Change Is In The Air

There is a saying:  “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”  I don’t remember who is responsible for that quote.  It has certainly rang true in the past for those unwilling to learn new technologies or unwilling to change how they do business –until now.  If you are in the home building and remodeling industries, it is not likely that you will even get what you always got in terms of work or income.

It seems that those who want to stay in the home building and remodeling industry need to find the niche that not only suits them and their abilities, but has revenue potential as well.  There are many talented and experienced people out there that have ended up in unemployment lines or working in minimum wage jobs while they try to wait out the recession.  I’ve heard the economy is starting to improve, but you can be sure our industry will never return to the way it once was.  Change is it the air like it or not.  It’s not enough to build a new website or revamp the old one, move your showroom and hire a new receptionist, tweeting your heart out on Twitter or Friending the western hemisphere on Face Book, or a number of other tactics that I’ve seen some do lately.  These times require taking a hard look at strengths and weaknesses, and making fundamental changes to one’s whole business model and long- and short-term goals.  Going out of business and working for somebody else is a difficult thing to do but may be the best answer for some, while others may find that hanging out their shingle and going freelance is the best solution.  This is also a good time to get training to fill the evolving niche opportunities out there or perhaps go back to school to change one’s career focus entirely.

Aside from the fact that leads have dwindled and banks are not lending money the way they used to, there are new laws and government programs coming into effect, that will change the already ever-changing face of the remodeling and design industry as we once knew it.  Regarding lead-safe painting practices and new requirements in work processes “The Environmental Protection Agency’s new Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) rules go into effect in April… For work in buildings constructed before 1978, remodelers need two certifications, one for the company and one for at least one individual who will perform or supervise the work.” (Sal Alfano, “View Point First Word,” Remodeling, January 2010). Due to the huge potential for liability, remodeling contractors will either need to get the necessary training and equipment or refuse to work on pre-1978 homes.  Homeowners will be forced to work with contractors who are qualified in exchange for working with those they’ve worked with in the past and have developed a relationship with.  From the remodeling contractor’s standpoint, this may be an opportunity to create a new business focus and an opportunity to get a foot in the door, especially for those who are new to an area and that has a few companies that have traditionally locked up the bulk of the market share in the past. 

Also in Sal Alfano’s commentary he pointed out opportunities to be sought in residential energy improvements as a result of the Clean Energy and Security Act that was passed by the House in June of last year.  If passed by the Senate, “Section 202 of the bill would fund energy retrofit rebates for existing residential and commercial building… it will mean more work for both energy auditors and home-performance contractors.”  Again, here is an opportunity for residential contractors to focus on a business area that will meet the requirements for projects that will evolve as a result of the new funding availability.

Architects and interior designers like to imagine themselves proficient at “thinking outside the box” when it comes to their design abilities.  The “new economy” will be the proving grounds for their creativity in regard to business savvy as well.  A trend I’ve seen recently are contractors and designers becoming certified Aging-In-Place Specialists as a way of tapping into the market that is growing due to our aging population.  I’m sure in the front of everyone’s mind involved in this endeavor is the potential for funding that will come about as a result of healthcare reform.

Another strategy for adapting to our changing work environment is to change the way we look at our competitors and other ‘trades’ related to our business and to become collaborators.  This is the whole premise of my business which is based on providing kitchen and bath design and drafting services online in support of residential building, remodeling and kitchen and bath professionals.  As expected, this has had a lukewarm acceptance in the industry for a variety of reasons, in spite of which I’ve managed to form some great connections and business opportunities with those that have ventured to participate in this unconventional model.  What I have learned in this past year’s “experiment” is something that has been noted in a thread I’ve been following on LinkedIn.  In the K+BB Designer’s Network discussion group, Gail Green posed the question:  “What is the most effective way for an Interior Designer to collaborate with a Kitchen and Bath Designer?”  The underlying message that is clear from the posts that followed is that in any collaboration the scope of responsibility should be clearly outlined and there needs to be an element of respect between the collaborators.  Add a certain level of “chemistry” between the individuals, and an environment for successful future collaboration on projects is formed.  I know –this seems a little too ‘touchy feely’ for many who’s business acumen and ideology are tied to traditional business teaching, but it’s time to start thinking beyond “what we’ve always done” that got us to where we are now.

Using technology differently or using new technology can be yet another way we can create new opportunities.  Paul Anater, writer of the Kitchen and Residential Design Blog, recently worked with clients virtually using Google Wave where they communicated and designed live over the net.  Though Wave is still in beta testing, it may very possibly be the fore runner of virtual design collaboration.  There was also an article in the December issue of Remodeler where Joe Stoddard wrote about someone who uses Google Blogger to create project specific blogs that he uses to communicate directly with his clients on the progress of their project and is accessed and used by the subs involved as well.

Sal Alfano’s closing remark in his article:  “Change is rarely a choice, but it’s almost always an opportunity.”  I loved his “make lemonade” attitude.  In this case, maybe it’s time to think about making lemon meringue pie instead and sharing our recipe with others that have an overabundance of lemons.

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