NAHB Remodeler of the Month: ‘Old School’ Yet Relevant

by Kacey Larsen

Don Wirtzberger
Sierra Design & Construction
Louisville, Ky.

Title: President

Year company founded: 2001

Number of employees: 4

How did you choose this career?

I started a construction company in 1985 that specialized in building fuel service stations and installing underground tank systems. Around 1999 it was clear that to remain competitive in the business, it would require a large amount of out-of-town work. My employees all had families and did not want extended stays away. So, my foreman Terry Phelps and I decided to start Sierra Design & Construction.

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

I believe more of our local builders are taking on more remodeling projects than ever before. Also, there is a push within our organization to attempt to get unlicensed or nonmember remodelers to join our association to help the level of professionalism rise.

What are the greatest opportunities in the remodeling market?

There are unlimited opportunities in our local market for remodelers. Our company solely uses word-of-mouth as the source for leads. If a company presents itself as a reputable and professional contractor, there should be no problem getting jobs.

On the flip side, what is the biggest challenge right now to your business?

The biggest problem facing remodelers is getting subcontractors and personnel. Everyone is busy within our market, and getting a sub to the job in a timely manner is difficult. We use the same subs on every job and work as a team. We also pay subs in a timely manner, which helps in this relationship. Also, the labor force is an issue here—as it is nationally.

What is your current focus for business?

My primary focus now is properly servicing the incoming calls and leads. This is the busiest time of the year as spring is here, and customers are eager to get quotes and ideas for their projects.

Your company doesn’t have an online presence (company website, Facebook page, etc.). Is that a conscious decision in this “connected” day and age?

You are correct about the lack of a web presence. We are somewhat “old school” in this respect. My business partner and I are in our 60s and want to start winding down and enjoying our grandchildren and hobbies more. I realize this is not a good business model and do not recommend not having a web presence in today’s market. But there are exceptions, and they have served us well. We have no problem working with today’s younger clients and have had no issues as such.

Have you seen a change to the average job size and/or types of projects clients are seeking?

I will say most of our work right now pertains to bathroom remodels, kitchens and covered porches in that order. Also, the amount customers are spending on these projects is steadily increasing. The old $35,000 kitchen remodel is now $65,000 to $70,000.

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

As I have mentioned, we use word-of-mouth for our leads. I believe if you provide your customers with a good product and service, they are more than willing to pass your company’s name on to a friend or colleague.

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

I work within our local association if I have problems. There is a wealth of knowledge within the membership, and it is amazing how competitors will work with each other on an issue. I also visited the International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas this year and saw many new products and ideas.

What does being part of NAHB Remodelers mean to you?

Being associated with NAHB has propelled our company to a new level of professionalism. It has kept us abreast of new technology and code changes that affect us.

What first drew you to become a member of your local chapter?

I became a member approximately 18 years ago. For several years, I only participated with our local chapter by attending annual meetings and tabletop nights. As a member of the Remodelers Council, I was asked to be chairman. I accepted and eventually ended up on the executive committee and will be president next year.

How did you come to serve in the various leadership roles you’ve held within your chapter? And have you learned any particular lessons about the industry and/or to take back to your business along the way?

It all started when a veteran member of the association asked me to assume a position on the executive ladder. The main lesson I have learned is how to deal with different personalities to achieve a desired goal.

Could you share a bit about the Harbor House kitchen project that you were involved with recently?

Harbor House is an organization that provides daycare for approximately 65 participants, mentally challenged adults. Our company was responsible for coordinating the remodeling of an existing, small kitchen; this included demo and the installation of new cabinetry and appliances. Most of the goods and services were donated along with a $10,000 donation from our [association’s] Building Industry Charitable Foundation.

What is your best career advice?

Be honest and treat customers and associates with respect.

What motivates you every day?

Coming into the office and facing what the new day brings. I like solving problems and meeting new people.

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

I honestly think it would be receiving respect from my colleagues—this includes being asked to be on our local governing body and, ultimately, president of our association. QR

Apply to be a future NAHB Remodeler of the Month by visiting (Note you must be a NAHB Remodelers member.)

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