NAHB Remodeler of the Month: Learned Expertise

by Kacey Larsen

Charlie Allen Renovations
Cambridge, Mass.

Title: President

Year company founded: 1978

Year joined company: 1999

Number of employees: 11

QR: Who started your company?

JP: Charlie Allen.

QR: How did you choose this career?

JP: In 1999, I answered an ad in the newspaper for an office manager. I had never worked in the remodeling sector, but I was a history major in college and the company’s focus on period homes appealed to me. Gradually as the company grew, so did my responsibilities. I grew to understand all facets of the business, from management to customer relations to the nuts-and-bolts of renovating and restoring older homes. In 2015, I became the president of Charlie Allen Renovations.

QR: What did you do before becoming a remodeler? 

JP: I managed delivery operations for a magazine and book distributor in Seattle, Washington.

QR: How did Charlie Allen Renovations come to specialize in the restoration and renovation of period homes?

JP: We work primarily in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and its surrounding towns. Most of the homes here are over 100 years old. It was sort of necessity that we specialize in them! But as the company developed, we found that our experience with period homes is invaluable when we take on a renovation. We know how to recreate original details on the exterior of a house, so when we’re using new modern materials, like composite lumber, the new material blends with the old wood. We understand how things were built 100 to 200 years ago and are familiar with the challenges and joys of working on—and living in—a house that has been around for so long.

QR: What has been the value of the company promoting its expertise on Houzz, Facebook and other mediums?

JP: I think that having projects featured in local publications brings about a perceived endorsement of our abilities. We work hard to live up to that expectation and learn from each project to improve our systems and better serve our clients.

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

JP: More growth. We’ve enjoyed steady progress for 40 years, and would like to increase our footprint here in the Cambridge/Boston area.

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

JP: Technology has brought about changes in the way we work. I can FaceTime or Skype with the site from my office or with out-of-town clients. We also used to put together enormous job notebooks with all the paper documentation relating to the project; now, with product specifications available online, it’s not necessary to generate so much paper.

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

JP: Technology is also changing the ways that we live; it’s an exciting time in the renovation field as we find new ways to integrate that technology into the design of our homes. Also, environmental concerns surrounding climate change are already having an impact on the design of our homes and the sort of materials we recommend to our clients.

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

JP: We use temporary agencies that specialize in the construction trade for a lot of our staff carpentry needs. When we find someone we like, we keep that person as long as possible through the agency and then hire them on as an employee.

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

JP: Client referrals are our main source of new business. We are fortunate to have past customers who speak with their friends, colleagues and family, and recommend us. They also invite those people into their homes, where they have a chance to see and experience our work firsthand. There’s no better recommendation than a former client, and we’re very happy to enjoy that.

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

JP: We recently created a garage in the basement of a 1920 Victorian. It was a challenging job that involved opening the brick and rubble foundation to create access into the basement from the street.

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

JP: It’s an esteemed group of colleagues, and I am honored to be recognized as one of them.

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

JP: It depends. For design inspiration, Houzz and Pinterest are great. For more business-oriented issues, I talk with other remodelers in our trade associations, and publications, like Qualified Remodeler, are another great resource.

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

JP: I’ve started reaching out to my own personal network of friends to ask their help in spreading the word about our company—what we do and how we deliver projects is a bit unusual and has great value to the right client.

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

JP: Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer for Facebook, who wrote the book “Lean In,” which was designed to help women recognize opportunities, overcome challenges and achieve their professional goals.

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

JP: Be yourself.

QR: What is your favorite item in your office?

JP: The reproduction tin ceiling we installed when we remodeled our office over 15 years ago.

QR: What motivates you every day?

JP: I live and work in Cambridge, and it is extremely rewarding to walk my daughter to school and see homes that we worked on and that we have made such a lasting impact in so many families’ lives. Aside from that, having a job where I have the flexibility to walk my daughter to/from school, attend her events and drive her carpool to gymnastics. Being able to spend time with my family is one aspect of working at Charlie Allen Renovations that I am extremely grateful for.

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

JP: In terms of the company, I’m proud to say that every member of the Charlie Allen Renovations team enjoys multiple professional certifications in everything from aging-in-place to green remodeling. For me personally, the journey from office manager to president has been deeply satisfying. I love my career. |QR

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