NAHB Remodeler of the Month: Hybrid Approach

With a background in journalism and building, Gaines goes local for his company’s planning.

Stuart Gaines,
New Blue Construction, Chattanooga, Tenn.

Title: President

Year Founded: 2008

Number of Employees: 25

Association: Past president of the HBA of Greater Chattanooga Remodelers Council

QR: Who started your company

SG: I started New Blue in 2008 during the worst quarter of the Great Recession, at least according to NAHB Builder/Remodeler data. It was often challenging in the early years, but there’s something useful about starting at the bottom of a trend like that.

QR: How did you choose this career?

SG: I grew up around a father and grandfathers in and around building and the trades. After college, I ended up working as a carpenter, which I really enjoyed, and I eventually went to work with my dad who was building custom homes before the recession. Dad got out of building as the recession came on, and that’s when I started New Blue.

QR: What did you do before remodeling?

SG: I studied print journalism in college. I then worked for a time as a writer, doing features work in music and some news stuff. I did a lot of music writing in my time in Asheville, North Carolina, and enjoyed the work—just not the pay.

QR: What motivates you every day?

SG: I owe everything we have achieved to my wife, Jamie, including the small loan we used to start New Blue almost 10 years ago. She is my rock, my counsel, my best friend. Nothing I have accomplished at New Blue is possible without her love and support.

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

SG: My dad always said that you should wake up every day in construction assuming there will be fires to put out, and he’s right. Being prepared to calmly handle days like that is critical to both sanity and success.

QR: Where do you go for business ideas?

SG: I read a lot of trade journals and unrelated periodicals. I am still a bit of a news junkie from my time in the news business, and staying tuned in to local news, leaders and trends helps to keep our strategic planning sharp and realistic for our market.

QR: What does being part of NAHB Remodelers mean to you?

SG: The continuing education piece is our biggest incentive. Advocacy is important, too, especially if it can balance conservation and good resource stewardship with economic development. Doing this in a nonpartisan way that is good for as many folks as possible in the trades and remodeling—not just big developers—is an end goal we want to contribute to.

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

SG: We keep our carpenters and a paint crew in-house, in addition to our managers and office staff. Finding skilled people, especially in the field, remains very challenging. We have trained several staff members from the ground up and continue that goal with worthy candidates in an attempt to control our long-term labor pool.

QR: Are you hiring this year, and how are you going about finding the right people? 

SG: We are hiring and having trouble finding skilled help. It’s out there, but you’re really often trying to attract candidates from other companies. A strong company culture and a growing benefit structure are our focus points for sustaining good hiring patterns.

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

SG: We have always believed that a strategically wider net is wise for both sustainability and growth. We do some renovation in commercial settings, as well as new construction—that is a good fit for a company like ours. Residential renovation and renovation/new construction hybrids remain our cornerstone business model. New Blue’s focus on self-performance in carpentry, in particular, helps to keep us versatile and in control of our own production. Being able to produce our own work and control production outcomes in this tight labor market has been a great asset to New Blue.

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

SG: We have spent a short while shoring up our internal processes and organizational structure to better accommodate smart growth, which we are open to given the right circumstance and opportunity. But having stability and improving margins first, and our current structure and team contribute daily to that goal.

QR: What is your No. 1 source of leads right now?

SG: Word-of-mouth is our best advertising, and second to none in results. Making clients happy and fulfilling obligations on every job is the best way to protect these referrals, and we believe strongly in those kinds of client relationships and commitments to the work.

QR: Most unusual project?

SG: One near the top of the list is a nearly completed conversion of an old Chattanooga slaughterhouse into an ice cream manufacturing facility. The owner, Clumpies Ice Cream here in Chattanooga, has pushed for a dramatic reimagining of the space that is really going to be spectacular once completed.

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

SG: John “JB” Bell of the rock band Widespread Panic. That band has been on the road for over 30 years, survived multiple lineup changes and problems over the years, and still produces an exceptional finished product. They do all of this while making good money and with a smile on their faces. I would like to ask JB some of his secrets to success.

QR: Talk a little bit about your company’s involvement with community service.

SG: We have always tried to emphasize charitable works during our years in business here in Chattanooga—from volunteering our time and talents with folks like Habitat for Humanity, to contributing time and resources to other charitable or otherwise worthy projects and endeavors. In November 2016, our neighboring building in South Chattanooga burned to the ground on Thanksgiving night. We emerged from the blaze with limited smoke and water damage, but many of our neighbors in the burned building lost everything that made up their respective businesses and professional endeavors. Thankfully no one was hurt, but we hosted a fundraiser and matched dollar-for-dollar all proceeds. Half of the funds were given to fire victims most in need, while New Blue’s half went to recognizing the nearly one-dozen fire companies that responded to the 3-alarm blaze. We bought lots of doughnuts and gift certificates, but mostly shook a lot of amazing hands. Those guys saved our business that night and fought an enormous blaze without incident or injury. It was amazing.

We are also currently engaged in working with a nonprofit partner, Glass House Collective, by renovating an old building in a dilapidated part of East Chattanooga. I serve on the board of advisors to Glass House, and their mission and work are pointed toward economic and community redevelopment initiatives in an otherwise dilapidated old district and neighborhood. We are, again, donating materials and labor in kind and have helped plan the project from the ground up.

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

SG: We have an amazing team at every level of the business. Our top managers are second to none, but so are our foremen, painters and carpenters in the field every day. We demand good craftsmanship, mutual respect and hard work at all levels of the company, and our team is committed to that. They’re also good people and a pleasure to work with every day.

QR: What is your favorite item in your office?

SG: There is a picture in my office of me and my first born, Hattie Rose, when she was just a few days old. That picture reminds me why this work is important for my family, and the most important thing is to get home safely every day to my beautiful wife and four daughters.

QR: Anything else you’d like to mention about career accomplishments?

SG: Our success is a direct result of the amazing team of men and women in the field and office at New Blue. And I would have no success to report without the support of my beautiful wife, Jamie, and my four wonderful daughters |QR

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