Ann Arbor Area BUSINESS MONTHLY magazine brings the reader the latest business news and information important to the businesspeople in Washtenaw County. Each month articles cover real estate, legal, Internet, employee concerns and the climate of business in the greater Ann Arbor area. There is news about company employees and feature articles on local businesses. We cover business news from Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Dexter, Manchester, Milan, Saline, Whitmore Lake, and Ypsilanti.
Local Businesses Possess
A Positive Outlook
By Stephanie Kadel-Taras
"We refuse to participate in a bad economy." So says Bob Ender, one of the owners of Ann Arbor's DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen franchise. Since they opened their showroom and custom remodeling service four years ago, sales have gone up 30% each year, so their declaration seems to be working. Ender attributes the growth to systematized, data-oriented business practices, customer service, and widespread marketing.
"Fifty years ago, if you hired someone to do a remodeling job, they did it," says Bob. Dream- Maker has tried to replicate that approach by hiring all staff carpenters rather than scheduling a series of subcontractors to show up on the homeowner's doorstep. Dream- Maker also sells all the products for bath and kitchen renovations, creating a one-stop shop for design, materials, and installation. "We take the client from designing their new kitchen to starting the first pot of spaghetti," says Bob.
Ender sees the potential to consolidate and systematize the highly variable remodeling industry and believes DreamMaker, with more than 190 locations, is on the forefront of that process. "I've always believed you can systematize this business to get repeatable performance and customer satisfaction. We definitely run by the numbers around here."
Ann Arbor's DreamMaker was founded by two couples, Bob and his wife Jennifer, and Lee and Brenda Willwerth. The couples are neighbors in Saline with young children around the same age. "Lee and I got to talking about what we wanted to do," says Bob, "about our career goals." They realized they had similar desires-to leave behind their corporate jobs, devote more time to their families, and start their own business. And the four of them had complimentary skills: Bob knew management, Lee knew operations, Jennifer knew marketing, and Brenda knew accounting.
"Our partnership built out of a business relationship, not a friendship," Bob says. Their focus on the remodeling industry also began with business goals. Ender had run his own remodeling business while in college years before, so he knew the basics, but he was not a remodeler looking to run a business. He was a businessman looking for an opportunity. Lee and Bob went to franchise shows, researched on the Web, and eventually targeted DreamMaker as a company with core values that fit theirs. These include obvious values such as superior customer service and honest communication as well as positive thinking, counting blessings daily, and believing that "our Creator put us on this earth to succeed."
Ender was leaving a position as director of engineering for Lear Corporation to make this leap, so he didn't jump blindly. "Stepping out of a twelve-year career and sinking my savings into a new business in a down-turning economy might look insane to some people. But money was never a driver for me. I'm happy to stay home with my kids at night, attend their events, and help them." Fortunately, the business has succeeded even as he has more time for family. DreamMaker now employs nine full-time people, with Jennifer and Brenda working part time.
The company considers their marketing budget "sacred." Using radio and print ads, sponsorships, trade shows, and networking, Bob says they are promoting the company through thirty different channels at any one time.
When a potential customer calls, Bob says the most important first step is to understand why a homeowner wants to remodel, not what specifics they want to change. "Aesthetics tend to be a surface pain over something deeper," Bob finds. "Maybe they are embarrassed to have people over, or maybe they feel pressure to keep up with other family members who have just remodeled. We have a lot of one-on-one conversations to do a root cause analysis. If I can't get to the driver, they are generally not going to go forward. In those cases, it's not a pain, it's just a whim."
Bath and kitchen renovations are too costly for just a whim. DreamMaker is not the most expensive remodeling option, but it's not one of the cheapest either. Bob estimates that bathroom jobs start at $8,000 and can go as high as $65,000. Kitchens range from $25,000 to $120,000.
But when homeowners keep to their budget and DreamMaker oversees the process, Bob says the results are worth it. "I love the before and after transformation that occurs in this business. I love to watch people make solid investments in their homes and enjoy it."