Thursday, September 30, 2010

High Frequency

"Congratulations on this new endeavor," began a note I received last week.

The writer continued. "I have to admit, when I first saw it, I thought, 'Oh, great, one more daily email. But I signed up because it’s you and I wanted to support you."

Um ... thanks?

"And I have to say, this daily update really is different. It’s diversified, not too heavy, gives lots of options and pulls industry and industry-related news together. I can glance at it quickly and decide what I want to see more of.....good job!"

Whew! That ended nicely. 

So have most of the notes I've received since kicking off daily5 less than two weeks ago.

From a reader in Pennsylvania:
"Each issue has a ton of valuable information, and I’m sure it saves many the time from culling through lots of publications for the worthwhile stuff. You do the culling for the industry, share what’s worth knowing, and add your own content to the mix."

"I truly love what you have done! I read it on my blackberry in the am!"

"Really well done! Can't wait to read every issue and participate!"

New York:
"Finally, a one stop shop for all my home improvement news!"

North Carolina:
"Your readers don't have time to search for all that information. You've become the go-to for remodeling news!"

"Huge congratulations on the daily5 delivery! It’s upbeat, useful, fun, and eclectic. I haven’t seen anything else quite like it."

Maryland, exercising a little hyperbole:
"Soon you will be the Kiplinger report of the remodeling world. Then the CNN of the remodeling world. Lexus Nexus of the remodeling world."

Wow. That wasn't in the business plan, but thanks. Thank you all. I really appreciate the feedback.

But also this, from Massachusetts:

"The quality and breadth of information is staggering. Are you sure you can keep it up?"

and this, from Georgia:
"I'm having difficulty reading all of it. Maybe a weekly would be better."

and this, from Ohio:
"Have you considered a weekly 'omnibus' e-newsletter instead of daily? Dailies are too frequent for me -- I almost never sign up for them -- but weeklies are more manageable."

Hmmm. Yes, I have considered a weekly. Rather, I did ... before I settled on the name (what compelled me to come up with daily 5, anyway?). 

My general feeling is this: Cranking this product out every day is a lot of work -- but it's worth every ounce of my energy if it benefits the industry and generates a following that continues to grow. 

So it's really about you. What would you like to see more of? Or less of?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Morning Routine

What more does a remodeling professional need at 6 a.m.?

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

Thanks to Peter Troast of Energy Circle for the photo. (Yes, d5R looks great on the iPad.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tweaking the Recipe

"Isn't it great being small?" the owner of another small business -- okay, not as small as daily5 -- told me recently over lunch. "We can change things. We can fix things. Fast!"

Cheers to that, I say. And this morning, after a pretty much sleepless night for myself and my development team, I'm happy to report that daily5Remodel went live at 6 a.m. EST. It's now 3.5 hours old, and already needs the inevitable tweaking and changing and fixing that all new launches require. We're going to take care of those fixes one by one.

In the weeks, months and years to come -- should we be among the minority of new businesses that survive, knock wood -- we hope to never to stop changing. I've worked in big organizations and tiny ones, and while I can't say that small is always necessarily more nimble than big, I can say that it's a lot more satisfying to work with, and be the customer of, a business that is willing and able to constantly improve.

So bring on your comments and suggestions. If something on the site isn't working for you, please let me know. I can't promise that we'll get on it right away, but we're working on it -- and we're listening.

Thanks. Welcome aboard!

Leah Thayer

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bases Loaded

Apart from taking my son to a baseball game, and evidenced by letting him watch obscene amounts of tv and play appalling quantities of video games, I've been a terrible parent lately. He is 9, and I've basically missed his first two weeks of fourth grade while struggling to contain a to-do list that seems to be breeding like mutant aliens.

Some good has come out of the franticness, however -- and not just that my son really doesn't object, one bit, to watching TV, playing video games and going to friends' houses.

eletter sneak peek, sorta
For one, daily5Remodel goes live on Monday. In a week of friend-to-friend, viral promoting, several hundred remodeling professionals have registered to subscribe, and advertisers are showing a real interest. The overall reception, from folks who have toured the site and/or grilled me on it, has been affirming.

Big, big, big thanks to my development team in Oregon for putting all hands on deck to make this happen.

Second, the remodeling market seems to be cueing up for a comeback. I've seen "we're hiring" notices from at least three companies in the past several days. Several remodelers tell me they're suddenly so busy they can hardly think. Financial uncertainty and price objections continue to keep many homeowners on the fence -- remodeling sales have become a courting process, steady and patient -- but Monday I learned of a local favorite who just signed a new project worth $2.4 million.

Three: I'm so happy to be back among remodelers. About that baseball game Wednesday night: my son and I fled DC, and then Baltimore's steaming, belching, traffic-jammed concrete downtown, for the tall glass of water that is Camden Yards: the first (and some say the best) of professional ballparks designed to harken back to an earlier period in baseball history.

Once in our seats, we caught up with many of the remodeling pros I would have most wanted to see at the Remodeling Show, which was in progress across the street: consultant extraordinaire/keynote speaker Shawn McCadden (whom I edited for several years, and who invited us to the game), remodelers Greg Antonioli and Michael Anschel (both of whom I also edited), green remodeling guru Carl Seville, contractor coach Mark Paskell.

I cornered Greg for a minute with my flip camera. 

Amid beer, baseball and my godawful videography skills, which can only get better, this microcosm of the industry -- which also included manufacturers, trainers and more -- revealed a collective power that never lost hope. And then, the Orioles won the game.

Have a great weekend. See you Monday at daily5Remodel.

Leah Thayer

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Giving It Away

"It seems that you keep giving more things to your members," I said. "Do you think remodelers should think of ways to 'give' more and better to their clients too? How do they do this without cutting into their profits?"

"I think every business has byproducts of their service," responded Geoff Graham, president of GuildQuality, which conducts customer surveys for builders and remodelers. "I'm not a big admirer of Henry Ford, but he was a really smart guy.... After he built all these cars, he had all these little chunks of wood, so he started a charcoal business. It's now known as Kingsford Charcoal.

"You end with this thing that you've sold, and you also have this other stuff," Graham continued. "Can you package this other stuff in a way that creates additional value? Some of it, you can charge for. Some you can give away for no other reason than to build goodwill."

In Graham's case, the "other stuff" includes, recently, integrating customer feedback with GuildQuality members' Facebook and Twitter accounts, thus maximizing visibility for the good service they provide. Not only has GQ added such services without cost bumps, but the company has lowered its fees in recent years.

Technology both enables and mandates that kind of change in some industries. Thankfully for GuildQuality -- and for companies like Netflix, whose services strike me recently as infinitely better, at a lower price, than they were a few years ago -- "giving away" more has strengthened the bottom line as well as customer loyalty.

Is Remodeling Different?

We all know that remodelers give away a lot, and that it's not because your cost of doing business is on the decline. Moore's law -- basically, that technology gets better while prices go down -- doesn't typically apply to construction labor, material and overhead costs. And still, you give advice and time to prospects who never hire you. You bid on architects' projects that somebody else builds.

As a homeowner, I plead guilty to having taken advantage of some of this largesse -- but I'll tell you, I've also sometimes wished that you would charge me for your time, to alleviate the guilt I feel for being indecisive or asking for your help without really thinking through the decision I'm contemplating.

My friend, remodeler Greg Antonioli, has some advice. First, his company does not give "free bids." Second, he notes in his latest blog on Remodeling magazine, realize that if you properly estimate and plan your project from the get-go, you can "give away" work that other companies might call change order or "extras." And you can reap the goodwill that will follow.

More than anything, says Greg, the best way to se your company apart is by saying to a client: "No, we should have seen that one coming.... We own this one." How do you afford to donate that? By setting aside funds you would have otherwise spent "on postcards and magazine ads, stuff that returns no value to the people who gave you the money in the first place," Greg says.

So, a question: What stuff have you consciously and cheerfully "given away" lately, remodelers? How did that help or hinder your business?

By the way, I'm giving away an iPad to one person who registers for daily5Remodel. You pay nothing to register for the standard subscription, but don't think I'm just giving it away. I'll ask for your participation and honest feedback, and -- if you're happy so far -- invite you to join the "premium" community too.

Leah Thayer

Monday, September 6, 2010

Nip in the Air

You’d think that by now, 25 years after my final back-to-school eve, I’d no longer feel the anxiety and hopefulness and restlessness that I feel about tomorrow -- the “first day of school,” metaphorically -- and the year ahead.

Maybe you, too, remember your mind racing with questions on this night: Would you catch the bus, would your outfit be cool enough, who would be in your classes, who would your teachers be, how would you fit in?
Today we took a hike with a four-year-old 
who never stopped asking questions
This Labor’s Day night, no brick-and-mortar school awaits my entrance tomorrow, and probably not yours, either. Thank goodness for that. I don’t miss the first-day’s wanderings of labyrinthine school halls, fumbling with locker codes, inevitably arriving late in the toughest teacher’s classroom, searching for friendly faces in the cafeteria.
And yet this moment does signify a universal turning of a new page. For me, tomorrow is the day that goes live, with some luck -- not in its full unveiling but in welcoming people to register to receive the inaugural issue (which will publish two weeks from today, on September 20).
For you -- for any professional in any capacity -- tomorrow may also signify the beginning of a new period. The pool has closed. Summer vacation is over. The kids are back in school. There’s a nip in the air. And perhaps (finally!) those prospects you talked to months ago will make a move on that proposal they’ve been sitting on, now that their kids are back in school and their minivans are unpacked, post-vacation.

Your staff -- they too will be back, rejuvenated and partied out and fully engaged in the work that must be done between now and the next big holiday break.
Many of you have told me it’s been a long, slow summer. Your business has never been more prepared for growth, but your clientele is barely moving. Well, the season (and the page) is turning. Time will reveal what the "new normal" looks like, but I’m psyched for the change, whatever it is.
I hope you are too.

Leah Thayer

Friday, September 3, 2010

One Man, Two Questions

I got Paul Winans on the phone yesterday.

Lucky me, because not only is Paul one of the smartest and most helpful remodeling experts around, but he and his wife Nina didn't sell their famously successful California remodeling company and move to Oregon just to become remodeling consultants. They also relocated to take advantage of their new state's vibrant arts culture. Paul rattled off a list of plays he had seen at the latest Oregon Shakespeare Festival, mentioned that Nina was off volunteering at a film festival, and answered a few of my questions.

Here's a little bit of what we talked about, as edited and paraphrased.

me: When screening potential remodeling clients, what's the single best question to ask?

Paul: (a big proponent of Sandler sales training): The most important thing to find out is why they want to have the work done. Usually when companies talk to a prospect, they ask for a perfunctory rationale. What you want to do is get to the why, the emotional reason, the pain.

The question that has to be asked over and over again is basically, 'Why do you want to go through the trouble, the inconvenience, the aggravation that comes with having a remodel done?' The more clarity you can get them to provide about their decision, the stronger the relationship is going to be, the less likely they're going to feel they have to talk with other companies, and the more information you'll have to structure a strong proposal.

It's too easy to end a meeting with a prospect by saying, okay, I'll send you a proposal. Your solution is only valid if you've first established the foundation for what is motivating the client to do the work.

me: How do you create a sense of urgency in slow remodeling buyers?

Paul: This gets back to that powerful first question you ask. The clearer you are about why somebody wants to get this project done, the more likely you can engage them in a conversation about when they want to have it done and why.

If it's a pregnancy, for instance, it's a slam dunk. Or it might be that a big celebration will be held at the house, and they haven't had a party in 15 years because they're so embarrassed by their kitchen. That's their pain. That's what you want to drill down to.

Remodeling can be hell, Paul and I agreed. It's critical to get your clients to accept this -- and to know that you'll ensure that the outcome is worth it -- at the beginning of the relationship.

Paul even suggests encouraging your prospects to consider buying another house before they remodel. "What is it about this house that makes you want to go to the trouble of remodeling? Is it the neighbors, the school your kids can walk to, the beautiful yard?'

Because, he said, "As the client gets clearer, as they hear themselves talk, they actually talk themselves out of thinking there's any other choice besides you."

That's what you want.

FYI, I'll be asking a business question like this every day on If you've got some burning questions for experts like Paul, and for your remodeling peers, use the comment box below to suggest them!

Or email them to me at

Thursday, September 2, 2010

After the Storm, Smaller but Stronger

In one of my last articles for Remodeling magazine, I wrote that "[s]maller-but-stronger teams – more with less, in effect – could be a lasting silver lining of the post-recession clouds." This morning, heading into the Labor Day weekend, try to find a few minutes to learn how one builder/remodeler approached some of the painful decisions that the downturn required.

"The Unthinkable," below, came from John Abrams of South Mountain Company, an employee-owned design/build firm on Martha's Vineyard, Mass. John shared this with me in early 2009.

the staff and ownership of South Mountain Company

"The Unthinkable," by John Abrams 

One of the things I love about these times is it is causing us to think more broadly about the work that we do and think differently about some things than ever before.

For 33 years there has been full-time productive work for everyone in our company every day of every week of every month of every year. We have never laid anyone off, and the last two years we have done everything possible to avoid it. back then we had a wonderful conversation at a Board meeting entitled: "What Happens If The Unthinkable Happens?"

There were three parts:

1. How will we handle it if there is not productive work for everyone?

2. What could we be doing - that we're not already doing - to assure that that doesn't happen?

3. What could we do with our shop and/our people to make valuable work (even if non-revenue producing) if there were ever work shortages?

Asking these questions led to deep discussions that ultimately produced a sequential series of steps we would take in the event that possibility 1 - not having enough productive work for all - became a reality.

In January 2009, the company's 15 owners accepted these steps by consensus, and they became company policy.

In the event of not enough work to provide full-time employment for all individuals in the company, Management, in consultation with Personnel where appropriate, will enact the following plan, in the following order: 
Voluntary temporary rolling furloughs;
  • Employ people doing speculative work (income postponed) for a limited period of time;
  • Employ people doing non-income-producing work for a limited period of time; 
  • Strategically reduce hours worked;
  • Reduce wages across the board, graduated from highest paid to lowest; 
  • Involuntary temporary rolling furloughs. 
Only after all of these have been exhausted would we resort to layoffs, which remain on the Unthinkable list. 
John concluded:

It's great to be employee owned at times like these and to therefore have 1) a group of people who is thinking about each other more than themselves and 2) the ability to use our profits for our common good because our profits belong to the group, not to any one person. 

    So, that was a year and a half ago. Earlier this week, I checked in with John to learn the outcome of the "unthinkable" plan. Here's his response:

    "Well, despite our efforts, and we did do all those things, downsizing was impossible to avoid. The Unthinkable happened. We didn't have to lay off many; just a few.  And that need, too, spawned an important process. It was very painful, but highly productive and we are a stronger (and slightly smaller) company today."

    What about you, readers? How have you weathered the storm, and how strong is your team heading into the remainder of the year?

    Leah Thayer