Bidding often is the bane of contractors’ existence. In the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., a group of residential remodeling professionals has aligned under one roof to provide quality service while remaining separate business entities. Their unique model and design and construction philosophy has practically removed the dreaded bidding process and ultimately generated 30 years of loyal clients who continue to call on this team of professionals for their remodeling services, as well as refer others in the neighborhood to them.
In the Beginning
In the 1880s, Park Slope became one of the richest communities in the U.S., dotted with Victorian mansions and brownstones. Preservationists created a landmark district in the 1970s, and young professionals settled into brownstones restored into single- or two-family homes. Today, Park Slope’s nearly 70,000 residents live in one of the “Greatest Neighborhoods in America,” an honor bestowed by the Chicago-based American Planning Association for its “architectural and historical features and diverse mix of residents and businesses, which are supported and preserved by its involved citizenry.”
Matt Kaplan, founder of Matthew L. Kaplan Architect, can attest to this neighborhood-centricity. He has lived and maintained his business in Park Slope for 40 years. In 1983, Kaplan and his business partner shared office space with Michael Streaman, owner of M.R.S. Inc., a general contractor focused on restoration and renovation of historic homes and townhouses. When Kaplan and his partner cut ties in 1995, Streaman agreed to share rental space with Kaplan in a co-op building in Park Slope. The plumbing and heating contractor the two businesses often relied on, Aladdin Plumbing & Heating, also agreed to share the space.
“Mike and I hit it off pretty well with a first project, and eventually I focused on Mike as my contractor,” Kaplan remembers. “Jobs sometimes went to a different electrician or plumber but eventually coalesced into one team of people who got to know the types of houses and apartments in this neighborhood. Gradually we became a known name to the neighborhood.”
Today, Kaplan, Streaman and Aladdin Plumbing & Heating still occupy the same space and work together on all of Kaplan’s projects. In fact, all the business owners have children who have joined their firms and will continue to collaborate. Although all his preferred subcontractors are not under the same roof, Kaplan works with almost all the same entities on nearly every project. “They each operate independently as firms, even though all my jobs are done by this team,” Kaplan explains.
In fact, after a 2009 appearance on “This Old House,” Streaman’s company has expanded into Manhattan, requiring him to add staff in the Park Slope office. Despite the additional business, Streaman clearly finds benefits in working with Kaplan and makes time to do so. “We usually know when we’ll have a building permit and when people are ready to pull the trigger on a project. It has been a rarity that I’m unable to accommodate,” Streaman says.
Client as Team Member
The team’s business mostly comes from word of mouth and repeat clients. “When you deal out of one neighborhood, it’s literally word of mouth that can keep you busy or kill you,” Kaplan says.
To ensure positive word of mouth, Kaplan, Streaman and crew make the home-owner an integral part of their team from the beginning. Kaplan says when potential clients call the office, he invites them in for an initial meeting at which Streaman is present. Because Kaplan’s preference is to work with Streaman, he wants prospective clients to understand the team concept, as well as get an opportunity to discuss the prospects’ program requirements in general terms. If the prospects like what they hear, Kaplan sends them on a walking tour of completed projects in the neighborhood.