NAHB Remodeler of the Month: Strategic Advancement

by Kacey Larsen

Joseph Smith, CGR, CAPS, CGP
Owings Home Services
Eldersburg, Md.

Title: Managing Partner

Year founded: 2002

Number of employees: 21

QR: Who started your company?

JS: Michael, Wally, Timothy and Christopher Owings.

QR: How did you choose this career?

JS: At 18-years-old I was a union iron worker employed by my father’s company, which had both union carpenters and iron workers for diverse types of large commercial projects. I learned all facets of the business and started performing my own residential side jobs for friends and family. After working at this trade for 11 years, I had to have back surgery. Shortly after that I started my own company, realizing that I could not continue to incur the wear-and-tear of that line of work for too many more years.

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

JS: Kevin Plank. I would like to discuss how he has scaled and diversified Under Armour as well as dealing with some recent challenges they are navigating.

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

JS: I have learned some invaluable business and management lessons from NAHB classes, as well as from leaders of our local executive boards and councils. Over the years [and] through my involvement as the two-time local building association Remodeling Council president, I realized what the local and national associations mean politically. Also, the number of new employment opportunities created through our industry by building and remodeling homes.

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

JS: In our local Remodeling Council, we have some very good remodelers, and we will talk with each other about certain problems and share solutions and ideas. I am also part of a national kitchen and bath education and buying group, called SEN, and have many fellow business owners who will share intimate financial and business information to help each other tackle a problem. I also attend the national shows at least every other year to see new products and ideas.

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

JS: Know your numbers! Under promise and over deliver.

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

JS: The use of technology has become not just important but necessary. It is a challenge keeping up with the advancements, but not getting too far ahead of the curve. Workforce retention as well as relocating has become our full-time venture. Activities we do with and for our employees have become a priority. Change is truly constant, and we are continuing to advance the company by adding value and services to stay fresh. The sheer amount of information and number of choices available seems to be a large hurdle.

QR: How has the implementation of smart devices and web-based software furthered your business?

JS: About five years ago we implemented a web-based communications platform, which has transformed the way we communicate with our clients. The ability for our clients to communicate to us 24/7 is very convenient; but we emphasized to our staff the importance of personal communication with our clients, which is best for maintaining our customer relationships. We have found that the balance of both communication processes has proven to be a positive benefit for all. Our employees have grown and expanded their technological knowledge, and now we are moving to tablets from just phones for our lead team members. The system and devices in place have allowed our company to produce more revenue with the same number of lead carpenters by adding carpenter helpers and trade partners. This goes directly to the bottom line.

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

JS: I would probably say our focus is on steady revenue streams from different areas and the addition of more sales teams so the owners can focus more on business development, management, and long-term vision and planning. We are always working on ways to smooth the valleys and hills, and growth for the sake of profit as well as employee opportunity.

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

JS: Outdoor living projects have increased, and we have incorporated more of those projects in our company portfolio in the past couple of years. The kitchen, bath and storage segment are also areas we see future growth, and our design studio is a great asset for building those lines of business. More retail sales of product installed or not installed is also a direction we are moving toward, and we are also providing product and services for some select local builders.

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

JS: Added products and services, and tried to make the buying experience less overwhelming. We have reached a point of information overload and the more we can do to minimize that the better our client experience is.

QR: Are you hiring, and how are you going about finding people for your company?

JS: It is the most challenging labor market I can ever recall. The labor pool is older, and I see a generation of labor missing from the workforce. We have added helpers and leads as we find them. We are always looking for talent and generally will hire if we can. Salespeople and designers are also challenging to locate and retain.

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

JS: We have seen our average project size increase over the last couple of years. We still do many small projects as they are great for client development, and it is our goal to have our customer reach out to us for all their needs.

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

JS: I would say either a special arched bridge over a river for a homeowner to drive his ATV or a sliding board in place of steps to a basement inside of a home.

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

JS: We still receive the highest percentage of leads from past clients and referrals as well as professional referrals. I do networking and am involved in high-level business-to-business networking groups because relationships make sales easier. Job signs are our second largest source of leads, and we just revamped and upgraded our job signs to be more architecturally interesting [and] to make a statement.

QR: What motivates the company’s participation and engagement in community events and service?

JS: I have found that as our company grew we needed to maintain involvement in our community, as well as participate in charitable events through our local association foundation. We have been fortunate to maintain a healthy company, and we believe in sharing our success with those less fortunate. Our employees support all our involvements and allow us to be good corporate citizens. I have selected a few organizations for which I am passionate and which we place most of our effort. The growth creates opportunities for our staff and has allowed our company to be more competitive in retention and recruitment.

QR: What is your favorite item in your office?

JS: My daughters and spouse’s photos and maybe my putter.

QR: What motivates you every day?

JS: Right now, I would say that having a group of employees that depend on the company being successful and my 8- to 10-year plan to ease up but keep the company going.

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

JS: One thing is that I do not work over 50 hours a week and sometimes even less; but I have found I can still take the time to enjoy life, and the work will still be there. We have the best employees around, and that makes my job much easier. We are a people business and will always be one. |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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