NAHB Remodeler of the Month: Make a Plan

Whether it’s considering an exit strategy or handling the aftermath of a hurricane, Abbott aims to stay a step ahead.

Larry Abbott, CGR, CAPS, RCS
Abbott Contracting
Houston, Texas

Title: President

Year company founded: 1986

Number of employees: 6

QR: When and how did you choose this career?

LA: Just after high school I earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, but was not motivated or satisfied with the low pay and conditions of my first job. I set out to travel from New York westward and ended up in Houston. Low on money, a friend’s boss asked me if I ever “swung a hammer” and invited me to work with them for the day. I fell in love with creating things from wood using my hands and also making decent money. I noticed how most of the contractors I met or worked for were very unorganized and had poor relationships with their customers. I knew from the basics I learned in college that I could get the job done better and communicate in a more productive, courteous manner with the customers.

I first started on my own as a small residential repair contractor at age 28. Failing to make it on the first two attempts, I regressed back to working as an employee for other local Houston construction companies. The third attempt in 1986 would set me sailing through to the present on a 32-year run.

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

Remain calm even when the sky falls down on you or your project. If you don’t panic, you’ll come up with a solution.

What is the focus for your business?

For the last four and a half years, I have worked with a business consultant who implemented systems, policies and procedures, which immediately improved my business. To be honest, I am working on my exit strategy, which doesn’t actually include complete retirement. I took a three-month growth plan course from Goldman Sachs. They taught me how to work “on my business” as opposed to “in my business,” where I wasn’t going to be micro-managing everything in person all the time. It is like taking an eagle’s view from above and sorting things out to allow yourself some very much earned freedom. Of course, I’m still trying to clone myself in order to accomplish this feat.

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

Way back in the beginning, there weren’t as many specialized trades. The carpenter did all the woodwork, the concrete forms, the framing, the siding and cornice, the trim and cabinets and even the wood floors. Now, everything is specialized. You may have as many as 25 different subs and vendors to complete a project. The speed of every aspect is phenomenal with being able to do everything through technology. Another blessing—which could also be a curse—is that you no longer have to be physically in the office or on-site with all of the visual and audio cyber techniques available.

What does being part of NAHB Remodelers mean to you?

I am proud to be part of the NAHB. Knowing I have earned various designations from the vast education program has been very valuable when dealing with my customers and peers. It certainly has added to my quality of life when I can travel to different cities to attend events, and I feel good about being part of this organization. The NAHB helps us build communities and preserves the “American dream” of having a complete and safe home with all the latest updates.

What led to your membership with your local NAHB chapter, and what keeps you involved?

Upon visiting the Greater Houston Builders Association for the first time in 2002, I felt an energy and a happiness from those attending the luncheon. Our chapter has over a hundred event opportunities annually to meet amazing people—there is no advertising or marketing better than face-to-face. Being a member the past 14 years has been a successful investment in my business. In this town, the name alone can give you instant credibility. In addition to being on the GHBA Remodelers’ Council board for many years, I was honored to serve as the 2018 President of the Remodelers’ Council.

What’s the background of your local Remodelers’ Council Annual Charity Garage Sale?

Imagine a 10,000-square-foot yard sale that we set up every fall at the Texas Home & Garden Show, who donates the expensive real estate space on the mail floor each year. The next one will be our 12th year in a row. Our 16-position board of directors has a chair or two co-chairs that lead the Remodelers Charity Garage Sale Event; they, in turn, form a committee consisting of seven sub-committees: calling for donations, set-up and breakdown, staging, loading merchandise, pricing, sales, and cashier.

Throughout the year, we store donations coming from vendors, builders and remodelers. The donations consist of new, overstocked or mis-ordered merchandise and A-Z from construction jobs. Goods are sold to the general public at 50 to 70 percent off. Funds raised are passed on to our Charity Project Committee, who researches the best fit for improving a local Houston nonprofit. The Garage Sale earns $25,000 to $35,000 per event, and vendors/volunteers double or triple that amount with their further donations and labor for a few work weekends. This has proven to be a rewarding and wonderful way for us to give back to the community in which we thrive.

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

Members of our Remodelers’ Council, who are past presidents, have a monthly breakfast. We are on our 16th year meeting as a group. It doesn’t get any better than this to share your problems and solutions. Along with that, a monthly luncheon and several networking events—put on by our sponsors—bring builders, remodelers and associates all together. One of the best moves I made several years ago was hiring a business coach. I found it much easier to let them guide me in my decisions. Turns out they were able to improve my office and field procedures, my website and my bottom line to mention a few.

What are the greatest opportunities in your remodeling market?

The opportunities are many, especially in Houston and the surrounding areas. There seems to be enough for everybody, but only the strong and organized survive. We find ourselves trying to follow a big part of our clientele into high rises or high-density living arrangements. This is not something I had strived to do, as we have always been successful and preferred staying “on the ground” working on single-family homes. Once you get your men acclimated to the service elevators and cramped parking spaces, along with expanding the estimating categories to accommodate the time necessary, it’s not all that bad. I’d say get used to it if you are going to work inner city.

Why does your company prioritize dust control on jobsites?

We like to keep it clean, all the way from the curb to the master bath remodel in the very back of a two story. Dust-free doesn’t necessarily mean there will be no dust, but that there will be a minimal amount of mess due to our intensive floor protection and dust barrier setup. Our team is a relatively small core of individuals, consisting of about 1/3 employees and the rest veteran tradesmen. Mostly, everyone is now on a first name basis with our large number of repeat clients.

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

Not much has changed in the last 10 years for us: We average about 40 projects annually. Recently, we assisted in moving three customers, who have long since been “empty nesters,” move into high-rise apartments. It presents a whole new type of design regarding the kitchens and cabinets, etc. Our Production Meetings changed to focus on dealing with the ins and outs of rolling out and transporting men and material to these cramped working conditions. The main factor is always time, and we all know “time is money.” Another thing I have learned over the years in dealing with the various generations—whether it is baby boomers, gen X or millennials—is that change is inevitable and your flexibility to accept it is a sign of your maturity, resulting in your degree of success!

Are you hiring this year, and how are you going about doing so?

We have used Craigslist to canvas likely candidates, but at times it takes filtering through several dozen to come up with one that is worthy of an interview. Most turn out to be inexperienced people who want to become supervisors or project managers, and few actually have enough hands-on or educational experience to qualify. I believe the entire nation may have a problem recruiting young people interested in working with their hands in the skilled trade department.

Did Hurricane Harvey affect your business? Has that changed your approach?

The aftereffects of a hurricane are as much emotional as they are physical. Living in Houston, where we have experienced three catastrophic floods in the past couple years, it has introduced a huge market in the remediation and repair business. We had a couple jobs in progress and several previous customers that flooded. The demand during the aftermath of a natural disaster is overwhelming, to say the least—and you can’t help everyone. Having been through this before and usually knowing the storm is coming, we have time to plan some type of strategy. The first few days we are out there, all over an affected area helping at no charge. Then we try to choose a few select homes and write up standard remodeling project contracts, in hopes that between the insurance money and homeowner funds the job can be completed.

What motivates you every day

New problems to solve—we call them opportunities. New people to meet. Always some type of action.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention about career accomplishments?

Putting together a good, strong group of individuals in the office and in the field. People who enjoy their job and who are always “engaged” in the mission to serve our customers. Having your financials together is another comfort and necessity, probably at the top of the list. QR

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