Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Looking at the past 30 years of the remodeling industry, we've clearly come a long way. Interest in home remodeling has never been higher. Every day, home improvement and remodeling shows are broadcast on major networks and shown on cable television. Newspapers and magazines regularly devote sections on do-it-yourself and remodeling projects. Consumers are exposed more than ever to the possibilities that remodeling can bring to their homes.

As home ownership grows, so does the remodeling industry — something we've seen in a more than 15 percent growth in the National Association of Home Builders Remodelors Council this past year. In less than 10 years, the remodeling industry will surpass home building according Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Here we sit at a golden crossroads. The future has never appeared stronger; interest has never been higher, but how will we capitalize on this tremendous opportunity? In a word: education.

Though I've had nearly 50 years of experience, I am constantly learning about new techniques, technologies and business practices to stay competitive. And as chairman of NAHB's Remodelors Council, I will say that continuing professional education is key to the future of the remodeling industry.

One of the best ways to learn how to better manage your business is through the best practices of others. This is why we are continuing to grow the Remodelor 20 Clubs. These groups are made of remodelers who have similar business size and operations in order to learn from each other, and are carefully assembled so that members are from noncompeting markets. All sign a confidentiality agreement which allows members to experience the kind of open discussions they'll never have with the remodeler down the street.

I believe these groups are important to future success of remodelers. Where else can you discuss business practices such as controlling costs, different management structures, and really compare your business with others in the industry? All while building a network group to bounce off business questions and advice.

As the remodeling industry grows and structure of companies change from fewer direct employees to more subcontractors, we need stronger management skills than ever. Working with the Certified Graduate Remodelor (CGR) designation program, we will continue to add new courses, programs and new methods of delivery.

We must also educate ourselves on how to capitalize on the aging population. AARP recently found that 83 percent of the 78 million Baby Boomers want to remain living in their own home independently. That's a lot of people who will need specialized remodeling projects, which is what the Remodelors Council's Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) program was created to address. From how to market to an older population to learning specific design and remodeling techniques, all are designed to generate happy customers and referrals for your business for this huge segment of the population.

Education isn't just for professional remodelers but for consumers as well. We've found that consumers today are still afraid of getting burned by unethical contractors, despite the vast number of remodelers providing excellent professional service.

At NAHB and the Remodelors Council, we've been continuing an aggressive public awareness campaign with advertisements, brochures and public relations to educate consumers not only on how to avoid fly-by-nighters, but also raise the perception of the remodeling industry to better reflect the true professionalism performed every day.

While we're fortunate at the Remodelors Council to have NAHB's clout of being one of Fortune Magazine's most influential organizations, it's up to all of us to come together to educate consumers on our professionalism and commitment to excellence. The future of our business depends on it.

Don Novak, president of Novak Construction Co. in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is the 2005 chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Remodelors Council. Novak, one of the most certified members in the NAHB federation, has been in the construction industry for more than 45 years.