NAHB Remodeler of the Month

Joe Schwab, CGR

HCS Construction Services Co., Bellevue, Wash.,

Founded: 1979

Number of employees: 7

Q: How did you start in the remodeling business?

A: In some ways I was born into it. My father was a cabinetmaker and was involved in building and selling industry products. When I was in high school I helped him build a house, and learned how to design and lay out kitchens. I have been interested and involved in some facet of building for most of my life.

Q: How has the remodeling profession changed since you’ve been involved?

A: It hasn’t really changed. In many cases remodelers are living a lifestyle. It’s what they do. It’s what they eat, breathe and sleep. What may be changing is the evolution of remodeling becoming more of a business as opposed to a lifestyle. As people become more professional and business-like, remodeling has a different feel. Many remodelers are still in it as a lifestyle, because they were born into it or they just have a knack for the skills it takes to do what they do. Remodelers are a bit like cowboys, farmers or ranchers in that they are self-reliant and independent. Many have small operations and they work in the field. It’s hard to rise above working in a trade during the day and still do the books at night. The owner is limited in how big the company can grow. Once the owner thinks in terms of leverage, growth, hiring, partnerships and more employees, the owner begins working on the business rather than in the business.

Q: What have you done to grow your business during this economy?

A: HCS Construction Services Co. has always been diverse and recently we became more diverse due to the changing economy. I’m a fan of what I call the “Z” words: Recognize an opportunity. Analyze. Organize. Synthesize. We’ve always been on the lookout for potential opportunities so we’ve moved from the traditional remodeling and insurance repair to add multifamily work and custom building. We recently purchased a floor-covering business which does mostly commercial flooring and that’s increased our diversity. We are optimistic about growth in the multifamily sector and we’re experiencing growth on the commercial side. Our diversity enabled us to stay busy during the economic downturn.

Q: What does being part of NAHB mean to you?

A: We like to think of NAHB as a mutual resource. We can reach out to NAHB staff and members we’ve met when we have a question or need a resource or idea. I’m chair of a committee that manages a workers’ comp fund as a member benefit in our local association. When I started looking for ideas I contacted people at NAHB who know about workers’ comp insurance plans. At the same time, I try to be a resource to other NAHB members and staff who might have a question. NAHB provides the resources for the common good. I know that if I have a question about an opportunity or how to get something done, I can find somebody who can give us information.

Q: What is the best advice you’ve received?

A: Early in my insurance career I had a mentor in the insurance industry who told me “if you’re going in some direction, I can always help steer you in the right direction. If you’re not going anywhere, I can’t help you.” I took that as encouragement to keep moving and correct the course as necessary, but not to be stopped by obstacles.

Q: What motivates you?

A: There’s always something new to learn and every day is a new adventure. People are interesting and interaction with people is important to me. It doesn’t matter necessarily what line of work a person does, they can always be interesting. Each person I meet is unique and has a good story.

Q: What are you most proud of?

A: HCS Construction Services Co. is poised to continue as a second generation company with our son. He has chosen to make a career in the industry and has built on the foundation that we formed. He’s taking the company to an entirely new level and I think being the foundation of that transition is quite a reward. He’s substantially involved and responsible for maintaining our diversity.

Industry Involvement

Board of directors, Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties

Group Retro Insurance Plan Committee Chair, Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties

NAHB Membership committee, Remodelers Trustee and CGR Board of Governors

Community Involvement

Schwab has served as a Boy and Girl Scout advisor and has participated in the Gonzaga University, Spokane, Wash., Alumni Mentor Program. He also served as chair for Rampathon, a community service event that built 30 ramps for long-term disabled homeowners in King and Snohomish counties in 2008. He organized 360 people to provide more than 3,000 volunteer hours and donations that valued more than $70,000.