During a period of great success, Luke Secrest of Advanced Foundation Solutions, also known as The Basement Guys, went through some critical business problems.
With the company expanding its services to include concrete patios and driveways, downspout repair and wall reinforcements to name a few, Secrest was riding a wave of business success and things seemed to be on the right track. Then, In 2001, Secrest received bad news — his partner would be stepping down to take a less significant role in the business — leaving Secrest alone at the top. To make matters worse, he had to part ways with his longtime accountant and needed to quickly find a trustworthy replacement. All the while, he felt challenged by the need to not lose sight of two key objectives: No. 1, keep his employees happy and No. 2, keep his clients happy.
QR spoke with Luke Secrest to see how he managed to deal with this onslought of adversity and end up one the most successful home improvement companies in central Ohio. The company recently expanded into the Toledo market with the opening of The Basement Guys Toledo.
With 400 percent growth over the past few years, and a recipient of numerous awards including the 2004 Family Business Center of Central Ohio's Family Business of the Year Award, 2005 District Small Business Person of the Year by the Small Business Association and Columbus' Forty Under 40 emerging leaders by Business First in 2005, Secrest proves that keeping your employees happy, even through tough times, is the secret to success.
QR: What is your company's market focus?
Secrest: Advanced Foundation Solutions, LLC d/b/a "The Basement Guys" is a full service waterproofing, foundation repair and excavation company.
QR: How many employees do you currently employ?
Secrest: We started out in 2000 with two employees and now have 50 in total.
QR: What did the company specialize in when you started the business, just waterproofing basements?
Secrest: We specialized in basement waterproofing until we discovered that our customers were in need of additional services but didn't have any vendors they could rely on to perform the work. This is the main reason we broadened our scope of services.
QR: What are your main duties in the business?
Secrest: As CEO, I am responsible for the development of the company. However, it is also important to me to be involved for day-to-day operations.
QR: What type of restructuring was taking place during this period?
Secrest: The company had just begun moving into a period of large growth as a result of increasing our scope of services. During this time, my original partner decided that he wanted to relinquish his ownership role in the company but continue working as an employee. I brought on my brother Doug, who had experience in the industry, as installation manager and made him a partner in 2002, dividing up the duties between him and myself. I also brought on a new CPA as well as new business advisors.
QR: How has the addition of your brother as partner been an asset to the company?
Secrest: The family connection allows communication to flow freely in an uninhibited manner. My brother, sister and I all feel equally welcomed to express opinions or critiques when discussing matters related to the company, yet with the same manner of respect they give to other non-family staff members.
For the siblings, working together has given each of them increased respect for one another. They all acknowledge their individual positions within the company and understand that they have unique strengths and contributions, which are strategic to the success of the company.
QR: With some major restructuring going on within the business, what was your main concern/challenge?
Secrest: The biggest challenge was finding the right people to hire and represent the company. I didn't want to only fill vacant positions, I wanted to hire individuals whom I trusted and would put as much heart into the company as I have.
QR: How did you handle the stress of the changes while still trying to deal with the day-to-day operations of running a business?
Secrest: Stress and a work overload will wear on everyone, but we did the best to work through it and work together as a team to accomplish our goals and move forward.
I believe that everything we went through in the past as a company has benefited us and is the result of our success.
QR: Did you inform any of your employees of the any of the situations? Why or Why not? And if yes, how?
Secrest: Only key employees were informed at first of the additional jobs and prospects. Our staff was already overworked, and I did not want to burden them with additional stress or workload. I wanted everyone to work to their best ability.
The addition of new staff made the announcement of new projects and services a positive change instead of a concern.
QR: With a booming business, how did you manage to keep things under control? Did you hire anyone else to take some of the workload off of you?
Secrest: In addition to bringing my brother aboard as partner, I hired my sister as customer service manager, promoted an employee to sales manager to drive in more business and hired a production manager. These key individuals managed the company's various departments, where I could not focus all of my attention, and allowed me to be able to focus on my strengths in the business.
QR: With your new look on things, how has past experiences changed your hiring process to ensure that you get qualified and trustworthy employees?
Secrest: I have generally made it a rule to hire only people I know well or promote within. There is an extensive interviewing process and background check. As for new employees, in addition to an extensive background check, they must be properly licensed by the state of Ohio before working on a jobsite.
The company also requires that all employees show current and accurate documentation of identity and eligibility to work in the United States in compliance with federal law. The company reports each employee's eligibility to the United States government by filing the I-9 form.
QR: After this experience, what are the three most valuable things you've learned?
1. You cannot take people at face value.
2. Research and double-check everything you do.
3. Your company can only grow as fast as you can manage.
QR: Do you have any advice for other remodelers on how to keep your business (clients and employees) morale up during a period of some major challenges?
Secrest: We promote the golden rule: give the same customer service as you would like to receive. Also make sure that your employees are growing as your company grows. When you can, increase the benefits you offer your employees.
QR: Has this experience made you more cautious in other aspects of running your business? For example, have you implemented any new processes and procedures in your company?
Secrest: I am very sensitive to accounting procedures. During a large time of growth, it is very easy to get caught up in the excitement of new clients and new projects and let the technicalities slip.
I now make sure that I completely trust and know everyone I hire and that I am completely comfortable with letting someone handle company information. Growth is great and it is exciting, but take it in strides and make sure you cover every aspect to protect yourself and the future of what have built.