2022 Fred Case Award Finalist: Unanticipated Benefits on Purpose

Green and healthy attributes are baked into a design-build process led by Fred Case Award finalist Paul Kocharhook.

by Kyle Clapham

Entrepreneurship involves identifying an unmet need and responding with a new business venture. In the case of design-build remodeler Paul Kocharhook, owner of Pathway Design & Construction in Seattle, offering green, healthy-home and universal design solutions was hardly an unmet need in his market area. At the regional level, Seattle boasts some of the earliest and most active green-building and healthy-home certification programs in the nation.

When Kocharhook launched Pathway with a green-building focus in 2008 and added an intense focus on healthy-home benefits early in the pandemic year of 2020, the company was not pioneering in these efforts. What was different was Pathway’s all-in level of commitment. Green, accessible and healthy solutions are baked into their services. They are a premium service provider that offers “unanticipated benefits,” Kocharhook says.

Pathway’s results from 2020 to 2021 tell part of story. In those years they completed 13 and 12 jobs respectively, but the average job size went way up. Revenue in 2020 was $1.8 million and jumped to $3.3 million in 2021. Some of that increase was triggered by the pandemic effect of clients asking for bigger scopes of work, but much of the growth in job size resulted from Pathway’s deeper needs-analysis during initial consultations, Kocharhook says.

“In the age of COVID, our focus on healthy homes and how living spaces impact the health of its occupants resonated strongly with clients,” Koharchook wrote in his Case Award application. “So, in addition to enhancing the appearance and function of the spaces we remodel, we emphasized improving the overall health of homes. We learned about clients’ concerns and medical conditions, provided education on all materials—from sealers and adhesives to various types of insulation—and strived to minimize negative impacts.”

To Kocharhook, the healthy-home initiative was both an entrepreneurship decision as well as a doubling-down on the company’s many professional certifications and accreditations that give Pathway the expertise to offer healthy-home and green-home solutions.

Kocharhook is a Master Certified Green Professional and a Certified Aging in Place (CAPS) specialist, both designations from the National Association of Home Builders. The CAPS designation helps professionals identify current and long-term accessibility needs and to incorporate accommodations into any design solutions for clients. He also holds a Certified Remodeler designation from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. In addition, Pathway as a company is a certified BuiltGreen organization, a regional designation that allows them to confer green designations onto clients’ finished projects after an application process.

Adding healthy homes onto its existing green-building expertise married Kocharhook’s deeply felt purpose (one that is shared by Pathway’s 14 employees) with his goals for clearer market positioning, increased revenue and increased profitability. So, in addition to seeing a higher average ticket for their projects, Kocharhook says Pathway has subsequently measured higher levels of customer satisfaction and a stronger flow of committed referrals.

“Admittedly, the way we measure the success of our projects is not scientific or rooted in numbers; rather, it is measured by our clients’ satisfaction and well-being,” Kocharhook explains.

“Many clients over the years have reported improvements in their asthma or other health conditions following our work. These clients regularly refer us to others who either have their own health concerns or simply want to explore how a remodel can make their home not only more functional and attractive, but healthier as well. For example, we recently received a referral for a potential client who has been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. That steady stream of referrals tells us we are succeeding in our mission. We are using eco-friendly, energy-efficient, healthy methods and products to create intelligently designed living spaces that are accessible to all—regardless of age, ability, or stage of life.”

The decision to add healthy and accessible remodeling solutions as a baked-in service was the natural outcome of more than a decade of commitment to learning about those issues, Kocharhook says, but implementing the initiative was not as easy as flipping a switch. Consultations were adjusted with the goal of getting potential clients to take a more far-sighted view of their long-term living needs years and even decades ahead.

“Years ago, we performed bathroom remodels for two clients; and within a year, each had contacted us again to make their spaces more accessible. One had moved into an aging-in-place mode and the other, a younger client, had suffered a stroke,” Kocharhook says. “This gave me pause. Were we thinking far enough ahead and planning for potential lifestyle changes during our projects? Implementing this initiative required a commitment to changing our own thinking while at the same time learning how to educate clients without sounding as if we were fear-mongering.” QR

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