Looking for the Silver Lining

by bkrigbaum@solagroup.com

There’s no silver bullet that will magically overcome the challenges confronting remodelers today, but Joseph Smith, CGR, CGP, CAPS, managing partner of Owings Home Services in Eldersburg, Md., thinks there is a silver lining.

There may be struggles ahead, but Smith is optimistic. “I think we’re a better company for it,” he says. “We have the best workforce we’ve ever had, even if we are leaner than we ever were.

“We’re working on the business a lot right now so that when we do have more work we’ll be able to handle it more efficiently and more profitably,” he adds

“Just keep improving your company,” he advises, “because I think the good ones will survive, and they will be leaner and better companies. It’s a win-win situation, but it’s a little painful right now.”

Following his own advice, Smith is currently installing CRM software and plans to have estimating and accounting modules installed by mid-year. “This will fully integrate our software and allow for more efficiency with a reduced staff, keeping our overhead as tight as possible.”

The software will also help Smith manage a grass roots marketing campaign that targets a base of architects and interior designers. One campaign involves sending Maryland themed gifts — since Owings operates primarily in Maryland.

“We feel that grass roots marketing such as this is a better place to focus our marketing dollars, since it makes a greater impact on a particular group of people that will help bring in new revenue,” Smith says.

His efforts are not just a tardy reaction to current market conditions, however. Smith is no stranger to growing and improving a company as a routine part of doing business. Owings Home Services, which is a division of Owings Brothers Contracting, is an example of that process. As Owings Brothers grew, it took on larger and larger jobs and found it wasn’t structurally suited to handle smaller jobs. As a result, Owings Home Services was formed and it now runs smaller jobs up to $150,000 or $200,000. Those jobs could be kitchens or baths or perhaps an exterior makeover consisting of new siding, dormers or other details to add curb appeal.

It didn’t start out exactly that way, however. Owings Home Services began as a handyman division but soon evolved. The handyman route is one that many remodelers are choosing today, and while there are advantages to doing handyman work, “I don’t know that it’s going to save a lot of people,” Smith says.

“My handyman jobs were getting up to $20,000, but my average job for my best year was $1,850, and to do $1 million in revenue requires a lot of infrastructure and paperwork. If a two-day job goes one extra day, you can lose money quickly. Even though it’s not big money, if you do that 20 times it starts getting painful,” Smith explains.

Smith is currently an active board member on the Home Builders Association of Maryland (HBAM) Remodelors Council, upcoming 2012 Council president and serves on the education committee. He recently joined the board of the HBAM Residential Green Building Council and sits on the Marketing Committee.

Smith is spearheading a drive to create and implement a carpenter/manager certification program called “Residential Project Specialist” which is scheduled to start in February 2010. “The goal is to provide carpenters from the remodeling and home builder sectors with field management training and to give local members a marketing tool to help separate them from the pack,” Smith explains. Once the carpenter passes the required classes, they will earn the RPS certification and the company can market that they employ RPS staff, including use of a specific logo.

The certification is one more way remodelers can differentiate and position their companies to be ready when the remodeling market eventually regains its upward movement, a strategy of which Smith would surely approve.

Fast Facts: joseph smith, CGR, CAPS, CGP

  • Company: Owings Home Services
  • Location: Eldersburg, Md.
  • Web site: www.owingshomeservices.com
  • HBA/Local Council: Home Builders Association of Maryland
  • Industry involvement: Current board member, HBAM Remodelors Council; upcoming 2012 council president; member, education committee; board member, HBAM Residential Green Building Council; member, marketing committee
  • Community involvement: Member of Howard County Consumer Affairs Committee

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