NAHB Remodeler of the Month: Proactive Approach

by Kacey Larsen

Curt Kiriu, CAPS, CGR
CK Independent Living Builders

Mililani, Hawaii

Title: President

Year Founded: 2008

Number of Employees: 3

QR: Who started your company?

CK: I started my company in 2008. Yes, possibly the worst time to start a construction company; but I didn’t know, which is possibly one of the reasons I succeeded. I only looked at the positive of being your own boss. To say that I was naïve is an understatement.

QR: When and how did you choose this career?

CK: I am not sure if I chose this career or if it was meant to be. In 1986, I was an executive chef in Waikiki and worked 12-plus hours a day, six days a week—weekends and all holidays—and with what little time I had, I played in a dart league. One of my teammates, who was a cabinet maker, knew how much I worked and suggested that I work in construction. He said that in construction I would work five days a week, eight hours a day, and have the weekends and holidays off. Even with working so much, I really enjoyed my job as a chef and told him I would think about it, but never gave it a second thought. That was until Christmas Eve when I worked over 25 hours straight, prepping and cooking for a Christmas banquet buffet for more than 800 customers. I seriously began to question my career as a chef, and the thought of working only five days a week with weekends and holidays off was tempting. I made the decision to join the construction industry two months later, and my first job was for a general contractor who was a custom homebuilder/remodeler.

I worked for several companies, working my way up in the field by learning various trade skills, [becoming] a superintendent and general superintendent. My largest project as a superintendent was just before I started my business; it was a [more than] $187 million luxury condominium, with upwards of approximately 500 workers from various trades on-site that I worked on between 70 to 80 or more hours a week. Another reason why I started my business.

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

CK: Fortunately for me, I decided to start my business in 2008, during what many say was the worst economic time. But it motivated me to work like crazy and to figure out what I needed to do to build a successful business, regardless of the economy. By earning my CAPS designation (in 2008) and taking full advantage of what I learned, I built a strong and wide foundation for my business by marketing and networking daily to nontraditional markets, which will continue to expand the growth of my business for many years.

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

CK: I might be biased, but when you sit down and examine the current information on the largest demographic of homeowners, baby boomers; the fastest growing demographic of homeowners who “need” to remodel to age-in-place, seniors; and the increase in multigenerational homes due to a high percentage of adult children living with their parents, it is easy to ascertain that aging-in-place and universal design are the markets to be in.

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

CK: I have been fortunate to be consistently extremely busy for about nine straight years, and I currently don’t plan to grow my company. I never planned on becoming a large company, because I like to ensure that we continue to produce quality design and workmanship on all the projects that we do. And when you have too many workers and multiple projects going at the same time, something has to give, and typically it is quality workmanship. This is why my focus is to concentrate on increasing profitability by reducing both labor and material waste.

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

CK: Belonging to NAHB Remodelers is reassurance—knowing you have the NAHB staff, who work hard to support not only current but new members who want to grow a successful business. I have developed a network of professional remodeling colleagues from across the country whom I can contact and discuss challenges and solutions within our industry.

QR: You are very engaged and involved with the CAPS certification program—both in your own community and on the national level. How did you decide to pursue such a designation in the first place?

CK: When I initially started my business, I had no idea CAPS even existed. I joined my HBA (BIA of Hawaii) and noticed education classes on the NAHB website so I clicked, hoping there was a class on managing endless paperwork, but [I found] a class called CAPS. The description sounded very interesting because I was my father’s caregiver at the time and had relatives with other disabilities. In all, I was my father’s caregiver for 17 years, and I use my caregiving experience to help the families I work with.

QR: Are you seeing an increase in your average job size? 

CK: I do see an increase in the types of projects I am asked to do. There are more requests for additions and whole-house remodeling because of the improved economy and the increase in multigenerational families. I believe that the current administration’s business-friendly view has been a big factor that helps even small businesses, like mine.

QR: Describe what types of projects you are, ideally, looking for. 

CK: I know what size projects my company can do [and], more importantly, the type. I enjoy projects that we can increase the quality of life for families, because many times there is a family member in a caregiver situation. There is something special when a family trusts you to be responsible for a home that may have been in a family for generations, and you work with them to design and modify so they can continue to live there and keep for future generations. The home many times becomes a multigenerational home that may have three generations living and enjoying the home because of the changes we worked on together.

QR: What are some of your methods for considering the needs and wants of each family member during a project? 

CK: I could teach a class on this question because it is a process with many steps that may change depending on several factors that helps me develop the scope of work and it is different for each family and situation. Basically, I always meet with any person (family or non-family) who will be involved in making the final financial or design decision. They need to be at every meeting because I want them to be there to hear everything I have to say—straight from me, not another person. I will meet with a family three times or more to develop the scope of work because I want to ensure it is acceptable to their needs now and in the future.

Before I meet with the family, I will ask them to brainstorm and write down all the things they need, want and desire, so I can review them when we meet. If it is a couple, then I ask them to make separate lists and not look at either one. [During] my initial home assessment, I will review their list(s) and ask them questions. I inform them that I will be taking pictures to help me develop the scope of work and the pictures will not have any person in them or any identifying information. Once that is done, I will follow them around the interior of their home asking questions and taking notes and pictures.

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

CK: I think there have been many changes in our industry, but besides the costs of materials and over-regulation, the biggest long-term impact has been the lack of quality skilled workers. There is a labor force of people who want to work in construction, but that does not mean they have the attitude, aptitude and physical skills to do the quality work that I and many other contractors want.

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

CK: I would like to hire another carpenter, but many of the homeowners I work with are seniors and/or have a physical or cognitive challenge so it is more difficult to find the type of worker who can work with these conditions. They must not only have a want to learn attitude and some carpentry skills but must be compassionate and comfortable working in these conditions. The unemployment rate in Hawaii is at 2 percent, so there are not many workers available that are worth searching for, which is why I will probably wait until 2019.

QR: Where do you go for business solutions?

CK: Many of the families I work with are  seniors who may have age-related health issues, genetic and/or congenital challenges and physical challenges. I do a great deal of research online reading medical studies, reports and any articles pertinent to what I do, because I am looking for ways to address the lifestyle issues that someone with these debilitating diseases and/or challenges may have.

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

CK: My definition of a business leader is someone who started (not given or inherited) their business [and] made it successful. Their business improves people’s lives, and if married, maintains a balance of family and business with their priority being family. I am blessed to know Dan Bawden of Legal Eagles Contractors in Houston, Texas, for about six years. I have met his wonderful family, who all have the upmost respect for him as a father. He continues to move forward with a positive attitude—always giving of himself and deflecting accomplishments to others. He is the past chair of the NAHB Remodelers and has served on several other councils and committees for many years. He also was on the group that initially developed CAPS classes.

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

CK: The best advice was taught to me from a very young age by my parents, and I continue to follow it every day of my life. I was taught to always be humble and share your success with others who have contributed to your success. When I say “others,” it may not always be someone who has physically helped me build or create something, but people who have taught me or encouraged me to keep motivated to accomplish my goals. For many of my accomplishments, there have been countless individuals who have shared their knowledge and experience with me, and it is my responsibility to share it with whomever I can, whenever I can. I believe that society only evolves if knowledge is shared.

QR: What is your favorite item in your office?

CK: I don’t really have a favorite office item, but if I had to choose it would be the boxes of extra strength energy drinks that I purchase from Costco. I am not a coffee drinker, so I have an energy drink instead in the morning and afternoon to keep me going.

QR: What motivates you every day?

CK: Helping educate as many people through as many different venues as I can to be proactive and correctly age-in-place. I say correctly, because the majority of people are reactive and wait until something happens. I continue to give free presentations to any group or organization that asks. My main motivation is not to get their business, but to share information because as a former caregiver for my father, I had no idea CAPS or anything outside my personal caregiving bubble existed. Many times, people contact me years later telling me they heard me give a presentation and now need to remodel their home to age-in-place, either due to an age-related issue or becoming a caregiver for a family member.

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

CK: When I set business goals, regardless if short or long term, it is never about self-recognition but to motivate me to keep moving forward and through whatever negativity comes. All the recognition and awards I have received have been a surprise and honor to receive because truthfully, I am so focused on my business goals I don’t think about much else. I must give a huge thank you to the special colleague who suggested I submit for this  Remodeler of the Month honor. |QR

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