Remodelers Advantage Peer Profile: Steve Barkhouse

Steve Barkhouse

Owner Amsted Design-Build

Year founded: 1989

Number of team members: 35

Years at company: 24

Years in remodeling: 24

Industry involvement: National, Provincial and Local HBA (past president); Board member of the Ontario College of Trades; Business Administration Degree- Human Resources and Industrial Relations; Leed-AP

Community involvement: Coach and trainer-Hockey; curriculum advisory for college; numerous charities including College, Hospitals, Boys and Girls Club, Hospice, Habitat, sports teams - Lots of yes’s, very few No’s

When and why did you join Remodelers Advantage?  I joined in 2005 to develop the Design/Build model at our company and to improve margins. Not to be hokey but to give credit where it is due: we attribute our success today to RAR. From micro items like forms, process, and procedures; through marketing, production, sales, admin, management, ownership training/advice; to macro company and personal goals and philosophy – this is the fortune 500 board of directors of remodeling. Not to mention all the perks and benefits of being a member. RAR has made me a better person.

What has been the most important lesson learned from your peers at Remodelers Advantage? That two heads are better than one; and that 12 heads (my RAR group) are better than two; and that 300 heads (the RAR membership) are better than 12; and that 300 of this industries smartest, caring, focused ‘heads’ want me to achieve my goals and will see that I do.

Where/what are the greatest opportunities in the remodeling market? Differentiation- consumers are more cautious with their spending, doing more research, checking references, getting referrals, identifying their specific needs and searching for the best company to meet those needs. Differentiating our company from the companies in my market that can’t provide the service, skills and quality that is the Amsted Advantage provides me a great opportunity to increase my market share. Many of our past competition have disappeared throughout the recession, and many of those that remain have downsized or changed their service. By using modern marketing activities like the internet, belly-to-belly networking, referral programs etc., we have a great opportunity to set ourselves apart from the majority of our competition and appeal to a large market of savvy purchasers.  

If you could change one thing about the remodeling industry, what would it be?  The stigma that our industry is not professional. It was not many years ago that our industry was considered one of the most professional and prestigious industries, where people desired to be involved. Less than 100 years ago, craftsmen were held in the highest esteem. Today, parents direct their kids to other fields and people look at our industry as second class. I believe we need to do a better job as an industry educating against that stigma. Hell, if my kids could enjoy the life that remodeling affords me -working with my friends each day on exciting projects that fulfill our clients dreams and getting paid to do it – I couldn’t wish for anything more.

How have clients’ expectations changed, and how have these changes affected your business? Clients expect a higher level of service, more professional, sophisticated and structured. Detailed plans and specifications included in the contracts, complete interior and finish design, strong product knowledge and technical expertise and exceptional project management. I believe the increased expectations results from the information age and the more highly researched and educated consumer. This change has pushed Amsted to improve over the years in each area of business and to increase the number of services we offer.

How has the remodeler’s job changed in the past few years, for better or worse? I believe the TV shows showing remodel’s gone bad, sites like Angie’s list and the media’s obsession with bad news (the news of remodelers taking large deposits and running off or doing poor quality work) has changed the way we need to do business. We need to prove that we are professional, that we provide exceptional service. For better or worse I am not sure, but certainly a change.

Is the remodeling market primed for growth? Why or why not? I believe that the majority of the US market has pent-up demand that will provide growth and has done so recently. I see the evidence via my RAR associates making a strong recovery in many markets. Our local market offers less opportunity; however, we are budgeting for modest growth over the next three to five years.

What is the greatest threat to the success of a remodeler and/or remodeling business? Success itself. We begin our business with a singular focus of success but no plan for when we achieve it or awareness of exactly how we did so. Often time’s success is a result of outside factors: the economy, a good staff member or two, government subsidies. We find success as a result of these factors and assume that they will last forever and when they don’t we are ill prepared for the new reality. I believe the greatest thing for Amsted was starting business in the recession of the early 1990’s. We learned to be lean, competitive and profitable, and those hard lessons have served us well since.

What is the best advice you’ve received in your career? To have a personal plan and review it regularly.

Can you share a best practice or two that you’ll never abandon? The creation and monitoring of my personal plan; using my personal plan to build our business plan. Building and monitoring our business plan.

What do you enjoy most about being a remodeler? Why? Hokey time again, but I enjoy the positive impact we have on peoples lives- clients, staff and associates.

What motivates you ever day? The ongoing challenge to do it better and to be a good role model for my kids.

What’s an interesting little-known fact about you?  I used to race snowmobiles, or I saved a person from drowning after they capsized their canoe in a water fall where I was swimming at the time.

As you were growing up, what did you want to be? A Zamboni driver

What is your most treasured possession? My home. Described in a newspaper article as my own personal haven – it is my sanctuary.