Remodelers Advantage Peer Profile

by Kacey Larsen

Jim Vivrette

Altera Design & Remodeling, Inc., Walnut Creek, Calif.

Title: President

Year founded: 1986

Number of team members: 20 people  

Industry involvement: NKBA (CKD, CBD); Remodelers Advantage; NARI of Diablo Valley Chapter (past president), Certified Interior Designer; monthly meetings with two local contractor groups; Licensed Contractor. Have won numerous awards for kitchens and baths at the local, regional and national levels. 

How did you become part of the remodeling industry? After graduating from Cal Berkeley in economics, I worked for two public agencies doing planning , budget, and finance. I then moved to Bank of America as a Vice President.  In  1986, Bank of America laid off 27,000 people,  freeing up my future.  This gave me the opportunity to start my own company.  As a teenager I had built a home with my Dad, and I loved the work so I decided to make a career of it.  I decided to specialize in kitchen and bath remodeling because those rooms are the most complex, and lots of contractors shy away from them. I took every construction and building inspector class available at the local community college to learn the trades and codes.  I joined NARI, attended every meeting and went to their national conferences to learn more.  I then joined NKBA; attended meetings, special classes and KBIS every year; and earned  their certifications.  I also completed a year of Sandler Sales Training to learn those skills, and also worked with a business coach.

When and why did you join Remodelers Advantage? What are the benefits of membership? I joined RA about five years ago, when I found myself in a big slump in the middle of the recession.  I knew that staying in my same environment and mindset would probably yield the same results. So many people in construction start in the trades, grow their skills, and then for some reason have a flash of entrepreneurship, quit and start their own business. Building and leading a business is completely different than being a technician in it.  A great book on this is “E-Myth Revisited.” The best way I know to rapidly improve your ownership skills is to join Remodelers Advantage.  They teach you what you need to do to be successful, and then get you into peer groups to help you continue to grow and to hold each other accountable.  I believe that if you are serious about having a better life as a contractor then you can’t afford to not join Remodelers Advantage.

Where/what are the greatest opportunities in the remodeling market? We focus on kitchens and baths for a reason: it allows our team to go do what they are thoroughly trained to do, and we do it better than any other firm in our area.  I try to avoid jobs that would need me to be personally involved, so I can stay focused on the owner’s duties and be one of our sales people. As far as opportunity, there’s more than enough kitchen and bath remodeling within our geographical area for us to focus on.  Our goal is to create a great experience for our clients, our employees, and our subcontractors and suppliers. We’ve been in business 28 years doing kitchens and baths; we’re great at it. By striving to keep getting better at what we do, we hope to be able to provide that experience to even more people.

How has the remodeler’s job changed in the past few years, for better or worse? It used to feel like the only requirements to become a remodeler were to have a pickup truck, a gun rack in the back window and a dog.  How times have changed!  Now, if you want to survive you have to be thoroughly trained in business management, leadership, marketing and be heavily computerized. Social media is critical now.  Before, if someone had an issue with you, they would talk to you about it. Now, the default is “I’ll go onto social media and give you a bad review.” You have to be even more careful now that you’re not somehow upsetting anyone that you have even minor contact with.

How have clients’ expectations changed, and how have these changes affected your business? The HGTV-type shows constantly create unrealistic expectations;  you  have to try to reeducate people.  Other things haven’t changed: clients want to like and trust the people that are in their home, and they want to receive great customer service. Quality is expected.  And, they want the work on time and on budget.  You have to make sure you consistently deliver all of these.?

What do you enjoy most about being a remodeler? Why? My purpose is to help people.  This starts with our staff and subcontractors: I love to mentor and train our staff and subs, so that they can personally grow and be better at creating great experiences for our clients and everyone they come in contact with.  Second, I enjoy helping the clients solve their problems and improve their lives.  For me, it’s all about the people.?

What is the best advice you’ve received in your career? To focus on the people in your life.   Surround yourself with only the “A” team.  Learn to hire only the very best staff — it will drive your company forward rapidly, whereas hiring or holding onto the wrong ones can poison your company.  We all know that we should say goodbye to anyone who is a “C”, or just average.  But why do we think we want good employees?  Why settle for good, when that’s only a “B”?  Free up their future; make sure that you only have great employees, subs and suppliers (the “A” team). That goes for your clients too. If they’re going to be terrible clients to work for, they are going to make your life and your staff miserable that whole time.  Do your best to only work with great clients.  Say no when your gut is nervous, and help your company prosper.? 


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