Top 500 Profile: Personal Reward

No. 461 Oak Design & Construction focuses on meeting the needs of clients while also providing career opportunities for employees.

by Kyle Clapham

In 1979 Dave Brady worked as a carpenter in new construction when a series of large snowstorms hit the Chicago area. The inclement weather shut down his jobsites for a few weeks, so he started shoveling and shoring roofs for work. When spring arrived and melted all the snow, homeowners began reaching out to Brady to fix the resulting damage on their roofs, and he never looked back.

“I didn’t really enjoy the production aspect of new construction, and I grew up in a community with lots of older homes, so I appreciated architecture; I appreciated older homes,” says Brady, who founded Oak Design & Construction, a full-service, design-build remodeling firm, in Oak Park, Illinois. “I liked working for myself and other people—and helping them solve problems.”

Working by himself, Brady became accustomed to organizing each job, procuring the materials and completing every project. After hiring his first employees, though, he realized his role had changed, and he also needed to change. Brady learned to develop his organizational techniques to an even greater level, and eventually he hired enough employees to leave field work entirely.

Managing additional people and creating procedures for them led to another transformation for Brady, who in 1993 joined Remodelers Advantage, a peer-mentoring membership organization and consulting agency for owners of full-service remodeling and design-build companies. The group helped him take his challenging day-to-day company and turn it into a well-run business.

“Peer groups are great because you recognize you’re not the only person who’s going through this business,” Brady notes. “There’s a sense of accountability too; you feel like you want to succeed. If they spend time advising you, counseling you and helping you, then you owe them something in return, to show them that you actually listened and tried to execute things as best as you can.”

As a full-service, design-build company, Oak Design & Construction prioritizes its relationship with clients, who grow in number each year, he adds. The business needs to build a culture that takes care of its employees, he says, so they will take care of customers. Rising costs have made pricing jobs more difficult, and personnel are seeing higher inflation eat away at their paychecks.

“Subcontractor costs are going higher [as well],” Brady explains. “You have to be really careful and manage costs and client expectations because doors and windows are out five to six months, and some supplies are longer; appliances [can be] up to a year for high-end stuff. It’s changed in that you can’t take a lot of things for granted that you used to with the supply chains or pricing.”

Brady had taken a step back from doing sales, but pent-up demand stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic has required more of his involvement. People have been in their houses more often the last few years, he says, and they want to improve their living spaces, especially if they will be working from home. Many retiring baby boomers are seeking to do their last big projects as well.

“The challenge has been just being more in sales than I would like to be right now,” Brady notes. “But it’s hard after ’08 through ’12 and ’14 to turn work away or say, ‘Hey, we can’t do that for a year or so.’ We’re trying to grow the business again to meet demands.”

Oak Design & Construction takes on a range of projects for the owners of vintage homes, from whole-house remodels and master suites to standalone kitchens and basements. Recently the company has looked at accessory dwelling units (ADUs) as more people have asked about them, Brady says. Providing maintenance for existing clients offers another path for repeat and referral jobs.

Amid such tremendous opportunity, he also has been trying to create his exit strategy after more than 43 years in business. The great market could encourage remodelers to oversell, he notes, so the company stays mindful by maintaining a cadence in its sales and design process and serving client needs. Most people understand current supply-chain issues and labor shortages, he adds.

“In addition to being busy, you want to look at providing opportunities for other people—that’s what I really love about the business,” Brady explains. “Besides building and serving our clients, you want to create opportunities for your own people. I have a heart for mentoring and young people, so when an opportunity comes to hire somebody, we’re trying to take advantage of those.

“Building a valuable business has clearly always been part of why I do this,” he adds. “I [also] do it to serve my clients and my employees. It’s a very demanding job, but it can be extremely rewarding—and not just financially—but personally rewarding.” QR

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