Living the American Dream
authors Kacey Larsen
Barry Helms, GMB, CGR, CGP, CAPS
Renovations by Helms, Inc.
Year founded: 1985
Number of employees: 12
Who started your company? My father, Ray Helms, and I started the company in 1985. My father retired from the company in 1993.
When and how did you choose this career? My father had been a homebuilder in the Tulsa area, and I had worked on his houses through my high school years. Upon my graduation from college, the Tulsa market experienced an extreme downturn due to the oil bust of 1984-1985. New home building also came to an abrupt stop. Since I wanted to stay in the Tulsa area, we thought we could use our construction skills to help homeowners maintain, remodel and improve the homes they already owned.
How has the remodeling profession changed since you’ve been involved? The remodeling profession has dramatically changed during the 30 years I have been involved in it. It’s hard to believe that we didn’t have cell phones or computers in the early years. The addition of the Internet and HGTV have positively assisted with the visualization of design-build remodeling while not addressing the complexity of remodeling and the real cost of quality workmanship by negatively portraying remodeling as easy and inexpensive.
What does being part of NAHB mean to you? Living the American dream as a small business owner of a construction/building company takes most of my time at the local level. The NAHB deals with political issues, regulations and standards at the national level, looking out for my best interests that I would never have the time to deal with as an individual.
Where do you go for solutions and ideas for your business? We are active in the Home Builders Association of Greater Tulsa’s Remodelers Council; we participate monthly in the Executive Lunch Series for Tulsa business owners and executives; and we attend the International Builders Show and the Remodeling Show every few years.
If you could have a 30 minute conversation with any business leader in the country to pick their brain for business ideas, who would it be? Marcus Lamonis with CNBC’s The Profit or any of the “Sharks” on Shark Tank.
Finding qualified labor is a challenge. Are you hiring this year and how are you going about finding the right people for your company? We are hiring and would like to find young people interested in this industry, but there are not many of them. We occasionally run ads in the newspaper and on CraigsList, but word-of-mouth is the most successful.
Right now, what is your focus as a remodeler — more growth or steady revenue at greater profitability? Beginning in 2009, Renovations by Helms survived the recession by taking on commercial and tribal projects at highly competitive margins. We had no layoffs and strived to push work to our most loyal trade contractors to help sustain their businesses. Since Oklahoma is very dependent on the oil industry and the price of oil and natural gas is low, we feel with our newfound diversity we can sustain our revenue with greater efficiencies.
Many remodelers are reporting increases in their average job size in 2015. Are you seeing this as well? We did see a 38 percent increase in our average job size in 2015, but we aren’t sure this trend will continue in 2016 due to the impact of the oil industry in our area.
What is your No. 1 source of leads right now, and why is it working? Ninety-five percent of our annual book of business through the years has consisted of our repeat and referral clients. We strive to have a thoughtful and respectful relationship with our clients because we are in their personal space.
What have you done to grow your business during the current economy? In addition to our private clients, we have pursued tribal and commercial work. Because both tribal and commercial work require performance bonding, we have focused on better business practices to bolster our balance sheet and P&L Statement to increase our bonding capacity, allowing us to win a larger book of business.
What is the most unusual project your company has completed? As a Cherokee Nation citizen and the sixth great-grandson of the last Beloved Woman of the Cherokee Nation, Nanyehi, I was honored to be selected as the prime contractor for the Springhouse Restoration at the Saline National Park, site of the last nine Cherokee Nation district courthouses in existence. The 19th century Springhouse was threatened with destruction when its foundation was eroded by a spring flowing underneath. Located at the Cherokee Nation’s first national park, every stone was removed, numbered and returned to its original location and original mortar duplicated on a new engineered steel reinforced concrete foundation.
What is your favorite item in your office? Our office dog named Tehya (her name means “Precious” in Native American tongue) because she is my calming force in stressful times.
What motivates you every day? I have been intrigued with the building process since I was a young boy. I find it inspiring to watch ideas on paper transform into reality. There is a feeling of satisfaction when we provide the necessary need for every family to have a safe and secure sense of home. We provide shelter from the storm, a place to make special memories and, if done properly, enhance an asset that will increase in equity and value.
What is the best advice you’ve received in your career? Both my grandparents and parents instilled in me that my most valuable asset should be my “word.”
Is there anything else you’d like to mention about career accomplishments? Part of the Tulsa Home Builders Association, which has awarded us “Remodeler of the Year” three times and “Spirit Award Winner” twice. I served as president of the Remodelers Council three times and on the board of directors. Also, I was a past member of the board of directors for the Oklahoma State Home Builders Association. Our company has received several other recognitions as well: TulsaPeople Magazine, A-List Winner 2014 and 2015 and recipient of magazine’s Best Outdoor Living Space, Best Makeover and Best Historic Renovation Award; Oklahoma Historical State Society State Preservation Award Winner; and featured on HGTV’s “Restore America.”