April NAHB Remodeler of the Month: Failure As Motivation
Bryan Smith, GMR, GMB, CGR, CAPS, CGP
Vision Design + Build
Year Founded: 2003
QR: Who started your company?
BS: I did. I am the 100 percent owner.
QR: How did you become a remodeler?
BS: I had just gotten my mechanical engineering degree and was looking for engineering jobs. A friend had a residential construction company and he said, “Why don’t you come work for me while you’re looking for jobs?” I started working for him and the more I did, the more I liked it. I saw the good and bad—his company grew quickly and did incredible stuff, but he was a horrible manager so he went bankrupt. Through all of that, I started my company at that time.
QR: What does being part of NAHB Remodelers mean to you?
BS: I’m currently the vice president of the Greater San Antonio Builders Association—I’ll be president next year. In life, you can’t know it all so you’ve got to get around people who have been successful and have proven track records. The best way to do that in the building industry is with the builders association. Becoming a member was one of the first things I did when I started my company to begin getting around those guys. Where are some people who have been doing this for 10, 20, 30 and 40 years? What are they doing? Get around them; talk to them.
For the last few years I’ve really enjoyed the Builder 20 groups NAHB has, and it’s wonderful because you’re able to talk differently than you would with your local builders association. It’s in a noncompete area, so you’re able to talk about marketing, business, hiring and all different kinds of practices; share paperwork stuff; and discuss what you’ve learned, what works well and what doesn’t. Those things can give you an edge, and I feel they have helped our company grow and become more successful than if we were trying to do it on our own.
QR: How has the remodeling profession changed since you’ve been involved?
BS: When I first started, it was a lot of “simple remodeling”—windows, patio covers and that kind of stuff—and there was a stigma of the old, aluminum salesmen or the people who would go door-to-door. What I’ve seen change is it has become much more professional, and it’s no longer looked upon as the small child or the stepchild of builders. The advent of HGTV with all the remodeling shows they’re showing is really, I think, giving [remodeling] a much better spectrum when you’re dealing with professional companies, and I’ve seen that change over the years for the good.
QR: Where and what are some of the greatest opportunities in the remodeling market?
BS: There is tremendous optimism in the Texas area consistently and especially now with the Fed changing its interest rates, so there’s a little more emphasis on wanting to get some things done sooner than later. People are not as afraid of spending significant amounts of money.
QR: Are you seeing an increase in your average job size?
BS: Project sizes have increased, so a remodeling that’s $200,000; $300,000 or $400,000 is not unusual. Our growth, for the past couple years, has gone up. This first quarter [of 2017] we’ve done as much as we did all last year, and I’ve seen that not just for myself but for other people as well.
QR: What is an unusual project your company has completed?
BS: We’re seeing a lot more outdoor entertainment areas, so it’s really using the outside as living areas. We just finished a project that had a large area for a great-room concept underneath a second-story deck. The deck radiuses and then cantilevered out right next to a pool, and the way it looked and everything else was architecturally stunning. It was very unusual, but that’s one of the elements we’re seeing a lot more of people wanting—really nice outdoor areas where they can really enjoy the outside as well as the inside.
QR: Where do you go to look for solutions and/or ideas for your business?
BS: You want to find niches that you see are successful. NAHB is a great one because, again, it has a track record and you want to get around people who have been successful. Whether it be my Builder 20 group, my NAHB local chapter or I’m also part of another buying group which brings a lot of the NAHB builders together into a co-op to help reduce some costs, there’s a couple different things out there I’ve found being a part of and getting around have helped our overall profitability and just knowledge.
QR: What is your No. 1 source of leads right now?
BS: It’s repeats and referrals—that’s our bread and butter.
QR: Are you hiring this year, and how are you going about finding the right people for your company?
BS: We’ve actually changed our model a bit. We used to do all subs, but now I do have some people that solely work for us—carpenters and painters—which allows us better control on some items without going crazy. In remodeling, you have some ups and downs, so you need to make sure you’re wise with the money that you spend. As far as other trades, prices have gone up because they’re so busy right now. Demand has really skyrocketed costs and all that.
Our chapter here locally has been very active with colleges and high schools to get curriculums and activities to get people involved and interested in the different trades and construction field. It’s just starting to again get people active and excited about it, because most of our trades our older and they don’t have the younger people who want to do it.
QR: What motivates you every day?
BS: Remodeling is one of the toughest fields because it’s dealing with people, different trades, their lives and what’s going on. Every job is different, so it’s such a challenge. That’s what I love about it: It’s not the same cookie cutter thing. What motivates me is failure—making sure that I don’t fail again.
QR: What is the best advice you’ve received?
BS: You just don’t give up. When I first started in this business, my first year of sales was $5,000, the second year was $50,000, third year was $100,000, then it was a million dollars, then several million. You just don’t give up —find out if you have a passion. For me, it is designing, meeting people and sales. Those motivate and excite me—that’s fun, and you need fun in life.
QR: If you could have a 30-minute conversation with any business leader in the country, who would it be?
BS: Warren Buffett would be one of them. He’s been extremely consistent and very successful over the years, so to pick his brain would be very good. President Donald Trump to ask, “What made you think of going into politics and why?” But he’s been successful in business, so [I would] ask what made him successful and made him tick. It’s those types of people who have been real successful just to know a little bit more, and those would be two of the people I think would be some great conversations.
QR: Is there anything else you’d like to mention about career accomplishments?
BS: My wife and I have done a little more than 10 years of marriage preparation for our church, really enjoy teaching new couples and learning ourselves every time we go through where are we messing up or how can we get better. Going through school and getting my mechanical engineering degree was a great achievement—I paid for it myself. And then locally I’m on the Board of Appeals for the City of San Antonio, so I am part of a 12-member board that approves codes for the city for commercial and residential along with items that development services need help on, like side ordinances and different things from city council. I’ve enjoyed getting involved with part of the city planning and meeting inspectors and those types of people.