Out of the Box

Hit television shows such as “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and shows on HGTV and TLC give viewers the itch to do home improvements based on what they see. Do-it-yourself shows and tutorials on the Internet provide basic steps and tips to complete relatively simple projects. For more involved remodels, however, more help is needed.

Marietta, Ga.-based remodeler Zett Quinn last year launched a television show with a slightly different spin. Rather than turning its viewers into do-it-yourselfers, it coached viewers about how to properly manage a home improvement project, including how to select and work with trustworthy contractors.

Lights, Camera, Action

“I’d been thinking about doing something like [the TV show] for a long time,” Quinn reflects. “What I found in the marketplace was that many people were having really bad experiences with contractors. There are a lot of contractors out there who do a terrible job and leave people hanging high and dry; they give the rest of us a bad name, which is very frustrating. We wanted to use a plan that highlighted what a good contractor is. What do they look like? Who are they? What makes them different?”

Following that model, Quinn called on contractors with whom he’s worked with for years and has a good relationship. Those contractors presented brief segments on Quinn’s show, “The Home Helpers with Zett Quinn,” to demonstrate projects they were working on and products they were installing. “This wasn’t a do-it-yourself show,” Quinn explains. Rather, the show focused on home improvement projects that necessitated professionals, such as roofing, foundations and bath remodels. “What do you look for and whom can you trust? Who’s the best at their game?” asked Quinn. “That’s what it was about.”

For example, a prominent Atlanta-area plumber would present segments about tankless water heaters, furnace maintenance, drain-repair issues and related topics. A granite supplier Quinn works with spoke about different types of stone, how to pick it, why certain stones are better for certain applications and how to use stone in architectural design. “Each show would have about six different contractors who would talk about something in their industry and about solutions to problems commonly found in this area,” Quinn says. “We had a lot of storms coming through last fall, and there were a lot of here-today-gone-tomorrow storm chaser roofing companies coming through. We educated [viewers] about why it is important that people find a contractor who is local, has a good guarantee and will stand behind their work versus someone whose guarantee goes away as soon as they drive away.”

Criteria Quinn recommended viewers take into consideration when selecting a contractor include how long they have been in business, if they are licensed and insured and can provide proof. “In some towns, people consider a license as just having a business license,” Quinn says. “We had one guy who said he was licensed, but he just had a driver’s license. That’s not licensed.” Reputation and references also are important, as are taking into consideration the number of jobs a contractor has done in the past 12 months that are of a similar nature to what clients are requesting be done to their homes.

Quinn was pleased with community response to the show. Despite not marketing the show, viewership was approximately 30,000 per week.

New Horizons

Although Quinn is no longer producing his television show, he hasn’t stopped innovating and growing his business. His company, Quality Craftsmen, recently became the exclusive local distributor and installer of a composite polymeric siding product. Because homes in Atlanta view siding as more of a commodity versus an important product, it took some time to get the siding campaign off the ground, but it’s beginning to take hold, says Quinn. “Our biggest obstacle is the price point on the product, but when people look at the quality, warranty and longevity, plus the fact it’s maintenance-free, they really like that.”

The maintenance-free aspect is particularly important for the aging marketplace Quinn is targeting. One of the two major areas he is focusing on moving forward is universal design, which goes hand-in-hand with his other major market focus, maintenance-free exteriors. “We see the marketplace aging and staying in their current home. People want to improve the home they’re in versus moving into a new home. We really want to focus on the universal design concept in making houses adaptable to an aging population,” he says. “That’s a really big segment in the marketplace that’s really not being addressed by very many contractors.”

Quality Teamwork

Quinn started in remodeling by flipping houses 25 years ago. Through that experience, he became familiar with trades himself and learned from the specialists he was hiring. “The more qualified crews I hired, the better the projects went and the more affordable it became to hire them to do work versus me trying to do it all myself,” Quinn recalls. “Friends and associates began seeing what we were doing to the houses, and they asked us to come do it for them. That’s how we got into the remodeling business.”

Quality Craftsmen hit about $1.5 million in sales last year and is on target to his $2 million this year. The company also is beginning to see a resurgence in new construction. “Things are starting to move in the right direction,” he says. “Our gross margins got very tight, and we’re just now beginning to see margins open up a bit, which we’re very happy to see.”

Quinn has been working with the same subcontractors for ten to 15 years. “The key is having good, quality guys who work with you, know what your expectations are, know how to build it right and know that if it’s not done properly you’re going to make them tear it out and do it again,” Quinn asserts. “It’s important to do it right the first time. All my guys are licensed. It’s a different caliber of contractor we’re working with.”

Quinn attributes a lot of his success and innovation to a good team of people. “These are not all my ideas or all my efforts; I have a good team of people who assist me in putting information out there. We’ve grown throughout the entire recession, and we’ve been able to pick up some really high-quality crews,” he says.

“As contractors, we all put our blinders on and trudge forward, but we really need to try to think outside the box. Hiring a professional team to help me grow and manage the business has been important,” he continues. Team members include a business coach, bookkeeper, CPA, financial planner and a marketing representative. “All of these people play an integral part in helping me visualize and grow this business. I bounce ideas off of them. Everyone brings something different to the table. We’re almost like a little mastermind group.”

Business-to-business and business-to-client networking groups also have proven beneficial. Through those, Quinn meets people in the marketplace, and they share business back and forth. For example, if Quinn hears of someone who needs a house cleaning service, he can refer them to reputable companies. Conversely, when companies with whom Quinn networks hear of someone who needs a contractor, Quinn receives referral business. “We’re constantly getting referrals from other people through our networks,” he says. “I can refer people and help their business, and they in turn give me business. It works out really well.”