top 500 boardwalk builders

Patty McDaniel always thought she would return to Cambridge, where she received a degree in urban planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and helped classmates renovate their homes following graduation. After building a house in Delaware with her father and completing a few other projects, however, she established Boardwalk Builders, a full-service remodeling firm, in Rehoboth Beach in 1986.

“The company built very slowly [and] organically [by] word-of-mouth in the early years,” says McDaniel, who founded Boardwalk Builders in her 20s. “The seasonality is a challenge because it’s not just my business that sees the seasonality—it’s the entire community. The resources that are available community-wide are overtaxed in April and May and undertaxed in July and August.”

Many people own second homes in the area and, thus, return to their primary residences as the summer winds down. Boardwalk Builders has done jobsite marketing—namely yard signs and wraps on its trucks and trailers—for nearly 20 years, but the firm secures about half of its business from past customers who employed the company for a previous remodeling project, McDaniel says.

“That’s one of the things that works in our favor. Because people are remote, they really want to work with someone they trust,” she explains. “We do roughly half our work for people we have worked with before. That was true before the market crashed—[and] it got us through the market crash.”

Boardwalk Builders earns between $2 million and $3 million in revenue each year, although the company has been pushing to hire additional salespeople and increase production capacity, McDaniel says. She initiated a profit-sharing plan more than 15 years ago and understands the value of acquiring talented employees as well as creating a supportive environment that encourages them to stay put.

“[For] the first six months of the year, we produced $2 million worth of work. The seasonality is going to pull that average down, but we’re working hard to increase the volume,” she adds. “We have some great people on staff, and if I don’t grow the company, there are no opportunities for them to grow. You want to create pathways to help those people become the best [they can be].”

The size of an average job hovers around $50,000 for Boardwalk Builders, which has been a generalist for years and will do whatever a customer needs, McDaniel notes. Putting the same number of jobs through the business but expanding the dollar value tied to each project would provide the easiest path for growth at the company, she explains, so Boardwalk Builders has focused on boosting the scope of its jobs.

“It takes just as long to manage a $75,000 job as it takes to manage a $50,000 job, so why wouldn’t you do that?” she asks. “You grow the volume without necessarily having to grow your staff. When you’re doing as many jobs as we are, one big job doesn’t move the average [up] very far.”

National builders and home improvement franchises have moved into the local market within the last 20 years, as well, limiting the job opportunities for Boardwalk Builders. Rising labor costs and higher expectations from clients who consume made-for-TV programs about home remodeling will further challenge the company as lesser contractors try to undercut the competition with substantially lower prices.

“I think the game gets harder moving forward,” McDaniel says. “It’s going to widen the gap in cost in the number presented to the customer. I’m going to be more expensive and have higher [client] expectations, so I need to be really good at managing expectations and delivering on promises. “I’m going to have to manage my time well, and I’m going to have to be super efficient in order to control my labor costs,” she adds. | QR

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