NAHB Remodeler of the Month: Build a Business

by Kacey Larsen

Sean Beliveau, CGP, CAPS
Slate Creek Builders, LLC
Blacksburg, Va.

Title: Owner/builder

Year Founded: 2010

Number of Employees: 9

QR: Who started your company?

SB: Myself with unlimited support from my wife, Carol.

QR: How did you choose this career?

SB: I grew up on and around construction projects, learned carpentry skills as a teenager, and used them to work my way through college and beyond. My father and grandfather were both civil engineers/construction managers, and I followed suit. I was a framer for a year or so after college, and I always was building stuff—even built my own 5,000-square-foot home “on the weekends” back when I was younger and before I started this business.

In 2010, I had a corporate career that was, in a nutshell, not working for me on a personal or professional level. I looked into several different career options and because of my background and skill set I decided to take the riskier self-employment route. I had about three months of accumulated vacation pay and some savings, and on my 40th birthday, I resigned and started working on my business plan. In a month, I had a Class A Contractor license, an LLC, a pickup, insurance and a couple of projects under contract.

QR: What did you do before becoming a remodeler? 

SB: I had a corporate career in product development, marketing and sales in 3-D modeling, positioning and construction technologies.

QR: What motivates you every day?

SB: I think most of us in this industry like to build things, but I think few of us are good at building a business. In the last few years since joining my NAHB 20 Club, I have really found motivation in building the business into something sustainable and permanent that will be providing this professional service to our community for future generations. It has taken me out of my comfort zone of being on-site and working with my hands into profit and loss reports, job cost reports and balance sheets. It is a totally different perspective, but being able to think and plan one, three, five, 10 years down the road and to see opportunities for myself (to retire someday, for example), my employees and possibly my children to be involved as future owners of this business is very motivating and exciting.

QR: What does NAHB mean to you?

SB: We are in a very small market and don’t have a local Remodelers’ Council, so this is a way for us to stay involved. I feel this is a competitive advantage for us; there may only be a couple of remodeling firms who are members.

QR: Where do you go to look for solutions and ideas for your business?

SB: My NAHB 20 Club—I could not imagine a better resource.

QR: What are the greatest opportunities in the remodeling market?

SB: We are in a small town that is literally surrounded by mountainous geography that makes sprawl difficult or impossible. Almost every lot “in town” is already built, and many of these homes are relatively well constructed but 40 or more years old. We are working on and getting requests for just about every type of home improvement project. Our list of current and upcoming projects includes outdoor living projects; kitchens; several additions, including some multiroom additions; bathrooms; whole house remodels; and also a couple of new builds.

QR: What have you done to grow your business during the current economy? 

SB: Honestly, we have mostly just been working to improve our systems and process, and that is making us more efficient in filtering and processing our opportunities and in the production of our projects.

QR: Is your focus currently on more growth or steady revenue at greater profitability?

SB: Being involved in our NAHB 20 Club (Remodeler Club R9, “The Mavericks”) has been invaluable for us in learning how to build a business based on sound financials rather than just revenue growth. We have seen too many companies get in trouble chasing big revenues without properly marking up their work and losing control of their job costs and expenses. We are growing revenue, adding expenses and production staff; however, we are carefully tracking our job costs, gross profit and overhead expenses, making sure we are growing the bottom line appropriately to justify the added work and risk.

QR: Are you seeing increases in your average job size? 

SB: Our average job size is up from around $64,000 last year to around $101,000 this year. I think in our situation it is more likely because we are busy and are not able to pursue as many of the smaller jobs as we have in the past.

QR: What is your No. 1 source of leads right now, and why is it working?

SB: Referrals, without question, are our bread and butter. We have a well evolved and very consistent design/build process that takes our clients logically through initial discussion, design concepts, pricing and revisions, selections, construction contract, production and change order management, and warranty. We have a growing constituency of highly satisfied clients that appreciate us and our process, and rave about us to their friends and families.

QR: How has the remodeling profession changed since you’ve been involved?

SB: I think the technology we use on a day-to-day basis has really changed the way we work with our clients and deliver our customized solutions. For example, we can export a 3-D model from Chief Architect and send it to a client who might be vacationing in another country. We use cloud-based project management software that manages schedule, budget, change orders, selections, etc., and allows our client to stay completely in the loop as necessary. These technologies are changing the industry and the client experience in profound ways and have only just begun to emerge.

QR: Are you hiring, and how are you finding the right people for your company?

SB: We have been looking for a lead carpenter for a while now with no success, and I am going to admit our recruiting process needs to be revisited. Almost all our hires are referrals from within our community networks. We have a couple young production workers who have the potential to be leads so we are trying to encourage their development, but it takes time so we are doing what we can with what we have in place or have access to.

QR: What is the most unusual project your company has completed? 

SB: We constructed a winery for a client which was very cool, however I would say the two church-to-home conversions that we have completed have been the most unique. In both situations, we had great clients, we were able to be really creative and the projects turned out amazing. Very fun for us and a little different from the typical kitchen, master bath addition or remodel.

QR: If you could have a 30-minute conversation with any business leader in the country, who would it be? 

SB: I would probably say Gary Vaynerchuk or Mark Cuban—a little edgy, honest and good humored in my opinion.

QR: What is the best advice you’ve received in your career? 

SB: One of my favorites is an analogy a college professor gave us in context to using heavy equipment in construction vs. digging by hand. As leaders we need to think of ourselves as “amplifiers” and look for ways to produce orders of magnitude (more work through our organization than we could complete by ourselves). I have found it is especially difficult to let go of the things we like doing and let someone else takeover, but this is the only way to grow an organization.

QR: What is your favorite item in your office?

SB: Cassidy, our designer, is going to kill me for writing this, but it is definitely the couch in my office/cube. She hates it and tells me I am trying to make the office look like a fraternity house. She is probably going to make it go away the next time I go on vacation!

QR: Additional career accomplishments?

SB: I have been fortunate in my career to travel, see and do a lot of different things, and have been involved in some of the biggest construction and infrastructure projects in the world. I have even been patented. I will say this experience of starting my own business, becoming more involved in my larger builder/remodeler community and a business owner in my local community has been the most rewarding. In our small town, we have a very recognizable name, and my wife and I now own three community businesses. It makes you want to work hard, be good examples for other business owners, and be the kind of people that others want to support when they need the services we offer.

It has really been a steady progression, starting with becoming a member of our local HBA and the NAHB, and having access to education and training opportunities. Going to IBS, earning NAHB designations, getting involved in an NAHB 20 Club, serving on the board and as the chair of the Education Committee of our local, being recognized with awards like this, and now getting ready to take over as president of our local HBA—the experience has been amazing. Meeting people at all levels of local, state and national associations (many through 20 Club), who give so much of their time to the organization and in mentoring to other members, they have taught me that the more you give, the more you get back. This is so true on every level of personal and business growth. | QR

Related Posts

Leave a Comment

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More