Thank you for 25Years!
In a highly competitive industry where the average firm only lasts a few years, it’s a true honor to celebrate 25 years in business. Custom Contracting opened its doors in 1990, and Bill Farnsworth and Scott Blain (now the president and general manager, respectively) joined the firm one year later. In this Q&A, Bill and Scott reflect on Custom’s long history and what they’ve learned along the way.
Back in the early days, what types of projects were you working on?
Scott: Bill and I both started here as subcontractors for the original owner. My first three projects were a vinyl siding job, bathroom renovation, and gutter and window job. Early on, Bill and I did a lot of roofing and other smaller exterior projects, like siding, windows and doors. Today, we’re doing much bigger projects for the most part — kitchens, bathrooms, additions, etc.
When did you realize Custom had the potential to be around for awhile?
Scott: I knew it early on. I had been in remodeling since high school and had worked for various contractors. Custom was the first place where I saw a business system in place. The company was just more organized and professional than the competition. I think that’s still the case today.
What’s been your approach to managing Custom’s growth?
Bill: We’ve been able to grow at a nice, steady pace. Staying big enough to serve all our clients, but not becoming too big, too fast. Over the years, there have been temptations, like starting a roofing, windows, home maintenance or handyman division. But we’ve always come back to the notion of sticking with what we do best — remodeling — rather than going for the easy bucks.
Scott: A long time ago, we made a conscious decision to stay in our wheelhouse and to let the size of our client base take care of itself. Get good people, do good work and follow the growth. If we have to add people to accommodate the needs of the market, then we’ll do
it. But we’re not going to add people to take on every door, window or gutter job out there. That focused approach has worked for us.
Talk more about how Custom’s clients have influenced the company’s trajectory.
Scott: Our clients today — and homeowners in general — are more educated. They read remodeling magazines. They visit sites like Houzz. They watch shows on HGTV. So they’ve been exposed to a lot of ideas before they come to us. But they still need someone on our end to help them weed through all these possibilities, apply some structure and guide them throughout their project.
Bill: Homeowners want a high-end remodeling experience at a more reasonable price
point. [Project coordinator] Michael Daniell is a big part of making that happen for our clients. He’s the one who helps you get a building permit, walks you through product selection and acts as a liaison with our vendors. So clients get all that, plus the services of our kitchen and bath designer, Nikki DeFelice, under one umbrella. That’s very appealing to homeowners.
How has technology impacted how you do business?
Scott: We started out in the age of Microsoft DOS — we had never used a computer or even seen a mouse! So we’ve come a long way. Mobile technology has really changed things. Now, some of our employees are exclusively on smartphones and tablets; they don’t even have a laptop. It’s a lot easier to communicate and collaborate with clients and other team members.
Bill: But we realize that technology has its place. We still maintain a brick-and-mortar presence on Mass Ave. We still mail out a newsletter. We still talk with our clients face to face.
What’s the key to finding good people and maintaining the right company culture?
Bill: We have a nice vetting system in that most of our carpenters historically started here as subcontractors. So we get to see how they work before we hire them as employees. Basic carpentry skills are just one of many things we look at. They also have to be able
to work within our systems; manage their time, projects and clients wisely; and communicate well with clients and staff.
Scott: You’ve got to buy in to our philosophy and meet the strict criteria for how we run the business. What’s nice is that all of our carpenters started as subcontractors, were original team members or have some strong, close personal connection to someone on our team. We’re not playing any guessing games when doing the hiring.
What’s the main reason you’ve been able to thrive all these years?
Scott: Relationships are critical; those are what keep us going. And relationships are what lead to client referrals and repeat business. We’ve never forgotten that.