NAHB Remodeler of Month: The ‘Rush’ of Selling

by Kacey Larsen

Jake Brown

Winston Brown Construction

Topeka, Kan.

Title:  Owner

Year founded: 1974

Number of employees: 24

QR: Who started your company? 

JB: My father Gary Winston Brown founded the company in 1974; I took over in 2008.

QR: How did you choose this career?

JB: I have been around the business my whole life. Some of my fondest memories were getting to go to the jobsite with my dad as a kid and seeing all the cool tools, machines and projects. From there, I worked at the family business off and on through high school summers and college. I finally came onboard full-time in 2005, working in the field as a full-time bathroom installer. A couple of years later my dad received bad news that he had cancer in his mouth and lymph nodes. At that time, the recession had begun to grab hold of the Midwest, and business started slowing at a rapid pace. My father was going to sell the company to an outfit out of North Dakota. He asked me if I had interest in taking over, and I told him I could not take a handout. So, I moved out of the field and into the office to learn the business side of the company. Our agreement was this: I would start to sell remodeling jobs, and my job profits from two years would be my payment to him. I quickly learned I loved selling remodeling and became addicted to it. In January of 2008, I started Winston Brown Construction LLC—it was WBC Inc., prior. I started with no permanent office, office staff or project managers, and three field employees. It was tough at times, but I would not have wanted it any other way.

Starting from scratch helped me learn the business organically. From there I grew the company from three employees doing $400,000 revenue to 20-plus employees pushing $5 million in revenue. I could not have done any of it without my father or my amazing staff!

QR: What did you do before becoming a remodeler?

JB: I had my own handyman company in Lawrence, Kansas, called “Jake of All Trades.” Cheesy, right?! I did that as well as apartment maintenance. This is how I paid my living expenses through my three years of college.

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

JB: It means a lot to me! Knowing there is a large, smart, fun group of people that share the same interests as me—I know if I need any resource at all, I can find it there, whether that be their website or going to IBS.

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

JB: NAHB 20 Clubs. The Mavericks group I am part of has been the best thing I have ever done for my company! It is the best tool that NAHB offers.

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

JB: I would have to say my grandfather. He was an amazing businessman! He passed away right as I was dipping my toes into the business world.

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

JB: “Revenue kills; profit thrills.”

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

JB: I have seen the high times in the 1990s and early 2000s, to the lowest of the low in 2011. We also have seen many changes in trends and design.

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

JB: We are always focused on staying steady, but also growing at a natural pace. Once we hit one goal, we are striving to hit the next.

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

JB: Stick to our design/build process religiously. We don’t rely on sales gimmicks or discount coupons. We get to know the customer and what their goal is with the space they want to renovate. By working with the customer and their budget from the very beginning, we stay true to our word, and there are no surprises. This creates happy customers who love their new space and are eager to tell their friends and family about Winston Brown Construction.

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

JB: All of our marketing campaigns build on each other, which has increased our already strong brand. We track every lead and most say they know us because we’ve been around so long. We have a great website, and we also do TV commercials, Facebook, Google, Houzz, Instagram, wrapped vehicles, yard signs, etc. Everything kind of works together to make us extremely visible.

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

JB: The best opportunities come from our clients who fully integrate with our design/build process. In ensures they get exactly what they want, and it helps us stay on task and in budget.

QR: Are your average job sizes increasing?

JB: Yes, our favorite project is a whole house remodel—where we can really transform a home and make it look completely different. We’ve been fortunate to have eight whole home remodeling projects over two years.

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

JB: We are struggling with this greatly! We offer the whole package as far as pay and benefits, but people with strong carpentry skills and experience just do not exist in our area.

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

JB: We converted an indoor basketball court that had 20-foot ceilings into a large master suite on the top floor and a large workout facility on the basement level.

QR: What is your favorite office item?

JB: My rubber band gun!

QR: What motivates you every day?

JB: As stressful as this business is, I still get a rush every time I sell a project. Whether it is a $30,000 bathroom or a million-dollar remodel, I get the same rush—it’s addicting!

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

JB: I am beyond grateful for every accomplishment we achieve. Whether it is QR Top 500, 40 Under 40 or being president of our local HBA, they all mean the world to me, but I truly could not do it without my team!|QR

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