NAHB Remodeler of the Month: Seeking Improvements

by Kacey Larsen

Travis Blake, CR
Southern Maine
Remodeling, Inc.
Scarborough, Maine

Title: President/Owner

Year company founded: 2012

Number of employees: 16

How did you decide the time was right to start your own company in 2012?

I had been working for another contractor in the area for 10 years and felt I had some ideas of the way I would want a business to be operated. I also felt if I was going to have the stress of running a business, it would be my own. It also had been a goal of mine to run my own company.

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

I started in this business in 1987 with my father, and I would say that technology has changed the most. We used to have a pager, and you would go find a pay phone and a lot of running around. Today, we can take out our phone and order materials [or] talk to the entire team in one text message. A lot of good stuff with technology.

What is the focus for your business?

My focus this year is an improved system [as far as] how we run from an efficiency point of view. We are trying to improve our process for better project timelines and better customer experiences. We are also looking at ways to help with employee retention through benefits, etc.

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

We attend the JLC Live trade show every year in Rhode Island. I take at least five or six of the team down for two days every year. I read a lot of the trade magazines for stories and articles that go hand-and-hand with what we do. I also have relationships that I have formed with other large remodelers nationally, and I call on them sometimes to bounce questions off [them].

What does being part of NAHB Remodelers mean to you?

I feel being associated with a national association helps to solidify that we are a professional company with goals and standards, and clients can feel a sense of security with these associations.

What first drew you to become a member of your local chapter, and what keeps you involved?

With our company growth since 2012, I have not been able to be involved as much [but] this year I hope to improve that now that we have certain key people in place on the team. I want to work with the association, local organizations and schools to get the word out to new arrivals in the workplace that remodeling is a pretty cool career.

What motivated you to “raise the bar” with a showroom for your company?

In June of 2018 we opened our location in Scarborough, Maine, which has a showroom area—or idea center—for customers. We constructed the entire building ourselves, so it’s a showcase of our work. We teamed up with the manufacturers we recommend and have great displays to help clients visualize. It separates us from “Chuck in the truck” because we have a place where the customer can see and meet with us. We had an open house in October and had a great turnout. Clients love the location. And from a company side, we now have better communication because we are all here and getting it done for the client.

Where and what are the greatest opportunities in the remodeling market?

I try to stay focused on the local—that is enough work in itself. The opportunity is limitless. If we continue to create great experiences with our customers and continue to improve our communication through the process, it will be just finding more people to join the team to keep the customers happy.

What is the biggest challenge right now for your business?

Finding new people to add to the team. I have joined advisory committees for our local community college with a trades program and an adult education program trying to put together some trade programs. We are also trying to work with some local high schools to promote vocational schools for trades.

Are you hiring this year, and how are you going about finding the right people?

Hiring has been a challenge. In December, we added four new full-time people to the team. I expect to add at least two more in the spring. Then we will forecast from there. I would expect 2020 would be our next add-on, where we [would] look for a designer and some showroom staff.

Can you talk a bit about your involvement with efforts toward the creation of an apprenticeship program in Maine?

It’s a challenge. There is now a program in place but finding the ways to train these people are a challenge. We are looking for the right people to show interest and trying to find the best ways to get them trained. We have a long way to go, and it’s going to take larger contractors to step up and help with this process. I hope by end of 2019 or early 2020 we have a better plan for this.

You also have the sister business Southern Maine Skylight, a five-star Velux installer. How did you decide to expand into that arena and with a manufacturer partner?

I have always had a good relationship with Velux because of the quality of their product. When we discussed the 5-star program, it was a nice little niche to get into more homes and meet more clients from a different way. We promote our remodeling business through the skylight business, and they go hand-and-hand. We always try to team up with great vendors. They are business partners, and the client gets a better product and process because of it.

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

Word-of-mouth and a good website. Our website is simple but generates a lot of inquiries. With our current customer base and the great experience most of them had, the golden ticket of a firsthand referral is the best.

Have you seen a change in the types of projects clients are seeking?

We have done a lot of kitchen and bath remodels, and one of our goals has been to expand more on the additions, whole-house remodels, dormers, etc. With the new showroom and [through] customer referrals, we are starting to see larger projects. We just completed an addition on the side of an old farmhouse, adding 1,000 square feet including a kitchen and bath. We have two dormer and master bedroom additions coming up, and a three-story addition in the works right now.

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

Treat people the way you want to be treated. I put this into my team, my customers, my vendors—and what you get back is respect. It’s a good feeling.

What motivates you every day?

I love the remodeling business. The instant gratification of taking something that is worn  and tired and making it beautiful again. QR

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