Remodeler of the Month: Mature Growth

by Kacey Larsen

Steve Cunningham, CAPS, CGP
Cunningham Contracting Inc.
Williamsburg, Va.

Title: President

Year Founded: 1988

Number of Employees: 15

QR: Who started your company?

SC: I started my company 30 years ago, in 1988, after working for a family member for a few years. I learned a trade then decided to go out on my own as an entrepreneur and started a tile/flooring business.

QR: How did you do become a remodeler?

SC: I started a tile business in the back of a truck with a helper for a few years, then opened a store front and started doing all aspects of flooring and was very successful at that. Then, our clients started asking us to do more and more projects other than flooring and showers. My company started doing smaller jobs for our clients that led into bigger, more detailed projects. That’s when I decided this is what I was meant to do.

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

SC: I feel privileged to be a part of this great organization. I think when you surround yourself with great people you can learn so much to implement into your own business. I also like speaking with people from different parts of the country to see how they are handling the same issues or situations with their clients. It makes for a great sounding board. Another great part is that you get to see firsthand how NAHB fights for contractors of all sizes in the legislative and regulatory battles and obstacles that we all face every day.

QR: What goals do you have as Chair of the Peninsula Housings & Builders Association?

SC: Being the chair of PHBA, some of my goals are to try to gain membership of the younger generation of contractors. It is also a goal to bring in some of our mainstream custom builders who are doing remodeling work as well.

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

SC: Being involved over the last 30 years, I can say a lot has changed. You used to have to draw out on paper and “try” to get the client to see your vision. Now, I can have a client come into the office and sit down in front of the computer, and I can show them a 3-D rendering of what their whole bathroom, kitchen or addition is going to look like. I have even had clients say, “It looks just like the picture.”

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

SC: I think one of the greatest opportunities in the remodeling market is the Certified Aging in Place (CAPS) designation; this has helped me grow the business in so many ways. Living in a largely populated retiree community, I can educate my clients on the prospect of staying in their own homes longer and not have to leave the comforts of their own living environment. Making the quality of their life so much safer and more enjoyable.

QR: Are you seeing increases in your average job size?

SC: Over the last three years, I have seen an increase in our job sizes and a decrease in the number of jobs that we take on. That being said, in the last 12 months, we have seen an uptick in more large-scale projects. Our clients come to use with almost a complete renovation of their homes in mind, not just one bathroom or just the kitchen.

QR: Right now, is your focus on more growth or steady revenue at greater profitability?

SC: In the first 20 years of business, my main objective was to grow the business. As I have matured as a person and business owner, the objective has changed to more of growing our profitability. I have learned that I don’t have to take every job that comes across my desk, and I can now specialize more in what we do best.

QR: What differentiates your company?

SC: With 3-D renderings I can have clients come into the office, sit at the computer, make changes in real-time, and they can walk away with an idea of what their finish project is going to look like. I have the great privilege of working with my whole family: my wife has worked in our office and acted as our in-house designer, until our daughter Cristina finished school and took over from there; our daughter Brittany works in the accounting department; and our son Michael works in the field doing our tile work and some carpentry work. I think our clients get a real sense of a family owned business. They know when they call the office a member of the family is going to answer their questions.

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

SC: I lean heavily on my staff and family for ideas and inspiration. Cristina keeps up with the latest design styles and new products for our clients, and my field staff keeps up-to-date with new tools, tips and tricks to make the project run smoother. Pinterest and Houzz are great inspiration as well.

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

SC: I was told as a young man to stop working for my business and start working on my business for it to be a success. I decided to educate myself with NAHB and start earning designations such as CAPS and Certified Green Professional (CGP). Also learning new computer software for our 3-D rendering process and trying to surround myself with knowledgeable staff in key positions throughout my business.

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

SC: The best source of leads for us is word-of-mouth from our clients. It’s the best compliment you can receive. We have a small local paper that only comes out on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and every now and then we will run an advertisement just to keep our name fresh in people’s minds. There is a section in the paper called “The Last Word,” and it is wonderful to see your clients send in a report of what a great job you’ve done for them.

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

SC: I would have to say we are in a constant state of hiring. If I can find a talented individual looking to join our team, then I make an effort to bring them on board. I do like to promote from within and teach our staff, who start in helpers position, to learn a trade. People seem to think you should always work from a desk but there is something to be said for someone who can make something with their hands.

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

SC: Hire staff to help! It was a very hard lesson to learn, and I really think I had to have someone tell me a few times that I could not do everything myself. I still try to take on more than I should but then I have to remember to rely on the great people I have surrounded myself with. Success from the team not an individual.

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

SC: I think it would have to be Phil Rea, who was a remodeler here in Virginia with an amazingly successful business. It would be great to learn the processes and procedures he put in place to build his business to level of success he achieved.

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

SC: The most unusual project our company has ever done is a historic-looking milk shed in the Colonial part of Williamsburg next to William & Mary College. We actually won a Merit Award in our local association’s Showcase Awards.

QR: What is your favorite item in your office?

SC: This may sound silly but my favorite thing is my computer and the software I use to show clients what their project is going to look like upon completion.

QR: What motivates you every day?

SC: After 30 years I still get excited to come into work and help a family create a “dream” project for their home. I hope to continue to build a successful business that can one day be passed on to my children and then to their children.

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

SC: Over the past 30 years, I have learned that it is OK to take advice from my peers, and it is also a good thing to spread the knowledge I have. Teamwork is everything. I have been the president of my local association, as well as chair of the remodeler’s council and sub-committee chair at NAHB, and the old saying of “It takes a village” could not be more true. |QR

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