalism and have more people work on their businesses rather than just in their businesses.” He also expects more results from benchmarking activities, with technology providing delivery media that make information universally and readily accessible at low cost. “These systems are out there, and they’re coming our way.”
Quantifying the Industry
Company: Cahners Publishing, Boston; Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, Cambridge, Mass. Years in Industry: 1985 – present
Early Years: Baker spent several years at the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies while working toward his doctorate degree at MIT and then was in residence doing post-doctoral work. In 1985, he joined the economics department at Cahners Publishing in Boston. On his first day, he was asked to write a column for Building Supply Home Centers magazine on the D-I-Y market’s changing demographics.
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.
After seeing the results her husband’s remodeling company achieved by attending peer-group reviews sponsored by Les Cunningham and Dave Sauer at Qualified Remodeler, she began her own roundtable program at Remodelers Advantage in 1991. “I was so impressed that it could help people so much with similar problems,” she says. “I’m passionate about helping remodelers avoid having to reinvent the wheel. These programs can create a menu of options to choose from when there is a challenge. But they need a central core to run and support them.”
Looking Ahead: In addition to worries about the shrinking labor pool, Case sees another challenge coming, from builders who can’t find land to develop. “That’s a different pattern from the past, when builders entered remodeling only when the market turned bad,” she says. At the same time, she’s encouraged that more remodelers are asking her for ways to build value into their companies. “It’s hard to sell a remodeling company, but more owners are looking to their companies as a source of wealth and as a long-term asset. That’s a change in mentality.”
Company: Business Networks, Waterville, Ore. Years in Industry: 1971 - present
Early Years: An Air Force and then airline pilot, Cunningham bought a dilapidated Miami home and called contractors to give him estimates. Most didn’t show up. “I decided that if I became a contractor, I could get a lot of work if I just showed up for appointments.” He started his remodeling company to occupy his time between flights. By 1976, he had 35 employees and in 1978 was named NARI’s Contractor of the Year in the commercial category.
Key Innovations: In 1980, Cunningham joined with Dave Sauer at Qualified Remodeler to gather five non-competing remodelers to review his procedures and offer suggestions, after which the group would visit another member’s company. The concept became so popular that the group grew to 13 companies. Cunningham opened Business Networks in 1986, facilitating such meetings for other remodelers. The firm has 200 members in about 20 networks.
“The biggest advantage of a peer review is that you learn other people have the same problems,” he says. In many cases, other members have found solutions that the remodeler can use directly. “They don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Someone usually has an answer. They may not like the answer, but it’s available.”
Looking Ahead: “The remodeling industry has definitely matured, and the participants are much more sophisticated than they were,” he says. “They’re using software programs to make themselves more efficient and making their businesses more astute. It’s a very strong industry, and it still has a low barrier of entry, which makes it attractive.”
A lack of employees may hold it back, he warns. “There is a stigma in this country now about working with your hands, and that is generating a shortage of workers. There is decreasing supply and increasing demand, but not an increase in pricing. Most remodelers don’t realize that yet — but those with management experience realize it much faster. Too many remodelers devalue their time, and that hurts them. That has to change.”
Company: Field Training Services, Westerly, R.I. Years in Industry: 1983 – present
Early Years: After working for several years as a carpenter in Georgia, Faller joined Hopkins & Porter in Washington, D.C., in 1987. He served as lead carpenter for one year before becoming production manager. Working from an idea he credits to Walt Stoeppelwerth, Faller developed a lead-carpenter system that allowed one person to oversee all aspects of the project.
Key Innovations: Faller refined his ideas with input from others and introduced it to a wide audience at the Remodelers Show in 1991—where he discovered there was little educational programming for tradespeople. “There were lots of seminars for sales and management, but little for production and nothing for carpenters.”
To change that, he began creating program tracks for lead carpenters. “I started pushing for more seminars for field staff, so company owners could bring carpenters to these events to learn about products but also attend classes aimed at their needs.” In 1999, he formed Field Training Services to develop training programs for production staffs.
Looking Ahead: Although his lead-carpenter training and other programs are well received, Faller sees more opportunities. “We need a program so carpenters can prove their proficiency in the field,” he says. He has created a basic job description for lead carpenters that includes evaluations, questions for interviews and an on-site field sign-off. He hopes to extend this to a Boy Scout-like system in which carpenters can demonstrate their skills and have a reviewer attest to that competency.
“My dream is for there to some day be a universal standard that can transfer between companies and states, so a lead carpenter can go to a new company and, based on his credentials, the owner knows that he meets certain standards. Right now, they have to guess. It may be pie in the sky, since this industry is so independent-minded. In general, there’s still a tremendous need for more training and a set of standards.”
Company: Certified Contractors Network, Ardmore, Pa. Years in Industry: 1966 – present
Early Years: Kaller followed in the footsteps of his father, who worked to sell the fledging Surfa-Shield franchise before opening his own branch in Philadelphia. Kaller began canvassing and then selling for the company while in school and ultimately bought the company from his father in 1966 at the age of 23. He bought five companies in the next 20 years, giving his employees new opportunities to grow.
Key Innovations: As his network of remodeling companies expanded, Kaller instituted systems and procedures that helped them grow smoothly. His selling ability attracted the attention of marketers at roofing company Bird & Son, who asked him to create selling programs for their salespeople. CertainTeed also became interested, and he soon had programs designed to boost contractor professionalism. He created Contractor Education Services in 1985 to provide tapes and programs to contractors to improve their businesses. He then aided NARI in creating its certification program, using techniques he’d created in his other programs.
In 1995, he decided to retire and consult with a few remodelers. His list rapidly grew from 10 to 50, and he created Certified Contractors Network to provide his member contractors with management help. “I talk about the importance of the three-legged stool in a contractor’s business: sales, production and administration,” he says. Without strong support in any one of those areas, the stool will collapse.
Looking Ahead: Kaller is continuing his educational efforts, aided by the creation of CCN University, which focuses on continued training via the Internet. “People go to seminars and get great ideas, but they don’t go home and implement many,” he says. “Adults don’t learn from a one-shot deal like that. They need follow-up.” He offers weekly training sessions on all three “legs.” “The future of this industry lies in continual training, to make it as professional as [independent entrepreneur-based] industries like auto repair and real estate have become,” he says.
Supporting Industry, Community
Company: Neil Kelly Design Remodeling Inc., Portland, Ore. Years in Industry: 1948 – 1995
Early Years: After being discouraged by the techniques he was told to use to sell siding and other home improvements following World War II, Kelly purchased Northwestern Weatherproofing for $100 and almost immediately began doing larger projects, including additions. Although he had only an 8th-grade formal education, “he was bright and had a thirst for education,” says son Tom Kelly, president of the company.
Key Innovations: An active participant in national trade groups in the 1950s and 1960s, Kelly helped form the Oregon Remodeler’s Association in the early 1970s. He was an active participant in the national home-improvement organizations and in 1982 became NARI’s first president, the only president to lead the group for two years. “Neil’s legacy is strongly connected to industry activism and giving back to the community,” says Tom Kelly. That was emphasized in 1978, when doctors told Neil Kelly that he had to stop working after suffering a heart attack. At 29, his son was named president. “That freed him up to do what he loved most — industry and civic activities.”
Kelly was committed to creating educational programs, both for his own employees and for the industry. He has been inducted into the Hall of Fame for both the Oregon Home Builders Association and the NAHB (in 2001). His impact on Portland can be seen in a recent poll by a local newspaper, which named him one of the 25 most influential people of the past 25 years.
Looking Ahead: The work of Neil Kelly, who died in 1995, continues through a scholarship established with the local Rotary Club. It provides college funds for low-income, at-risk children. Money is raised especially during a luncheon held on Portland’s annual Neil Kelly Day, the first Friday in May. “It’s become a very cool thing,” Tom says.
Norvin “Charlie” Knutson:
Company: Knutson Brothers, Milwaukee, Wis. Years in Industry: 1955 – 1996
Early Years: After studying business and architecture at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Knutson sold real estate. But he was fired, the story goes, for refusing to wear a tie. He and his brother, Orville, a union carpenter, formed the home building company Knutson Brothers in 1955. By the early 1970s, former clients began asking the company to update, change or add onto their original home.
“They found they couldn’t do both home building and remodeling because they really are two different businesses,” says daughter Cindy Knutson-Lycholat, who owns Knutson Brothers 2 in East Troy, Wis. with her husband, Gerry Lycholat. “But nobody really knew that then.” The brothers were committed to remodeling work in 1977.
Key Innovations: Both brothers became heavily involved in local, state and national industry events. Orville attended NARI events while Charlie participated in NAHB functions. In 1982, Charlie became the first chairman of the NAHB’s Remodelors Council and stressed the need for remodelers to meet key standards and offer warranties. As part of that, he wrote one of the association’s best-selling books, “Residential Construction Performance Guidelines.” He was inducted into the NAHB’s Hall of Fame in 2001.
“He became a true spokesman for the industry and talked it up when it didn’t really exist,” says Knutson-Lycholat. “He was forthright about sharing his knowledge with contractors and getting new ones into the business — and ensuring they stayed there.” As a business major, he understood margin, markup and job costs. “He knew what were hard costs and soft costs, and he ultimately understood that remodelers had to charge more than they were.”
Looking Ahead: “In addition to his work in educating contractors, part of his legacy is that I’m here, as a woman, running a remodeling company,” Knutson-Lycholat says. “When I would go with him to national meetings, there would be about four women in the room. He definitely helped change that perspective.”
Company: Jud Construction LLC, Muncie, Ind. Years in Industry: 1962 – present
Early Years: Motsenbocker’s interest in construction began when he was 8 years old, when a carpenter building a home nearby let him help. After taking industrial-arts classes in high school and serving as a carpenter in the Navy, he bought a lumberyard with a remodeling sideline in 1962. In 1968, he started his own remodeling company.
Key Innovations: An active participant in NAHB immediately after starting his company, Motsenbocker took every management course he could. “I knew I could remodel, but I sure as heck didn’t know how to run a business.” He credits his success to hiring an administrator to help set up the company two months before it opened. He soon became involved in local, state and national association programs and committees.
In 1980, the U.S. government asked NAHB to produce an eight-hour seminar on how to run a remodeling company, for presentation to the Shawnee Oklahoma Indian tribe. Motsenbocker created a program covering every aspect of the business: organization, advertising, lead generation, estimating, selling, production and reading P&L statements. Its success led NAHB to ask him to develop one- to two-hour programs along similar lines for all its members. That ultimately led him to help develop NAHB’s certification programs. In 2004, he helped develop a program to train the association’s trainers — which he then took as a student. “You’re never too old to learn,” he says. He was inducted into NAHB’s Hall of Fame in 2001.
Looking Ahead: “The industry has migrated to home centers from locally owned lumberyards, and that’s a downside,” he says. “We are high-maintenance, low-volume customers, and that’s a tough customer to service. Fortunately, home centers now realize they need remodelers.” Manufacturers, too, have come a long way in creating products designed for remodeling, from snap-together tub/shower units to retrofit-ready recessed can lights. “That evolution has been a big help to remodelers.”
Building Local Networks
Company: National Association of Home Builders Years in Industry: 1979 – present
Early Years: After six years in NAHB’s Land Use & Development Department, Patchan moved to its Remodeling & Rehabilitation Department in 1979, where he mostly worked with urban-redevelopment executives. In 1980, in the midst of a major recession, NAHB developed councils aimed at specialty construction areas that retained their vitality. The National Remodelors Council met for the first time in 1982.
Key Innovations: Patchan’s emphasis in NRC’s early days was on creating a network of local associations. When he joined the group, there were about 30, he estimates, which grew to 150 by the early 2000s. He also began using NAHB’s resources to develop statistical market data. “Qualified Remodeler had the only figures out there, but NAHB was able to probe into the numbers in different ways by using government data,” he says. “We started to show that remodeling was a significant part of this industry.”
He helped develop the Remodelors Limited Warranty & Home Owners Warranty and encouraged NAHB to expand its published resources for remodeling professionals. That led to the publication of “Marketing for Remodelers” by Linda Case in 1986. Patchan left the Remodelors Council in 2001 and is now executive administrator of the Frederick County (Md.) Builders Association. He was indicated into NAHB’s Hall of Fame in 2001.
Looking Ahead: “The business side of remodeling still needs a lot of attention,” he says. “The industry has a lot of turnover, and as new people enter, it’s difficult to get their attention and let them know about the resources that are available.” He also is concerned about the labor crunch. “Remodeling requires multitalented employees who can look at a problem and find a solution. Such skilled workers are at a premium, and remodelers have to compete for them against large construction companies. Companies’ abilities to grow will depend more and more on whether they can find labor.”
David M. Sauer:
Spreading the Word
Company: Qualified Remodeler, Chicago Years in Industry: 1975 – 1995
Early Years: After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a degree in journalism, Sauer became an advertising sales representative. By 1974, as a group publisher for building-material magazines, he began taking a closer look at the remodeling industry.
“I learned that nobody knew how many remodelers there were or what their dollar volume was — and that they generally had a bad reputation.” He secured 30,000 business names and phone numbers through the Yellow Pages, creating a “qualified” base from which to generate market research. “We were amazed to discover the volume being done by these contractors in kitchens, baths, and many areas beyond aluminum siding.”
Key Innovations: Creating his own publishing firm, Sauer produced the first issue of Qualified Remodeler in March 1975. It stressed management-oriented articles that promoted professionalism and high-quality design. “Our goal was to create contractor-to-contractor connections,” he says. He also doggedly walked the magazine’s research to marketing executives to convince them that the industry had a strong growth record and would surpass homebuilding’s volume. “We had to convince them that remodeling was a separate entity — and a bigger one, with higher-quality products being used.”
He also recognized that the industry’s growing professionalism needed a strong, unified voice. As one of (if not the only) member of both the National Remodeling Association (NRA) and the National Home Improvement Council (NHIC), Sauer brought the two competing — and distrustful — industry groups together at his Chicago offices in 1982. After long discussions, NRA and NHIC merged to create today’s National Association of the Remodeling Industry.
Looking Ahead: After helping to promote the industry’s professionalism and distinction from home building, QR saw other, larger publishing firms enter the market. The magazines’ efforts to explain the industry continues. “Everyone still looks to homebuilding as the driving force in the market,” Sauer says. “We fought that mind-set very hard, and it’s still being fought. Remodeling is a bigger market.”
Estimating for the Future
Company: Home Tech Information Systems Inc., Bethesda, Md. Years in Industry: 1959 – present
Early Years: After working for a siding company for several years, Stoeppelwerth opened his own remodeling company in 1961 and, in the mid-1960s, added a partner, Henry Reynolds. They each began a sideline, with Reynolds writing books on estimating while Stoeppelwerth began doing home inspections (in 1974, he did 1,289 inspections). Home Tech sold the inspection business in 2001 to concentrate fully on education.
Key Innovations: Stoeppelwerth has worked tirelessly to raise the industry’s level of professionalism, writing one of the first books on remodeling business management, ‘Professional Remodeling Management,’ in 1985. “I have long been known for telling remodelers that they have to mark up their work higher than they do,” he says. Today, Home Tech offers a variety of software and other teaching aids for estimating various construction activities and for other business-management areas.
When he was inducted into the NAHB Hall of Fame in 2001, the group said that “as a leading spokesperson for the remodeling industry, he has helped raise the professional standards of the sector and in doing so has done an invaluable service to the public perception and understanding of the industry.”
Looking Ahead: Stoeppelwerth expects the industry’s overwhelming fragmentation to change. “The number of remodelers doing more than $1 million in business is growing, and their work is expanding. I expect the days are numbered in which remodelers operate only one office.” Some of that will come from consolidation, in which larger companies buy smaller ones and expand their client base.
He expects more managerial-based remodelers to thrive by subcontracting much of their work, possibly through home centers, and specializing in certain types of work (basements, kitchens, dormers, etc.). And he anticipates a form of “caretaker” service for homeowners with second homes as well as long-term service contracts being offered. “The changes in the next two to three years are going to be fairly dramatic.”
Televising the Industry
Company: BVTV Inc. and BobVila.com, Boston Years in Industry: 1974 – present
Early Years: To complete his graduate studies in architecture, Vila worked with a group to rehab a brownstone. The work proved so successful that he started his own contracting business the next year and had one of his restorations profiled by Better Homes & Gardens. A newspaper article on the project was seen by a public television producer, who ultimately offered Vila the chance to host a local 13-part series on step-by-step renovation of a project. In 1979, his series, “This Old House” premiered on national PBS.
Key Innovations: After 10 years, Vila left PBS to star in “Home Again,” his own syndicated series, which continues today. He also has written 10 books, including a five-book series, “Bob Vila’s Guide to Historic Homes of America” and “Bob Vila’s Complete Guide to Remodeling Your Home.” His work introduced many TV viewers to the potential and pitfalls of home renovation, and his easy on-screen personality made him the national face of remodeling.
Vila is active with several charitable and public-service organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, for which he has completed “Home Again” projects. He also serves as spokesperson for the National Alliance to End Homelessness and is involved with several projects for the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development. In 1998, he helped launch Healthy Homes for Healthy Children, a HUD-sponsored child-protection initiative.
Looking Ahead: Vila paved the way for the plethora of home-remodeling shows blanketing the airwaves today. “I’m shocked at the number of shows, but a lot of them are aimed at entertainment and ratings rather than how-to detail. Also I’m concerned about some of the information given out, which is misguided or bogus.” He also worries about safety. “I’d like the shows to be more responsible. I’ve got concerns about how they show tool safety, eye protection and similar things. Their approach can be problematic.”
Company: Winans Construction Co., Oakland, Calif. Years in Industry: 1965 – present
Early Years: In some ways, Winans has always been in the remodeling business. “I asked the man working on a house next to my parents’ home for a job when I was four years old,” he reports. That same man built Winans’ parents’ new home six years later, and in 1965, at the age of 15, Winans went to work for him, doing both new homebuilding and remodeling.
Key Innovations: Winans opened his company in 1978 after holding several shop jobs. His wife, Nina, added duties as their children grew. He became involved with NARI in the mid-1990s and has been active in leading both the local and national groups. “I am good at making a positive difference, and I had some opportunities to do that with NARI. The benefits of being part of an association are enormous.”
He is a regular speaker at events on a variety of topics aimed at increasing remodelers’ professionalism. He also promotes peer-group and certification programs. “NARI is getting to be a recognized brand, and its certification programs are helping to raise the knowledge level in the industry. The desire to improve is so prevalent among remodelers. But it’s vital for them to realize that part of their strength comes from being part of a group.”
Looking Ahead: “There is a need to have a remodeling contractor be regarded as a professional, much as architects, doctors and lawyers are,” he says. “Someday the association representing the remodeling industry will impart the same credibility to its members that the AIA, AMA and ABA do to their members. I also expect suppliers will learn how to do business better with the fragmented remodeling industry. There are more dollars being spent on remodeling than on homebuilding, but the businesses spending them are smaller. This difference will get figured out, and suppliers will reap the rewards.”