NAHB Remodeler of the Month: A Cultural Emphasis

by Kacey Larsen
November Remodeler of Month

Melissa Irons, CGR, CGP, CAPS
Irons Brothers Construction, Inc.
Shoreline, Wash.,

Title: Marketing and Operations Manager

Year Founded: 1999

Number of Employees: 11

QR: How did you choose this career?

MI: In 2005, I became involved with my husband’s growing remodeling company, Irons Brothers Construction. At the onset, my involvement was administrative and marketing support; this was to help with development of our first website, along with HR support and general secretarial duties. As the company continued growing, so did my interest in entrepreneurship and also residential construction. My background as an operating room registered nurse and nurse manager (received my Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1999)—I obtained my certification as a perioperative nurse shortly after choosing my career path in the operating room—was useful in creating employee systems and policies to continue the growth of the business from a contractor to a design/build firm.

In January of 2008, I left my nursing career to work with Irons Brothers Construction full-time as a co-owner. When transitioning into residential construction and remodeling from nursing, the first thing I did was participate in classes and conferences to obtain my CGR certification, then onto my CAPS and CGP. Within six months of working in a full-time capacity, I helped orchestrate the move of our home office into a private location with showroom in Shoreline, Washington. Believe it or not, I also delivered our first daughter, Venetia, two weeks prior to our office’s grand opening. Ultimately, I chose to work in our family’s design/build business because it allows me to work locally with amazing people and offers the flexibility I need with having children. [They are now 10 and 8.]

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

MI: There are so many things that NAHBR offers to its members, and I am so proud to be a part of it. For me, being a part of our national association of remodelers means that I am involved with an elite group of business owners dedicated to our industry, homeowners and employees. We are a collective power of members nationally who can affect the residential remodeling community for the better through our professionalism and involvement.

QR: What is the value you perceive from being so involved in the Master Builders Association of King & Snohomish Counties?

MI: There are many benefits from being involved in our local building association. Some are industry-related, such as education and advocacy; others are professional growth from the experience gained in leading committees and events. As a member of our association, I use my voice and involvement to be a change agent and help empower other members to be their best; in turn, our industry is better for it as we can provide the best service to our clients and employees. The top value I have received is through relationships built with veteran business owners in our building association, especially other husband-and-wife teams like ours. Friendships have evolved into mentorships, and these amazing professionals have helped me to grow into the leader I am.

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

MI: There are many places I go. The first is to my colleagues within our builders’ association. A representative  from our company—my husband, who is the general manager—attends local, state and national builders’ director meetings. Other continuing education opportunities include publications, such as Qualified RemodelerProfessional Remodeler and JLC as well as attending annual conferences, like the International Builders’ Show/Kitchen & Bath Industry Show, the Remodeling Show and JLC Live. Outside of the industry, I refer to local entrepreneurial and business organizations. I also subscribe to Inc. magazine. In 2017, I attended their GrowCo. Conference and found this very useful in looking at business growth and solution ideas that were not industry specific.

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

MI: In our marketplace (Seattle and Shoreline, Washington), the greatest opportunities in remodeling are for the older homes, 1900s to 1978, and the families who are purchasing these to make their house a “home.” We have a lack of buildable land available, so our market will continue to remodel homes for many years to come. With that said, we are seeing an increase of additions, detached accessory dwelling units (DADUs) and mother-in-law (MIL) cottages. This multigenerational housing is to curb our area’s housing affordability issues.

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

MI: We are currently building a third-story addition with an elevator that was inspired by our client’s bulldog, Rocky. Rocky needs the help of an elevator now, and his parents are planning to use it for their future needs.

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

MI: The ebbs and flows of business have affected our company over time. For our company, projects’ size and scope have changed over the years as we have grown in experience and knowledge. Most homeowners are not educated on the difference between a “contractor” and a “remodeling professional,” so we have to continue educating them. One of the biggest changes has been with technology; the advances help us continue to innovate the services we offer. In 2018, our company instituted a cloud-based project management system, this is not only helping with decreasing paper waste, but helps to keep our staff, trade partners and clients apprised of project changes in a timely manner.

QR: What drove the decision to shift the company to a cloud-based client management program and time clock system? 

MI: We went to this system for many reasons. One of which is an effort to decrease the amount of paper we are printing and waste we are creating. After 20 years of business, we have accumulated more document storage than we have room to store, so the less we have on paper, the better. Additionally, we all know that paper can get lost; with the online system, we always have the information at our fingertips. In the field, we are able to hold our project managers accountable for their daily job reports, as well as time and attendance. The time clock system we use combines GPS technology with real-time documentation and reporting. We know at any given time what and where our team is, and how productive they are being. Lastly, we added the system to assist with contact management. On any given day, we can have from two to five leads come through our website, phone calls and/or walk-ins. With the cloud-based system, we are able to separate leads from our email system, allowing us to locate, log, track and automate our customer service to these lead opportunities. With a system in place this year, we have improved our response rates, scheduling process and follow up.

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

MI: We did hire one carpenter apprentice in 2018 after promoting one of our carpenters to a project manager. In 2017, we hired one carpenter, production manager and project developer. Right now, we have what my husband and I refer to as the “dream team.” I don’t anticipate adding to our team of 11 in 2019.

We consider ourselves very fortunate as we have not had difficulty locating qualified talent for our team. Most of our recent hires have come from our company’s reputation, our involvement in the local community, our presence on social media and/or being in the right place at the right time. We hire for attitude and professionalism and train for skill. Our most recent hire is a female carpenter apprentice, and we met her on the sidelines of our child’s softball game, which our company was sponsoring. We believe in giving back, and you will receive it back!

QR: What lessons have you taken from participating in community serve and philanthropic events? 

MI: Most of the philanthropic and community service events we participate in are either coordinated through our local Master Builders Association of King & Snohomish Counties and/or are in our local community. We have been building wheelchair ramps with the MBAKS Rampathon project since 2005. Thirteen years of giving back to local homeowners is an amazing way for us as a team to give our talents back to those in need. It is also a great team-building event that we all get behind. Every fall, we participate in Painting a Better Tomorrow, another MBAKS event. We have been participating for over a decade now, and this year it will be on Nov. 11, 2018, at a veteran’s housing building in Shoreline.

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

MI: We continue to grow more every year, but this is because of our amazing clients and the wonderful team we have who takes care of them. The best thing we have done to continue growing our business is start putting our company culture first; as when you have happy employees, they will make happy clients. This will be our third year of hosting our employees and their families (spouses and kids are invited to attend) at an off-site location for a two-day retreat. It’s a mix of business and pleasure. This year we will return to Great Wolfe Lodge for our second time, and while families are in the water park, our team is growing stronger together.

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

MI: Our best leads are our repeat clients and referrals, which make up about 70 percent of our lead sourcing. We treat our clients like gold, and then they refer their friends, coworkers, neighbors and family members to us. Our largest volume leads are found at our signature events for the year, the Seattle Home Show (fall and spring), the Remodeled Homes Tour (fall) and the NW Remodeling Expo (winter). At these exhibits, we meet with clients and also educate them.

QR: What motivates you every day?  

MI: My team motivates me at work every day. I am so proud and honored to work with some of the best in the industry and [am] so lucky to call them my friends and one of them my husband. My family motivates me at home every day. I am so proud of my two daughters who are beautiful, intelligent and witty, and my husband is a go-getter and leader who pushes me to be my best every day.

QR: What is a favorite item in your office?

MI: The post-it notes I have on my computer from my daughters when they visit. One says, “I love you!” The other says, “Best mother in the whole entire universe.” These remind me of my purpose for being here each day: Working hard to play hard with my family.

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

MI: Paul Allen. He had been a leader in our business and sports community in the Puget Sound area and given so much to our residents. I would have liked to pick his brain, but unfortunately he recently passed away.

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

MI: What you don’t get done today will be there tomorrow. As a nurse I am good at triage, but some days I must drop all the to-dos for the right-nows. But it’s OK; the to-dos will be there tomorrow.

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

MI: This is an amazing honor as I have worked very hard in our local association to help our industry and our company to continue to thrive as professionals in our ever-changing economy. Thank you for this honor and acknowledgment. |QR

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