Inside Strite

Recently, a client looked over our final invoice at the completion of a project and compared it to our original “description of work” (DOW).  “I know you guys did a lot of additional stuff during this remodel.  You should include those things in the invoice and show their value, even if you aren’t charging for them,” he commented.  Our response was that the additional paperwork wasn’t really worth our effort as long as he appreciated what had been done — which was really the point to begin with.

His observation, however, got us to thinking about the way we look at integrity in our business.  How we define that term is a frequently asked question that we can answer in six words: keeping our end of the agreement — which is, of course, another way of saying “doing the things we said we were going to do.”  As an integral part of the STRITE culture, this value goes beyond the notion of contractual obligation.  Sure, our contracts require us to produce what we’ve agreed to on paper, but our interpretation of “integrity” is more about truly having the best interests of our customers in mind.

In terms of how our definition of integrity is experienced by our customers (besides seeing things accomplished beyond the DOW), it involves maintaining a critical eye throughout the life of a project in order to present options that will create a better outcome.  It is important to point out, however, that presenting these options does not necessarily mean adding cost, but instead ensuring that down the road our clients don’t find themselves wishing something had been done differently when an alternative could have been presented earlier in the process.  From a client perspective, you might say that our sense of integrity is felt most keenly as an absence of regret.  For us, it simply means viewing our obligation to our clients as going beyond the particulars of the description of work.  Fulfilling a contract is one thing, leaving your customers with an abiding sense of fulfillment is quite another — it’s a seeming intangible that is at the heart of what the word “integrity” means to STRITE.

President, Bob Mundy
Inside Strite

For most of us, it goes without saying that the more experience we have with doing something, the better we get at doing it. While this may be true for individuals, however, it isn’t necessarily the case with organizations — especially in an industry where every job is a “custom build.”  Where the rubber meets the road is in how an organization builds “repeatability” into its processes — and how it in turn inculcates those processes (think “standard operating procedures,” if you will) in its staff and associates.

For STRITE, this “repeatability” resides in large part in our project database — a rich data history of how we approached a project, the costs associated with that approach, the challenges that arose, and most important, how we managed those challenges.  The benefit of capturing the experience that comes with having done nearly 400 kitchen remodels, for example, is the ability to predict problems before they arise in our next kitchen remodel, and to offer options that add value and/or reduce costs (knowing that a truss can be successfully used in place of a beam, for example, can save a thousand dollars alone).  Although our clients sometimes perceive this ability as some form of “x-ray vision” on our part, the apparent magic of seeing beyond what is in front of you comes from the hindsight of having seen something similar before — many, many times before — from the perspectives of both design and production.

Beyond the ability of our systems to replicate success, however, there is a more fundamental level of experience that our staff brings to every project. STRITE’s president, Bob Mundy, has spent 50 years in the construction business in both residential and commercial markets, while our founder, Jim Strite (now retired), travels the country helping other remodeling businesses improve their practices by sharing the knowledge we’ve gained over nearly four decades.  After all, experience counts for little if it can’t be shared.

 

Kitchen Demolition before renovation by Strite Design in Boise, Idaho
Remodeling Experience

In thinking about the process of a home remodel, I’m reminded of an old blues song: “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”  The inescapable fact of any significant home makeover is that in between the “before” and “after” is the rather messy “during.”

Walls come down, soffits are demolished, plumbing and wiring are relocated, trades cadres come and go as their craft requires…it’s like living in a construction zone.  Which is, of course, exactly what it is.  And while it’s not as though a new build doesn’t have its share of dust and drama, the difference is that folks don’t generally try to live in a home while it’s being constructed.  By the time they turn the key in the front door and walk inside, it’s all bright and shiny, with everything in its place.  At least, that’s the expectation.

If a remodel project is extensive enough, our clients will, on rare occasion, choose to relocate to a hotel or rental until their remodel is accomplished.  More often, however, we simply devise temporary solutions that minimize the impact of the project on their daily lives.  Take this current kitchen remodel in south Boise for example.  The following pictures illustrate the ways that STRITE helps our clients “manage the chaos” that ensues in the necessary transition between “before” and “after.”

The demolition phase of any remodel project is probably the most traumatic, but we’ve learned a lot of ways over the years to minimize its impact on our clients’ lives.

The demolition starts now!

The demolition starts now!

The door between calm and chaos (or an orderly sort). We've constructed a temporary wall between the kitchen and dining room with a door for access between the space under construction and the rest of the home.

The door between calm and chaos (of an orderly sort). We’ve constructed a temporary wall between the kitchen and dining room with a door for access between the space under construction and the rest of the home.

During a kitchen remodel, we will usually set up a temporary food preparation area in either the garage or in another room, based on whichever option is most convenient for our clients.

During a kitchen remodel, we usually set up a temporary food preparation area in either the garage or in another room, based on whatever option is most convenient for our clients.

All the comforts of home.

All the comforts of home.

Separating the family room from the kitchen/dining nook during the demolition and construction phases.

Separating the family room from the kitchen/dining nook during the demolition and construction phases.

Protecting the furniture in the living room, which also serves as a holding area for furnishings we removed from an impacted dining nook.

Protecting the furniture in the living room, which also serves as a holding area for furnishings we removed from an impacted dining nook.

Why do these people look so happy about their kitchen being demolished? Perhaps its because they know what awaits them when their remodel is finish.

Why do these people look so happy about their kitchen being demolished? Perhaps it’s because they know what awaits them when their remodel is finished and assuring its prosperity, One of the easiest ways to keep tiles longer new for longer is by applying a grout sealer. By protecting the grout lines, dirt and water is repelled and doesn’t stain it.

Bob Mundy

Industry Trends

STRITE design + remodel has once again been ranked by the trade publication Qualified Remodeler as among the top 500 remodeling companies in the U.S.  While this is a notable achievement in itself — especially considering that we operate in a much smaller market than most of the other companies in this prestigious ranking — the larger story behind this recognition is something worth sharing for what it reveals about our industry and the environment in which it currently operates.

To gain some insight into the dynamics of the Treasure Valley residential remodeling market, I turned to a veteran of both the upturns and downturns of our industry: STRITE’s president, Bob Mundy.  I asked Bob to characterize and contrast the current remodeling environment with what was happening in our industry just a few years ago.  Whether you are a homeowner who is contemplating a residential remodel, or simply a keen observer of our local economy, his perspective is worth noting.

If the remodeling business is a less volatile place to be since the bursting of the real estate bubble five or so years ago, some credit is due to an overall improvement in the regional economy.  However, this explanation only goes so far.  For one thing, while STRITE has seen its estimated revenue for 2013 improve by roughly 20 percent over the previous year, the pace of economic growth in the Treasure Valley has been far less robust.

From Bob’s perspective, the improvement STRITE has seen in the remodel market can be attributed to five factors that, while they may not constitute a “perfect storm” of business opportunity, at least point to a more sustainable environment in which to continue to do what we’ve been doing for the past 37 years.  In no particular order, Bob Mundy characterizes these factors as follows.

Pent up demand — After a lot of fear and trepidation regarding their economic future, home owners are deciding to no longer put off their home improvement goals.  “People are deciding to live their lives, and they want to genuinely add more value to their homes, and to their experience of their homes.  Folks are just more positive about the future.”

An acceleration of new products and technologies — Not that many years ago, the pace of new products and technologies being introduced into the home improvement market was much slower than it is today.  “We used to wait for five years to entertain new products in the market place.  Now, the quality that is coming out is really exciting to both us and our clients, and we can move forward with much more confidence because of the improved quality of innovations in lighting, materials, colors — things that are really having an impact on peoples’ lifestyles.”

The role of the Internet — In a trend related to the one previously cited, the Internet is fueling an increased awareness of new product and design trends — especially through social media sites such as Facebook, HOUZZ, and Pinterest. “Thanks to the Internet, people are not only exposed to new ideas, but they are able to share them and create conversations around them that add to the ‘buzz’ taking place in our industry.”

The desire to update rather than move — Moving is no guarantee that people will be able to more closely align their lifestyle needs with their homes.  This is especially true if they want to stay in the neighborhood where they currently live.  In that regard, remodeling is an option that allows homeowners to have their cake and eat it too — or at least redecorate it.  “Builders are hard pressed to respond to all the new design ideas that are out there today, so they tend to stick to more generic products and designs.  Remodelers don’t face that constraint.  More than ever, if you want your home to reflect the latest design and product innovations, remodeling is the best avenue.”

Adapting to lifestyle needs — As more people choose to invest in the long term livability of their homes, they are taking a more critical look at how they use their living space.  “We’re seeing less of an interest in adding space through additions, and more of an interest in better using existing space through changes in layout.  This is going to be an even more pronounced trend as the aging ‘boomer’ population increasingly looks at ‘aging in place’ as an option to retirement communities or assisted living situations.”

This last trend points to a broader and more fundamental factor that STRITE believes will contribute to a more sustainable growth in the remodeling business over the next decade: the growing interest in universal design.  “While the new construction industry may continue to experience ups and downs along with the economy, the interest in adapting homes for changing lifestyle needs such as aging in place will be more significant as time goes by.  People will always have an interest in updating the look of their homes, but improving the livability of their homes is a more fundamental investment in value that bodes well for our business.”

For some additional perspective on the Treasure Valley remodeling market, read our blog “The New Normal.”

 

 

 

 

 

Orange

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Trends

While residential design trends may not be as subject to the vagaries of fashion as hemlines, they do change.  Consequently, what is esthetically pleasing today will probably appear “dated” in a couple of decades.  As a remodeling company, the best we can do at chasing the ephemera of “timelessness” is to focus not just on appeal, but on functionality — especially functionality that evolves with the needs of a homeowner over time.

Which is why a recent article in Qualified Remodeler (Actionable Ideas for Universal Design) caught my eye.  If the concept of universal design (aka, UD) is a new one to you, the article’s author offers the following definition: “Universal design simply means inclusive design – thoughtfully filling homes with features that provide comfort and convenience, regardless of age, stature or ability.”

The article goes on to point out that the appeal of universal design has been somewhat muted by its association with “aging-in-place” — a misconception, the author notes, that is best addressed with examples such as the following.

“Let’s say you are building a bath sink vanity. If you built it with an open knee space under the sink with clearance for a wheelchair user, that would be a typical aging-in-place element. However, if you added a removable cabinet front that could convert it easily to a typical sink base with a floor and cabinet doors, that would be a universal design element because it could easily be converted to fit a variety of user’s needs.”

In an effort to “rebrand” UD, a number of industry notables have come together to create Better Living Design, an institute whose goal is to “promote, educate and encourage wide adoption of Better Living Design, the sensible design approach to improve how homes are built and remodeled in America.”

BLD’s mission to “change how homes and the products that go in them are designed, built and remodeled to better meet the needs of everyone at every age, life stage and ability” is an ambitious one, but it has some heavy hitters backing it, including not only the AARP, but more than 30 other organizations, companies, universities, and leaders in the universal design category.

With an aging boomer population that has indicated a strong desire to stay in their homes, STRITE echoes BLD’s observation that “the demand for more livable home design across the life span becomes increasingly more important” — which is why we will be paying attention to BLD and its recommendations to designers, builders, and remodelers.  Regardless of your age, if you are considering a home remodel, we recommend BLD’s website as a resource for ideas on how create a more livable home for any stage in your life.

For a case study on how STRITE approached an “aging-in-place” remodel, click here.

 

 

 

Trades Party
Inside A Trades Party

If you think of celebration in the context of a residential remodel, its timing would more logically be at the completion of a project rather than at its beginning — but then, a “trades party” is not your chip and dip, lampshade on the head, pony keg type of affair.

Although we certainly keep it congenial, it serves a serious purpose — one that is essential to bringing a project to completion on time, within budget, and in alignment with the expectations of our clients.

 

STRITE president Bob Mundy looks for possible complications.

STRITE president Bob Mundy looks for possible complications

If you’re unfamiliar with the “trades party” concept, it helps to place it in the scheme of our overall remodel process.  Between our clients’ approval of our preliminary remodel plan and their authorization for us to proceed with it comes the all-important step of inviting our construction partners to review the project and provide their input.  More than just sitting down over a set of drawings in our offices, this review takes place at the project site — the real world environment where our project management and trades will be operating.

STRITE designer Michael Snow -- the man with the plan.

STRITE designer Michael Snow — the man with the plan.

Depending on the type of work to be accomplished during the project — cabinetry, flooring, plumbing, electrical, etc. — the experts in these disciplines have the opportunity at a trades party to assess the scope and possible challenges they will face, and provide their feedback accordingly.  This information is vital to helping us prepare a comprehensive description of work (DOW) detailing each step of the construction process, from framing to finish work, as well as specifications and details about the product and material selections.

Besides its role in creating the DOW — and the subsequent fixed price remodel agreement that is standard with any STRITE engagement — the interactions between our design staff, project management team, and trades is invaluable in anticipating potential “gotchas” that could adversely affect the budget and timetable of a project if not anticipated through the trades party.

 

IMG_5327

Terry Scott of Western Electric considers the electrical requirements of the project.

By giving our trades partners the opportunity to share their expertise and experience at the onset of a remodel, we not only identify potential challenges, but also potential savings.  We also ensure that our trades folk fully share the knowledge we have of the project plan, and can safely and profitably fulfill their part of its completion.  According this professional courtesy to our trades partners is one of the reasons that the best in the business want to work with us.  Chips and dip aside, that’s reason enough to celebrate the trades party process!

A trades party brings a third dimension and more to a set of drawings.

A trades party brings a third dimension and more to a set of drawings.

 

Taupe
Trends

Have you ever wondered just how many ad campaigns and marketing slogans would be rendered mute if you struck the word “value” from the English lexicon?  It’s a tantalizing concept, since it would require companies to be a bit more specific about just what their products and services contribute to the lives of their customers.

Like the words quality and service, the meaning of value has become a marketing cipher into which many businesses expect their customers to apply their own definition.

Which is precisely the problem when applying value to the business of remodeling.  While the concept of value may be a bit fuzzy to many consumers, far fewer have a difficult time defining the term bargain.  And unfortunately for those of us in the remodeling industry, these two words are too often thought of as being synonymous.  As a company that takes great pride in the value that our services represent, we think it’s high time to open up a discussion as to just what that term means.

The idea of “getting a bargain” when it comes to a remodel makes us very uneasy.  After all, there is a reason that so many businesses throw out the lowest bid when it comes to getting quotes for products and services.  There simply is a cost to things below which you cannot go without sacrificing the quality and integrity of materials and services.  The willingness of a service provider to go below that threshold should raise a red flag when it comes to their professionalism and experience.  And while quality and integrity are certainly “value propositions” in our minds, we think these two attributes should be a given for anyone in our business.

A more popular concept of value in recent years has been “return on investment”, or ROI.  In the heady days of the real estate boom, the idea of picking up a property for little or nothing down, upgrading the interior and/or exterior, and then “flipping” the property for a windfall profit was a mighty tempting behavior for a lot of homeowners.  Too tempting, as it turned out.

With real estate prices languishing for the foreseeable future, we think it makes a lot more sense for homeowners to look at where they live as a “quality of life” rather than “return on investment” proposition.  The days of treating ones home as an ATM are long over…to which we say, “thank goodness”!  We encourage our customers to look at a remodel as a process and outcome that adds to their quality of life, and not to their indebtedness!

In thinking of value as something we experience, rather than a “bottom line” transaction, we see value in both the process and outcome of a successful remodel.  And after all, if you reject that idea of value as something material, what you are basically left with is a qualitative definition – one that looks at the experience of the “thing” rather than the thing itself.  In our next blog installment, we’ll talk more about the concept of value as an experience, and just what that “thing” is from the perspective of our customers.

Design by Strite Design + Remodel
40 Years of Delivering High Quality

Over the years, an essential attribute of the “Strite brand” has become “experience” — not so much as defined by the amount of time and knowledge we’ve invested in our craft (as considerable as that may be), but more from the standpoint of how our customers experience a remodel project.

As Marketing Associate for STRITE design + remodel, I have the privilege — and challenge — of promoting a company that has spent nearly forty years building an enviable reputation in the Treasure Valley. To get a sense of just how solid that reputation is, I would invite you to take a look at our customer satisfaction ratings on Guild Quality.com (an excellent resource for anyone looking for reliable suppliers in their local residential building industry).

When 97% of third-party survey respondents say they would recommend Strite, you would be justified in wondering just how much of a challenge promoting our brand might be. Short of being the public relations director for “The Organization for the Advancement of Puppies, Kittens, and Toddlers,” marketing a company with the customer loyalty that Strite enjoys isn’t a bad gig. You’d figure I could get in a few naps during the day, or at least update my Facebook page on a more frequent basis.

The challenge with promoting almost any brand, however, is defining and communicating the attributes that constitute its “value proposition” — and Strite is no exception. In the case of the remodeling industry, the most obvious brand attributes are quality, delivery, and price.

As a professional services provider, the first two of these attributes, quality and delivery, are givens. That doesn’t mean they’re a slam dunk — it just means that we consider them to be the inalienable right of every customer. The third brand attribute, price, is a far trickier one. While you can choose to compete on price, all of us understand, at least on an intuitive level, that you can only cut so much cost out of any undertaking before you compromise quality (and even delivery, if you’re not fairly compensating your trades).

Over the years, an essential attribute of the “Strite brand” has become “experience” — not so much as defined by the amount of time and knowledge we’ve invested in our craft (as considerable as that may be), but more from the standpoint of how our customers experience their remodel projects. In measuring our success, it’s no longer enough that the people and processes in our organization deliver the expected result — we want the experience of that result to enhance our customers’ lives in very real and meaningful ways. To put it another way, we’ve gone from focusing simply on the quality of the customer outcome to including the quality of the customer experience.

If all this seems a bit “touchy feely,” consider this: We are in the business not just of “building stuff,” but of harmonizing people’s homes and lifestyles. Our customers’ needs generally go beyond, “We want another 1,000 square feet of space in our home.” Nowadays, their needs are more aspirational. “Now that our kids have left home, we want to do more entertaining, and our kitchen just doesn’t work.” If that’s not “touchy feely,” what is?

Focusing on the lifestyle aspirations behind a remodel project means, first of all, understanding those aspirations; and because the only people who truly know what those are are our clients, this also means that the “Strite experience” must connect with who they are, what they value, and the ways in which the esthetics of their environment not only reflect their lifestyle, but enhance it as well.

Involving our clients in their remodel project means helping them get in touch with “their inner designer.” We do this in part by asking a lot of questions, but also by encouraging them to pay attention to design elements that resonate with them. In one recent project, for example, our client did a Google search on “zen bathrooms,” which yielded a number of ideas for colors, textures, and fixtures that collectively expressed “the feeling of water,” as well as her feelings toward a cherished home of thirty years.

Being able to experience the connection between a personal sense of esthetics and how it might best express and reinforce itself in the remodel of a bathroom turned out to be an energizing and creative exercise that far outweighed the anxiety our client naturally felt about the change taking place in her home. We are, after all, creatures of habit. At the core of the value proposition underlying our brand is a commitment to immersing our clients in a creative process that not only yields a more beautiful and/or functional home, but also helps them realize that we are creatures of creativity as well. That’s an epiphany that stays with you long after a remodel is completed — and as ineffable as it may seem, it’s what the “Strite Experience” is about.

Original kitchen before remodel, by Strite Design Strite Design in North End Boise, Idaho

’50s Show Home

Our home was built in 1956, we bought it from the original owners in 1997.  As this was our first home, we mentioned to the son that if you ever find any old pictures, we would be interested in making copies.  About four years after we purchased our home, a package arrived at our door from the son, who is now in his 50’s. Both of his parents had recently passed, and he and his sister decided that these documents should stay with the home.  We were quite amazed with what we found.

Apparently his Mom fell in love with a home featured in the January 1955 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine, and ordered the layout for .25 cents (as stated in the magazine).  We had received the original 3 page clipping from the magazine in the package, the one page plans that she had ordered, along with a construction budget and closing docs.  Also included was a letter from a relative (or friend) in Maryland with six little 2″ square black and white photos of the home over a period of several days during construction, the pictures were all hand labeled on the back dated March 1956. This was gold to us.