NAHB Remodeler of the Month: Picking and Choosing
Ken Saltink, CGR, CAPS
All American Remodel LLC
Year founded: 1982
Number of employees: 2
Association title: President of Remodelers Council of Greater Tulsa
QR: How did you start this career?
KS: My career started shortly after getting married in 1977, when I saw a entertainment center for sale and I thought to myself, I could build that. I purchased a Craftsman table saw so old [that] when I needed a repair part and went to Sears, they laughed at me and told me their records did not go back that far. I began building knick-knacks and small items and was hooked on all facets of woodworking for life.
QR: What is your focus as a remodeler?
KS: The focus for my business at this point in my career is choosing projects [where] I feel a connection with the homeowners on a personal basis. In my early years, I took any job that came my way from necessity. Now, I can and do refuse a project if I sense a problem with difficultly in communicating or personality conflicts. I try and spend a great deal of time in the bidding process to see how we interact with each other. The fact that I do not have a large labor burden to feed each month gives me the freedom to pick and choose projects.
QR: Can you share a few customer service best practices you’ve picked up through your years in the remodeling industry?
KS: My main focus is guiding [clients] through the remodel process with as much information as to what will happen and when so they can prepare themselves for the disruption. I am on-site every day, all day with most projects, so in many cases I become a part of the family for the duration of the job. If there are any questions that come up during the process from either the subs or the homeowners, they don’t have to wait to get answers; we resolve them immediately. This has been my marketing plan for 30-plus years—word-of-mouth referrals.
QR: What is the most unusual project your company has completed?
KS: My most unusual project was a two-story addition. There was really nothing out of the ordinary in the construction or design, but the length of the project is what made it unusual. I had given this customer a ballpark estimate on the project and never heard back. I was so busy that I did not pursue it any further. One year later, I received a call from them asking me if I would come and finish the project because they ran the original contractor off. I agreed to look at it and, after noting areas that needed to be redone, I agreed with a time and materials agreement thinking it would take maybe six to eight months to complete. I was there every day for two years to complete.
QR: What are the greatest opportunities in the remodeling market?
KS: In Tulsa the greatest opportunity for remodelers is the renovation of aging housing. We have what is called “midtown” that has homes that were built 40 to 90 years ago. Some areas have become a scrape and build but there are others where people don’t want to give up the charm of the aged home but by necessity need to update. These projects can be both profitable and rewarding if the homeowners are committed to their neighborhood and are willing to make the investment.
QR: Are you seeing an increase in your average job size?
KS: I believe that shortly after our recent election there was an uptick in projects and their size. In the past few months, I think some uncertainty has crept back in and people have been somewhat reluctant to pull the trigger on the larger projects. I think the media has such an influence on what people focus on that our industry lives and dies by what they choose to broadcast or publish.
QR: What is the best advice you’ve received?
KS: The best advice I ever received was, “Value your time and expertise.” When I first started out, I would work for probably less than minimum wage to make sure the project was completed and done right. A fellow businessman told me I was not charging enough. He told me to double my hourly rate (at that time $12 per hour), and I envisioned losing my business due to lack of customers. He assured me I would lose some customers, but that I would make up the lost ones with customers that appreciate what I had to give them and they would pay that rate. He was so right.
QR: Where do you go to look for solutions and ideas for your business?
KS: I do read trade journals/publications and search the internet for answers to any problems or needs that I encounter. I endeavor to stay ahead of the game on products or solutions to problems by researching before a customer can bring up the item. It gives my homeowner the perception that I do know what I’m doing and they are in good hands.
QR: If you could have a 30-minute conversation with any business leader, who would it be?
KS: I would want to have a conversation with any person that is a true craftsman in their trade. I have always been fascinated with the woodworkers of old who crafted furniture from start to the final finishes. I believe their heart and soul went into their creations and at the completion of any particular project they knew their name was attached—possibly for generations to come. One example of this might be Frank Lloyd Wright; his designs have endured the test of time even though they may not be accepted as the norm by most.
QR: What does being part of NAHB Remodelers mean to you?
KS: I reluctantly joined the HBA in 1988 after several years of hounding by business associates. My excuse was that I did not need any more work so why join? After joining I came to realize that membership is so much more than job creation. The networking with like-minded remodelers has been invaluable over the years. I no longer look at them as competitors but as comrades thrown into the same boat as myself. When one of them or I have a problem or need, we openly share what they do and how they deal with situations.
QR: How did you first decide to become and now continue being involved as part of your local remodelers council’s leadership?
KS: My experience with getting involved was probably a little different than most. Upon attending my first Remodelers Council meeting, I was approached by the [then] president and asked if I would be interested in getting on the “ladder.” I had no idea what that meant or entailed but I thought Sure, why not? Three years later I was the president for my first of three terms as such. Looking back I am somewhat glad I was thrust into this involvement because I did not fall through the cracks, [which] happens too often with those who don’t become involved.
As far as motivation to continue being involved, I constantly see ways our community needs help in areas that our membership can provide. We are very active in offering assistance to agencies [helping] those who have fallen on hard times for one reason or other. Our builders and associates come together and chip in to build ramps, renovate homes, anything we can to make a difference.
QR: How has the remodeling profession changed since you’ve been involved?
KS: The main way I have seen has been an increase in litigation or fear of such. People today are quick to involve a lawyer to resolve any dispute rather than taking the time to come up with a good solution. Part of this problem I think may be blamed on increased media coverage of shady contractors which has cultivated distrust in our industry as a whole. I believe this is an area [where] National could possibly help local associations by an ad campaign that focuses on the requirements to become a member and the risk homeowners are taking by working with non-members.
QR: What have you done to grow your business during the current economy?
KS: I have not tried to grow my business. I am focusing on selecting the jobs that fit for my and my company, and at this point in my career want to be the best at what I do. At one point I had five employees and when the inevitable hiccup to the schedule came it sent me scrambling to figure out where to send the guys. Depending on the severity of the problem, sometimes it would only be a day or two but in some cases I had to come up with a new plan to keep five guys doing something that I could charge for their wages as opposed to “eating” their pay until things got back on track.
QR: Are you hiring this year, and how are you finding the right people?
KS The labor shortage affects my subs more than me directly. I do notice that there is a large turnover in the service trades, which means I have to keep a closer eye on quality of work performed. I insist the product I sell to the client is high-quality and if something was not done to my standards it must be redone until it is.
QR: What is your favorite item in your office?
KS: My favorite item in my office would be my laptop. I enjoy putting on my headphones to listen to my “golden oldies” while I do my paperwork and estimates.
QR: What motivates you every day?
KS: I enjoy working with my hands and will do many of the items in a remodeling myself while supervising. As a small business, this both satisfies my need for hands-on experience and less headaches with downtime. | QR
Apply to be a future NAHB Remodeler of the Month by visiting nahb.org/rom. (Note you must be a NAHB Remodelers member.)