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Dave Roberts with Roberts Architects Ltd and Roberts Construction in Evanston, IL talks about the power of assembling a strong team that can operate without the owner being there and how he does it, how he bounced back strong from 2009 struggles and how 33% of his business is coming from Houzz, one of the top social media sites for remodelers. 279fe0b

Dave talks about the advantages/disadvantages of being an Architect and running a design/build company. He also touches on the importance of engaging with others in the remodeling industry and how he “got out of my shoebox” and involved in remodeling and business groups.

Success Quote

“Fostering life long client relationships is at the core of our philosophy, and building that relationship hinges on the consistent delivery of value, architectural design, quality construction, and trusted client service.” – Dave Roberts

Remodeling Business Resource

Design Build Process Doc (PDF)

Interview Links

Roberts Architects Ltd

Favorite Book

The Remodeler’s Guide To Making & Managing Money: A Common Sense Approach To Optimizing Compensation & Profit by Linda Case The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni

Complete Show Transcript

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Show #10: Dave Roberts talks about the power of assembling a strong team that can operate without the owner being there and how he does it, how he bounced back strong from 2009 struggles and how 33% of his business is coming from Houzz

Kyle: Welcome to Remodelers on the Rise!

I’m your host, Kyle Hunt. And as always, I’m joined by my co-host Ryan Paul Adams.

Hello there, Ryan!

Ryan: Hey Kyle! What’s happening?

Kyle: Not a whole lot. This is Remodelers on the Rise Podcast #10. We’ve reached double digits and let’s get right into it. So I’m going to introduce today’s guest. That is Dave Roberts.

He is the owner of Roberts Architects and Construction. They are located just north of Chicago in Evanston, Illinois.

And I grabbed this right off Dave’s website, the Roberts’ team excels at design-build projects with clients seeking exceptional value and service, fine architectural design and detail, and professional construction management expertise.

I think that it hits to the core of who they are and who their ideal client is.  I’ve gotten to know and worked with Dave over the last few years. And Dave, we appreciate you taking the time to be in the show today.

Ryan: Thank you, Dave.

Dave: Hey! Thanks for the invitation. I am happy to be here.

Kyle: So Dave, the focus of the show is about you, your business and your experience. I just gave a quick introduction.

And I want to turn it over to you. Briefly, tell us more about you personally so everyone knows who Dave Roberts is, when he is maybe off the clock – if there is such a thing, as a business owner. And maybe, a bit more about your business.

Dave: Sure! I am an architect. So that maybe is a strange burden in the remodeling industry, in some respect. But as a business owner, that doesn’t happen as often as they think it might.

Off the clock, I am a father of four sons, who are all adults now, who are actually behaving like adults (that’s wonderful!). They are all good guys.

Kyle: At least, they put out a good act for you.

Dave: They do. They do. And they are living good lives. They are being good people. None of them are involved in my business, which is fine with me and fine with them.

Yeah, they are on their own way. I have a lovely wife, Lisa. And, she and I live in Winnebago, Illinois. And at this point in our lives, we are enjoying travelling. Now that we don’t have four boys running around the house.

Kyle: Ryan and I are just dreaming of that day.

Ryan: To find time to travel, that would be awesome!

Dave: We make time to travel. Finding time, it won’t be there. But if you make it, “Okay, we are doing this.”

Then, it’s done. We’ve learned that about ourselves.

Ryan: Probably a little easier that all the kids are out of the house now.

Dave: Totally! And all through College, that has a lot to do with that.

Kyle: Before we go through the questions. Let me hit one thing there. In order to leave for a week, let’s say we are travelling through California or wherever else we may go – what, in particular to your business have you had to set up in order to have that flexibility?

Dave: That’s an awesome question. That’s one of the things I’m really proud of is that we’ve assembled a really strong team. And even though I am the name on the door, when I am gone, my hope and wish is that the team will operate without me here. Maybe, even better when I’m here.

I went to New Zealand for a month last year.

Ryan: Good for you.

Dave: That’s the longest vacation I have taken for a long time and it was awesome! Everything got done and I applauded everybody when I got back.

Was everything done the way I wanted? Pretty much so.

Kyle: I’ve shared this story with other clients when we talked about it. Probably a year and a half ago, it just stuck with me really strongly. You are talking specifically about how there’s a lot of things that play into the success of a remodeling business, of a design and build business, whatever you want – any business frankly.

But you really highlighted the fact that without the right people on your team, it’s just so much more difficult.

You really hammered that point home. When some of my clients are looking at employees and they are settling, dealing with and continuing to employ B or C players.

There’s probably an A player out there that you can put in your team. It’s just causing you more stress, more headaches. I am sure you didn’t put the team overnight. But emphasize that again for us, the importance of that.

Dave: It took me a long time to learn that. I didn’t know this from the beginning. And I’ve been on the business for 30 years now.

It took me a long time to learn that. And I thought you just hired people and you put them into places and things happened.

Things do happen but not always the right things. But I learned that the right kind of people, – “team players” are the way to go.

And, they really have to believe that.

But to get them to believe that, I have to play that part and believe that myself. And that was the key piece.

I had to make myself available to be the team player. Otherwise, nobody bought into it. And honestly, that took me time to learn that.

I’ve gotten there. So everybody’s watching everybody’s back. Everybody’s helping everybody out. There is no territory that anybody can’t step into the company. Architects, production managers, carpenters – we meet, we talk, we try to keep it on that kind of a level.

And everybody is ok if you ask other people what they are doing. It’s practiced and encouraged. Kind of mix things up a bit rather than having everything worked from…

Kyle: Compartmentalized.

Dave: Yeah! And the spoke from me in the middle of it. To spoke out to every different part of it. I consciously mix that model up. Do that everybody’s talking to everybody else. And I’m out of those conversations.

Kyle: Good! Excellent!

Thank you for summarizing it. I was wanting to say, get more details on that and you did it beautifully. So thank you.

Go ahead, Ryan.

Ryan: Dave, before we get into the first question here. I’m just curious with your business model. Being an architect, if you could talk a little bit about what are some of the advantages of that model and also the disadvantages because probably it’s a little bit of both.

Dave: Absolutely. You are right on the money with that. I think the advantages are, first, it makes us different. And I think that’s a real strong advantage. There are some but there aren’t a lot of design-build.

And we’re living the true design-build model as I see it anyways. So we are not designing things for clients that other people are building. We don’t operate as architects and contractors and we sometimes come together.

So to your question, the advantage is that, it makes us different and it makes people look at us a little bit differently.

It’s a good thing but at the same time, it could be a bad thing. Some people, if they can’t stick you in a box, they have a hard time with that. So, when we’re looking at a project and sometimes, there are 2 other architects or 2 architects and us.

So, they’re asking, “Why should we hire you guys to do everything when we can hire the architects and we can go out and get 3 bids or go through all that…?”

If you know how to answer that question, and if you find that potential client or prospect that will follow you along that trail and understand that with you then, that works. That works really well.

Ryan: You are marking the process so much simpler in my mind. And having that control.

I talk a lot about control. It makes your life seem a bit easier. When we were designing our own projects, we know what was going into them. We know how to smack it out and build it.

It just made it a lot easier on our end. But we weren’t architects to that level. So you do have some certifications that you have to keep up with, as well as education. Is that a disadvantage of it? You have to have a higher standard? Or is that sort of an advantage?

Dave: No. I haven’t thought about it in that respect. Honestly, it’s a great question.

I don’t see that as a disadvantage at all. Occasionally, we’ll hear, “You guys are probably too good for what we want to do.”

And sometimes, maybe that’s true. Maybe, we’re overkill for somebody.

Kyle: But that positioning for some people is ideal. It attracts them.

Dave: Yeah, that’s absolutely true.

Ryan: So, let’s get into the first question. Thanks for sharing that. I was just curious.

So share a quote that you live by. And really try to break it down for us of how you may apply that to your remodeling and design business.

Dave: I think, the quote would be, really building and fostering lifelong relationships with our clients and our partners who are trade contractors and strategic partners like painters who we do not employ but who we work alongside, decorators, realtors, other people.

Building those relationships. I’ve been around for a while. And so now, I look back on it and they say, “Wow, that’s so powerful because you can get so much accomplished when you work with clients.”

I’ve got a client stop in this morning and I did a project with them more than 20 years ago on a different house.

Now, they’ve downsized. They are wonderful people. They have a beautiful home. But they’ve stuck with us, we’ve stuck with them. We’ve stayed in contact with them. They wouldn’t go anywhere else – I don’t think. We have to really step on our toes to mess that up.

Ryan: And just a little bit that I know about you, you just seem a very honest guy. Is there anything else that you are doing or you can pinpoint that you are able to foster those relationships and build those relationships for so long?

Dave: Well, thank you for that kind comment. I think you can’t be who you are not.

So, I’m not good at that. I’m not an actor. I’ve always felt that if we are not the right fit then it’s best if we don’t go on from there.

If it’s not a good relationship at the beginning, it won’t be a good relationship down the path of the project with all the stress and things that can happen doing the project. And they do. We know that right? Six to ten months into something, yeah lots of things can happen.

Ryan: Thank you for sharing.

Kyle: Let’s pull this negative. Let’s get down into the failure side of things. Share a story of your career where you encountered failure. You take us to this time of your life and maybe share about that story and any lesson you learned from that.

Dave: I’ve seen a bunch of bumps on the trail but none of them, in the long trail, was as bumpy as 2009. We were rocking and rolling like lots of people – taking calls and building lots of stuff, doing millions of dollars worth of work a year.

Kind of not even thinking about it as I look back at it, I was absolutely kind of sleepwalking. I wasn’t really working hard at the marketing part.

I was standing in touch with my clients but I wasn’t really aware of it. I was doing it but I wasn’t really aware and why it was important. And, the music stopped.

Up until that point, I was seeing people around, companies around us, kind of falling down. And I was arrogant. I thought that we are better. We were just so good that’s why people still hire us.

Well, I didn’t see the train on the tracks that was right in front of me. So that was a real tough bump and put a serious, serious dent on our financial picture.

We had to lay some people off. I had a pretty strong team, not as strong as it is now but the stronger members of it then, they all came to me and said, “Look, I’ll work less days to make this work so that we can go through this together.”

And I saw that as something positive that came out of it. But that was scary stuff. I saw a lot of people around me get hurt.

Kyle: One of the things you mentioned there, hitting on marketing a little bit, is that part of the lesson learned of being more focused on sales and marketing.

Dave: Yeah, both. Both components. I’ve put a lot of energy into focusing into my sales. I used to have this viewpoint that we would do good design and construction work and sales just happened.

And marketing was just a function of that. I think, I was pretty good at marketing and we were some of the earlier guys around here who would have classy job signs and truck signs – that kind of stuff, as well as, have handed out neighbour letters and focusing on that way before other people did.

But when that all became very present and then I began to codify it and really to put the sales piece together.

I accepted myself as a salesperson at that point honestly. Up until then, i kind of thought that being the sales is not me.

Ryan: Interesting.

Kyle: You invested in some sales training, too, if I’m not mistaken.

Dave: Yeah! I’ve invested deeply into Sandler Training. That’s a super benefit and I recommend that for anybody.

Ryan: Yeah! Sandler’s excellent.

Kyle: Another thing related to the marketing side of things and I’ll insert it here. I read in Professional Remodeler’s Magazine. There’s Dave Roberts and an article about Houzz. Talk to us a little bit and share to the listeners how you are using Houzz. What is your scene on that front?

Dave: Well, that kind of a surprise to me. I had a client 3+ years ago when Houzz was just kind of getting started. They said, “Hey, here are some ideas I want to use in my kitchen.”

And so, I look at these. They are on an idea book on Houzz.

Okay, what’s Houzz? I looked it up. I had to sign in. I had to create a little page and I just looked at it. And it was awesome!

I didn’t pay attention to it and I started to get a couple of reviews from clients on there. And it steamrolled from there.

So, how we are using Houzz? We are showing our projects on there. And in interesting ways that don’t happen in a website. It’s a more interactive format.

At the moment, one-third of our work – I mean, literally a third of our work that we are doing right now came to us thru Houzz.

Kyle: It is a big number.

Ryan: Very interesting.

Dave: It is a big number and I can’t ignore it. The thing that I found – a couple of points are in general the leads that we get form Houzz tend to be more qualified leads.

We don’t chase every lead that comes in. We talk with them, sort it out and frankly, disqualify the leads. The ones that aren’t a good fit for us or if we can’t help them for whatever that is, whether it’s budget or time or whatever, location.

We work in a pretty small area, market area. But the Houzz stuff that comes in tends to be at a higher level. The conversations with those good folks tend to be about the important things to them as opposed to “Hey I’m getting 16 bids and you know I am going to the lowest bidder.”

Kyle: What are the key things that you are doing in there?

Obviously uploading good quality photos, lots of descriptions in there, getting your full business description. You already mentioned reviews. Anything else that you guys are doing in there that might be attracting more eyeballs?

Dave: Well you said reviews. And I would hitback on reviews because the people at Houzz have shared with me that those with more reviews, good reviews obviously are the ones that tend to attract a lot of attention.

It’s not just the pretty pictures. Pretty pictures are really important. Content and tying into those pretty pictures, “Hey, we did a house with yellow siding and white trim and there are green shutters and black shutters and a gray slate roof.”

If you have those descriptors out there, that’s what people look for. And keeping those in common terms as supposed to what we in our industry might say.

Kyle: Are you doing any advertising in there? Or the sponsoring side of things?

Dave: I did turn on a sponsorship a year ago. But I was having awesome results well before that. I decided, looking at who else is sponsoring in our market that I needed to keep on par with some of our good competition.

Kyle: But the key there was before you did that, you were seeing good stuff.

Dave: I wouldn’t have spent the money, honestly, if I hadn’t already seen the results.

Kyle: Ok Ryan, why don’t you go ahead.

Ryan: So we have talked a bit about failure. Kyle likes to bring the show down. But let’s bring it back up a little bit. Let’s talk about the big breakthrough – the big AHA! moment. Was there one that you can identify and share with us?

Dave: Sure. I think the most recent thing is that, coming out of the 2009 and coming through that, I really forced myself to sit down since I had the time to do it, and look at what I was doing.

And there were a couple of AHA! moments. One of them was, I’ve always kind of worked in an island. Meaning, that I didn’t get involved in industry stuff.

I didn’t get involved in talking with other companies. I didn’t get involved in any kind of greater picture of anything in our industry. I was really working in an island. I just kept on thinking it was good enough.

And I realized that the AHA! moment was to engage.

So we got the Big 50 Award from Remodeling Maagazine. That was a nice engager. It drew a lot of attention to us. That was 2010, I believe it was.

So I began to engage. I got involved in Remodeler’s Advantage. The AHA! piece of all this is engagement in the industry – to begin to have conversations like what we are having today.

Sharing ideas with good people because other people have already gone through failure that you’ve gone through and they can help you through it. Or you can help a guy that you already have a problem and you’ve gone through it. And you can share something with him or her about what you’ve experienced.

Ryan: You can have everything in life that you want if you’ve helped enough other people get what they want, right?

Dave: Yeah! It is a give and take thing for sure. I got out of my shoebox and started to talk and engage with other people. And that led me into being on board at the NARI of our Chapter and being involved in Remodeler’s Advantage and involved in other things.

Ryan: I think, it’s really important. I think you hit that home very well. Is there anything else in your business right now that’s really exciting you?

Dave: Well, I guess, I bring it back to the team piece. At our Holiday meeting at the end of the year. The past year, we had everybody together and we do that team stuff all the time but the Holiday one was a special time and it was just us.

I was just sitting there, waxing a little bit. And I was just looking at the room, we don’t have a big company. I mean, it’s 8 people and so it’s not big. But I looked around the room and I realized that, “Oh man! This past Christmas time, this is the most comfortable that I have ever been with a group of people maybe ever in the business.”

So I said it. It came out loud. I’m not the kind of guy that just talks about that emotional stuff. But I did share with them that this is the most wonderful experience in working with the group of people that I’ve had in my entire career.

And it’s absolutely true! It just came out and there was nothing scripted about it.

So, in my current business, what’s the most exciting thing right now? The most exciting thing is I can pack my bags and go somewhere and know that everything’s okay.

Ryan: You’ve gotten into a place where you don’t have to worry about everything.

Dave: Yes. And that’s wonderful because then, you can worry about the stuff that you want to worry about.

Ryan: So it is possible. For all our listeners, it is possible. You just have to keep at it. Listen to people like Dave and keep at it. And you’ll get there.

Kyle: There you go. We won’t mention that it’s 30 years in the making, right?

So now, let’s get into the lightning round questions. Ryan, why dint you start us off with the first one?

Ryan: Talk about the best business advice you’ve ever received.

Dave: I think that’s pretty easy. The best advice I got was, stop designing buildings without commitment for the total build.

Meaning, don’t design something for somebody that isn’t already committed to having you build their project without any bids, without anything like that. Total design-build.

Kyle: Nice. Can you share one of your personal habits that you believe attributes to your success?

Dave: Wow! I guess, being stubborn and fighting through it all is probably a habit that can lead to good things and bad things.

Loving what I do. I honestly have to tell you that I am doing what I thought I wanted to do when I was 10 years old – building stuff in my backyard and drawing pictures of it.

Kyle: I follow Dave on Facebook and you put up those little sketches. Seeing those sketches, I can see how it ties to a lifelong love for drawing and design.

Dave: Yeah.

Kyle: What book would you recommend to Remodelers on the Rise listeners?

Dave: I’ve got one. It’s a bit older but I think it’s a really key piece. It’s by Linda Case. It’s the Remodelers Guide to Making and Managing Money.

It is published through Remodeler’s Advantage. But, when I got it, I sat down and I devoured it. The copy I have is totally worn out. I have shared it with other people as well.

I am holding it in my hands right now. It is totally beat up. It’s never beyond my desk. At this point in time because I still go back to it.

That and the other one would be an audio, which would be the Five Dysfunctions of a Team. I am better with audios for the most part. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. I use that as a model to rebuild and reinvent the way I work with people around me.

Kyle: Excellent!

Ryan: Great recommendations.

Dave, do you have a resource of some kind that you don’t mind sharing with our listeners? We typically ask guests to provide something useful and meaningful for others to help them grow and improve their businesses.

Did you have anything in mind?

Dave: Yeah. I’ll be happy to share a one-page piece. I boiled it down. It’s my design-build process.

And it’s really how I work, how we work, how we put together projects. More importantly, how we can help prospective clients understand how we work, how our process will help them and empower them throughout. It’s really just one-step, two-step, three-step approach to what we do.

Ryan: Excellent!

And as a reminder, we’ll make that available on the website www.RemodelersontheRise.com/show10.

Kyle: All right,

So, Dave here’s the final question. It’s a longer question and a bit of a deucy. So, imagine you woke up tomorrow morning and you are in the same exact business but you knew no one, had no sales and only had $500 of start up money. And your life depended on you selling something on the next 7 days. You still have the experience and knowledge you currently have. Your food and shelter are all taken cared of. But all you got is a laptop and $500.

What would you do in the next 7 days to survive and generate new business?

Dave: Well, I’ll try to hold on to the $500 as long as I could. So, to do that I’ll do a couple of things. I would start calling a variety of people.

I would call the best house painters, interior designers in my area to talk to them about what I do because they would share the same clients. I would look for bigger companies that are doing what I do and I’d go talk to them and see if they have scraps to throw to me.

Because if my life depended on it, I’d need to grab those scraps and I could use those scraps to build something bigger from there.

With my laptop, I’d open as many online social media profiles: Houzz, Google+. I’d saturate that thing. And I’ll start talking online to generate conversations. I know it might not be immediate results but those would be longer lasting results.

And if I was really cranking it along there, I’d look for the nicest neighbourhoods with the big old houses that need a ton of work always. And I’d dropped off leaflets and start knocking on those doors.

Kyle: That’s a full first week.

Dave: That’s a full first week, yeah.

Kyle: What I heard there is what I want everybody to make sure they are hearing loud and clear. A lot of times, when I talk to remodelers they’d say, “We are doing advertising on radio and TV…”

Forget about all that!

You mentioned about social media and that’s even fancier stuff. But the fundamentals and the tried and true – whether now, 20 years ago or 20 years from now, no matter how technology goes along, it’s still about developing those relationships.

That means meeting somebody over a cup of coffee, getting to know them, sharing with them whom you know, expanding the network of people who know what you do.

And good things come from that – referrals, opportunities. You never know what can come out from it.

I like that you emphasize that. That’s a long term play as well but it’s shocking how often Boom! something comes out of it quickly, too.

Dave: Yeah! It is amazing. You never know.

Ryan: Excellent answer. I like that it leads to strategic partnership. Going out and finding people that aren’t exactly working and doing the same thing as you. But people that could be in front of the same clients that you want.

Kyle: Share the same ideal clients.

Dave: Sure! Clients who are willing to get beyond the lowest bid. They are looking for the best people to do their work.

Ryan: Exactly.

Dave: And they are willing to pay for it.

Ryan: Great! Dave, finally, where can people get hold of you? Is there anything else you wanted to share today?

Dave: Where people can get hold of me? I guess, in Evanston, Illinois.

It’s david@robertsarchitectsltd.com – that’s a terrific place. On Twitter, it’s @robertsaia. And then, (847) 491 6195.

Kyle: Got to think of your phone number there, because you never call it.

Dave: Well, I never call it and I was giving you my mobile umber but I thought to just give you the office phone number.

Kyle: Excellent!

Well, everyone’s going to be beating on your door as you’ve told them to come in Evanston, Illinois.

Dave: We hope so. We love to give a tour of our place.

Kyle: Awesome!

Thank you Dave for coming to our show today. We really appreciate you sharing your story. Lots of good ideas, lots of great concepts. Thank you very, very much for that.

And just a friendly reminder for all the listeners, if you could check out www.RemodelersontheRise.com, if you could take just 2 minutes and rate and review our show on iTines, we want other people like yourself to find the show and by leaving reviews, it will be so much easier.

So we appreciate you all tuning in and thank you again, Dave.

Ryan: Thank you, Dave.

Dave: Thank you, Kyle. Thank you, Ryan. Appreciate it!

Kyle: Excellent! We’ll talk to everybody again soon.

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