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Kip de Moll – author, musician, and life long remodeling pro shares what to do when you are overwhelmed and stressed out 1712504in your remodeling business, how he stepped back and took control of his life and business and fell back in love with remodeling and he shares a great estimating resource.

Success Quote

“Use what you have and do it yourself.”
– Mentor of Kip de Moll

Remodeling Business Resource

Simple to use Estimating Spreadsheet (Excel Spreadsheet) (How to use PDF)

Interview Links

Kip de Moll Website

Favorite Book

House by Tracy Kidder

Zen and the Art of the Midlife Crisis by Kip de Moll

Complete Show Transcript

Download the PDF

Kyle: Welcome to Remodelers on the Rise.

I’m your host Kyle Hunt. And alongside me is co-host Ryan Paul Adams. I’m really hoping Ryan that your wife goes into labor halfway through this interview because it would just be dramatic.

Ryan: That would be awful.

Kyle: Any day now.

Ryan: Any day.

Kyle: So this is Remodelers on the Rise Podcast #11. And today’s guest is Kip de Moll, who is the owner of Artisan Builders Workshop. He’s over in Burlington, Vermont. And does contracting and consulting to remodelers. Kip, welcome!

Kip: Hi! Glad to be here.

Kyle: Excellent! So why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself a little bit more. Maybe let us know a little bit about who you are personally and also about your business and what you are doing in that front.

Kip: Sure! I came into remodeling at a very young age. My father was an architect and instead of upscaling, moving up to bigger homes, they invested in a piece of property and then added into it five times.

So we need a lot of remodeling going on. My very first memory is Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel – the steam shovel coming up and digging a big cellar.

At the age of 7, they actually gave me nail belt, let me work on a crew and it wasn’t a token. I was actually driving a lot of 8 penny nails, stapling fiber glass and doing the whole thing.

Kyle: Child labor!

Kip: Well, it was because they didn’t pay me but lifelong memory. It was just a very unique situation. It got me as if it’s a natural part of my life.

Curiously though, I really wanted to be a writer. And that was my passion.

I got out of College and was going to be a writer. But I ended up with a family and needing to put food on the table. And carpentry was a natural thing. It was like, “Ok, I can do that while I got my writing going.”

But being the guy who always takes the bigger job all the time, I just kept on growing the remodeling business and before I knew it, it became a full time occupation with no chance to ever write but building a lot of fun projects.

I ended up with a lot of employees. I was wearing all the hats, learned all aspects of it. Quick end of the story is that I ended up taking 5 years off. I was really wanting to get back into writing and I actually fell off a scaffold and it was a major damage that put me out for 2 years.

And so I took advantage of that. I wrote a book called Zen and the Art of Mid-life Crisis.

And ironically, just the last couple of years, I’ve kind of gone back to both consulting to mentor other remodelers and then really, in the last few weeks, literally taking on jobs and wearing my mail belt again. So it’s a real full circle journey over 35 years.

Ryan: Excellent!

Kip, is there any success quote that you might want to share with us? And you might want to break that down to how that might apply to your business and to your life.

Kip: Sure! It came on fairly early. Just as I really got out of College and became a contractor, started working, doing some carpentry work, I was very close to a guy whose motto was, “Use what you have and do it yourself.”

That was really about all of life. And this was back in the 70s, sort of communal existence. We were in an environment if the Oregon coast, living as close to the ground and as much off the grid. Even though at that time it wasn’t  a term that anybody knew or thought about.

But we were out there and it was a motto for life, “Do it yourself and use what you have.”

And, I do.

I have developed my skills with that in mind. I’m not the kind of guy who just goes and buys a truck-full of lumber and hires a crew to put it together.

For a long time, I was pretty hands-on. I learned tiling. I learned to sand floors. I learned to do foundations. Really from excavating right up to the finish work. Built every opportunity to build a bunch of houses – start to finish.

I got enough skills on each of those trades to be okay. And, sometimes, it got me in trouble that I would take on a project and a customer might end up not being so pleased so I’ve learned to modify that to take it as a benchmark.

That, when possible, do it yourself and use what you have but also that there is a standard.

That, accept that there are things I can’t do as well. Or as economically. Or the time does not allow. Any one of the aspects may dictate if the sub should be brought in. A lot of times, that serves better. The discernment comes in trying to figure out – go or no go, get help or do it yourself.

Ryan: I think, a lot of the contractors that I see that maybe, right now, I run into many contractors who are pretty stressed out and struggling with the business. And they are trying to do a lot of things themselves.

You talked a little bit about finding good people who can help you do the things that you’re not great at. Any other advice, having written a book, Zen and the Art of Mid-life Crisis? Any advice for entrepreneurs listening who are struggling, super stressed out right now?

Kip: Breathe!

Number 1, step back and be conscious of what’s going on. I bled a lot of years. I was in a stressful home situation as well as taking on a vital and strong remodeling business. I was doing about a million dollar cash flow each year which 15 years ago was a lot of more money than it is today.

But really, I didn’t help. And I wasn’t big enough to really take on office staff. I could never guarantee that that money was going to stay flowing steadily enough that I wouldn’t commit to somebody to help me.

The stress levels were huge. Every Friday, making payroll was a make it or break it situation. And that bled into the family. It made stress at home. And, I definitely a lot of years of being hugely stressful.

That’s the main reason that I took a step back. Took the 5 years so that I was slowing it down and then falling off the scaffold, I joked in the hospital that I probably actually jumped more than fell.

You’ve got to do whatever you got to do to get that pause and get a better perspective on of what’s going on and how much you really can handle and what the value is.

On a Friday afternoon when I was going to pick up a check that would make the payroll. I remember watching the kids get off a school bus and thinking my kids are getting off a school bus somewhere else. And I’m really missing a lot – although I’m a big part of their lives, it was in a stressed out in a negative way. I regret.

My kids are growing up and gone. You don’t get that time back so it’s important to really be aware of what your values are and making sure you are living with integrity. And aligned with those values, otherwise, it’s all just stress.

Kyle: And a blur.

Kip: Yeah, a blur.

Ryan: A blur, exactly. Well put.

Kyle: I think you just answered the question I was just getting into as for sharing a time in your journey, on failure and lessons learned so I think you just did a good job of answering that one. So Ryan, if you want to go on to the next question.

Ryan: Let’s talk a little bit about that big breakthrough or that AHA! moment in your life. And it sounds like this can be one and the same. They could be tied together with that failure. Maybe talk a little bit about what that moment might be that changed your remodeling business or your life.

Kip: It’s not one particular moment because you go through a series of things.

The whole book kind of came around because my parents were getting older in that same house that we had grown up in and then, the foundation for the grandchildren to be growing up in. That was being sold and my parents were moving into a home and you go,

“Well, okay. There’s a real end of life story that I’m witnessing and where I’m going to be when it’s my time. How I am going to fare?”

I had a very successful father. The example was very high and very solid. And I was not anywhere near that or with any kind of security that say I can retire comfortably.

So, that began a process that over several years, a lot of circumstances happening that you begin to really create that awareness. I began to create an awareness in myself to go, “These choices, I’m on this conveyor belt and I am determined to make my remodeling business effective and financially productive. And it’s just that if I put more hours in and I work harder and I take on more jobs, I am sure I am going to get there.”

The truth is, what finally made the difference was that stepping back going, “You know, I got to cut it back down.”

I was headed towards a handyman situation. And going, “You know, get rid of all the help. Make it like I can take care of myself. I can take on jobs that I know I can handle.”

It’s not like an employee is going to hand me a refrigerator handle at 5 o’clock on a Friday afternoon and say, “Oops! I broke it and I have to go for a date.”

The problems were just handed to me one after the other. If I’m going to be responsible for those problems, I’m going to be the one who’s making the mistakes.

It’s important to take a step back and I was able to really get a control of my own personal life and take control of the business by really scaling down. I wasn’t making money. I wasn’t doing better for having a lot more work. It was better having it reigned in and under control.

And that’s the AHA! moment – more is not necessarily better.

Kyle: That is interesting. That’s a very good point. I am guessing there are some people listening to this that are nodding their head.

I’ve heard of them a bunch of times, “Man! I used to make more money and was less stressed when my business wasn’t nearly as big.”

But it isn’t always the case, other people are able to live a less stressful life as their businesses grow but that’s not the case for everybody.

So, what I’m hearing there is, it’s okay to re-adjust. It’s important to re-adjust. Our life is too short and our stress level can only reach so much. Sometimes, you just got to have to make adjustments. That’s what I’m hearing there.

Kip: It was going to kill me. It was too late to save the marriage. And a major re-evaluation was clearly necessary. Even as much I thought I was slowing it down and getting control of it, it really took a fall in that two year – completely working and being in construction entirely.

To then start to taking it in piecemeal. So with that, I went to work for Lowe’s doing outside sales for 18 months – still doing what I love to do which is going into homes and designing decks and fences, and overseeing window replacements.

And I ended up doing a pretty fair volume of work and being in people’s homes, having great conversations and having some creative design work. But I wasn’t responsible for the production of it so I could take that part on and get my talk down, get re-aligned and acquainted with the facts of all the window treatments and things. Now I’m back doing, actually getting back in the field, taking on projects and I’m actually recognizing that it’s a lot of fun.

Kyle: Falling back in love of it.

Kip: Exactly. Enjoying the end of the day when I’m taking a picture going, “All right! Good! I did it!”

Kyle: Excellent!

So why don’t you talk to us a little bit about the consulting side of the business? What that is and what’s involved in that?

Kip: It’s how we came across that is along the same lines of trying to share my experience. It would be so nice if I can help some people avoid the stress that I went through.

If there are lessons to be shared, that would be my contribution back and I would feel like it would have more meaning if I know that I could help some other people do a little better in their business.

And it would have been awesome had I had that kind of support system available.

It’s been very interesting that I’ve been in the business long enough – back in the 70s and 80s, it was all competition. Everybody held their cards really close. You didn’t share any numbers. You didn’t share any tricks in the trade. You didn’t talk about special techniques.

It was all like, “I’d give my competitor an advantage if I shared that information.”

And then in the 90s, there’s something that happened between Home Builders Association and NARI and some other things that got people more relaxed and actually talking to each other.

And the collegial atmosphere that there is now, where people are really helping each other is a huge, huge difference in the business.

So that’s how I’m all about, trying to share information and help people do better, be more successful, have better experiences than I did in the earlier years.

There’s enough work to go around and there’s actually, I recognize a problem of fewer and fewer skilled carpenters to do the work. So it’s all the more important that we maintain a standard between ourselves that we’re not having to hire hacks and crooks.

Ryan: Yeah, for sure.

Kyle: Excellent! That summarizes for us why you are doing that side. I appreciate that. It brings clarity.

So let’s get into the lightning round of things. This is where we rapid-fire through a few questions and you just continue to share your answers and knowledge with us.

Kip: Ok!

Kyle: Go ahead, Ryan.

Ryan: What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?

Kip: I think, nobody in particular has really advised me. Like I was saying I didn’t have the advantage of having a mentor or somebody to really help me. But there was a guy at one point who was telling me I should declare bankruptcy.

But I ploughed my way through it. And the result of that was, I was only ending up to be digging my hole a lot deeper. So I resisted his advice but I think what I got out of that was that – listen to people. Don’t bull your way just out of determination and an unwillingness to face the truth.

Kyle:  Share some of your personal habits that you believe attributes to your success.

Kip: Dogged optimism.

We’re going to make mistakes. I try to stress with homeowners that it’s not an easy process to have your kitchen torn up while you live in it. And if anybody’s telling them that it is, they’re in for some trouble if they want to believe that and hire those people.

And it’s not against the contractor to try to sell that. It’s just really trying to be realistic that things don’t go to plan in remodeling.

You are dealing with a lot of unknowns and you are dealing with a lot of personalities of the client, your own staff and yourself, from what you can and cannot do. There are so many variables that make it so easy to make mistakes. And if you let mistakes get to you, then you’re going to become immobilize.

Kyle: I was talking to a client yesterday out West and every time he calls in, we answer the phone and he’s always upbeat and optimistic.

Yesterday, I said, “Nate, are you really that excited to talk to me or you are just putting up an act?”

And he actually stopped and thought about what he was going to say. He said, “No. I am usually in a  pretty good mood when I call you. But frankly, yeah I try to keep upbeat and it’s a purposeful minute by minute thing because if I don’t, there are enough things to get me down.

And even if things are going well, there are enough crap going on that I can stare at and could drag me down into the weeds. It is a personal decision.”

So when I say optimistic viewpoint, it carries some weight. It is important for all of us.

Kip: Yeah! I think my best talent is to help a customer in the middle when they’ve had a pizza for 3 weeks and they’ve been washing dishes in the bath tub. They are fed up.

I say, “Remember I told you that you’d reach a point that you’d be really tired of me and you wouldn’t want to see me around anymore. And here we are. But guess what, I am going to stick around and I am going to get the job finished for you. You will come around liking me again.”

Ryan: It’s just so important. Just take a few minutes and set the expectations of the job and get into the downside of doing the remodeling, too.

It’s not all sunshine and roses. You are going into someone’s home whether inside or out and you are making a little bit of a mess even if you’re taking all the steps to not make a mess, it’s still going to be a problem.

It’s just setting those expectations and talking about the things you just mentioned is huge. You wouldn’t believe how many remodeling business owners don’t do that. They just rush into getting the contract done and then go.

What a way to just take a minute that makes a lot of sense.

Kip: And it should be just a minute. It’s not the main focus of what you are talking about.

Ryan: Sure, absolutely!

Kip: I learned that I scared a few people away by being too realistic.

Kyle: We’ll put a link to your book on the podcast. Are there any other books that you recommend to Remodelers on the Rise listeners?

Kip: I’ve loved Tracy Kidder’s House, which is a book from the 70s. It is about the whole process from start to finish of building a custom home and it’s extensive interviews and hanging out on the job sites.

The guy is well known for documenting various different careers, different types of things, manufacturing. Tracy Kidder’s House.

I didn’t know it when I started the book but remember when I talked about that I had remodeling done on my house, we had these 5 additions put in. One of the three carpenters on that job in the book was the son of the guy who had done all the remodels on our house.

And so I worked side by side with the guy when he was a kid. So it’s amazing to read the book!

Kyle: He was probably getting paid and you weren’t.

Kip: Well, yeah.

Kyle: On your website and maybe, this will be a resource you can share. But we try to make sure every visitor we have on the podcast to share a resource that would be helpful to everyone listening. I saw one on your website about estimating. Whether it’s that or something else, would you have a resource that you can share with us?

Kip: Yeah! What’s up and ready to go is an Excel spreadsheet that can actually integrate with Quickbooks so it’s full of a database that’s easy to adjust and change. And adapt to your own circumstances.

And it’s pretty thorough. Then, you can take Quickbooks invoices and plug them in and actually do job costing which you can or cannot share with the owner depending on what your style is.

But that’s free just by signing up for an email. And I’d love to stay in communication with anybody who’s actually using it. So we can refine it and know how it’s actually working for people.

I am all for getting feedbacks and creating dialogues. So just downloading the spreadsheet is one thing but if we keep talking, it would be awesome to share a lot of ideas.

Ryan: Excellent!

Kyle: Excellent!

Ryan: We’ll make that available on the show as well as the show notes at www.RemodelersontheRise.com/show11.

Kyle: And as a final question that we have for you, imagine you woke up tomorrow morning and you are in the exact same business but you knew no one, had no sales and only have $500 as start up money and you’re life depended on you selling something in the next 7 days. You still have all the experience and knowledge you currently have. Your food and shelter are taken cared of. But all you have is a laptop and $500. What would you do in the next 7 days to survive and generate new business?

Kip: Well, I have just literally done this – only that I didn’t have the $500 but I do know some people. Basically, I was trying to adjust from Lowe’s going to work as a salesman or a project manager for another remodeling company and I can’t find the right fit and so somebody said, “They got a deck they want built.”

And I said, “Okay! I can do that.” And once I opened that door up with a short with what we have in Vermont called the Front Page form that is a daily newsletter in the community online.

And so, there was some people advertising that they wanted a recommendation for somebody to put in a fence and I answered that ad. I put an ad on Craigslist and got a response to put siding on.

Kyle: And off you went.

Kip: And very quickly, I’ve got a summer’s worth of work lined up and my son is coming back from College and going to work for me.

Kyle: So what I heard there was just networking with opportunities you currently have and some online opportunities to get some leads.

Kip: Yeah! You got to turn over some stones but the biggest thing is actually talk to who you know, who you are coming across in your daily activities.

And it’s places you don’t even think you might have a lead, it’s not some place you might look – like, standing on the sidelines of a soccer game. If you just happen to be talking to people, you tell them what to do. They go, “Oh gee! I’m looking into having a deck built.” Or, “My neighbor’s just asked me if I could recommend somebody. Here is his phone number”

Just be open and aware, and things fall into place.

Ryan: Great answer! Finally, is there anything else you want to share today? And let the people know where they can get hold of you.

Kip: Well, my site www.artisanbuildersworkshop.com is the best way to get hold of me.

If you Google “Zen and the Art of Mid-life Crisis”, that would take you to a personal website where there’s a lot of writing and you can buy the book and I also play music. So there will be a lot of music there, too.

And the biggest thing for anybody in the remodeling business is trust your intuition. Really stay focus, conscious and aware of what’s going on. Don’t just succumb to grabbing deposits and moving forward at a pace where you start to lose the mile posts and it becomes bringing dollars in than doing the quality of work. If you do the quality of work, the dollars will follow.

Ryan: Absolutely!

Kyle: Excellent! Well, thank you Kip for coming to the show today. We really appreciate that you shared your story with us. And just a friendly reminder to all of our listeners, please check out www.RemodelersontheRise.com.

If you can take a couple of minutes to review ad rate our show on iTunes that would help some of your remodeling colleagues to easily find us. We appreciate you all tuning in. Thank you again, Kip!

Ryan: Thank you Kip!

Kip: You guys are doing great so thanks for bringing this all to their attention.

Ryan: We appreciate it. Thank you very much!

Kyle: All right. We’ll talk to you all very soon. Have a great one!


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