How did the recession affect your business?

In 2010, the Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI) reported the first positive growth numbers for the home improvement industry in several years. Two years later, that growth is continuing to rise; this year it is expected to reach 5 percent. Throughout the recession, many professionals struggled to make ends meet. Yet while as many businesses didn’t make it, even more were able to pull through.

When the jobs aren’t coming in, the bills are piling up and customers can’t pay for completed jobs, home improvement professionals need to make tough decisions about how they run their business. Whether it means working extra hours, laying off workers, or cutting back on benefits, surviving a recession is a challenge.

Why We’re Asking:

While many professionals made hard decisions that they hope to never repeat, others may have been forced into unique and productive solutions that actually improved their business with few negative consequences. Desperate times that call for creative measures, and we want to hear more about those solutions.

Our experts wouldn’t be here to contribute if they didn’t survive the recession. They knew how to adjust when necessary and now we’re looking to find out how they did it.

So experts, it’s time to weigh in:

How did the recession affect your business?

How did your business weather the recession?
How did you change the way you do business?
How did you cut costs, if necessary?
As the recession picks up, will you go back to your old ways, or will you incorporate new practices into your work?
Do you sense that the economy is getting better? Worse?

Experts, post your answers in the comment field below!

  • Nancy Dalton @ Baywolf Dalton 04/13/12

    This last recession was the worst I’ve ever seen and I’ve been through all the up’s and downs including the early nineteen eights with mortgage interest rates over 16 percent. What helped us work through this time period were several things: our 23 years in business, an eagerness on our part to spend our time learning more and working even harder.

    We were able to sign contracts with every single client referred to us. We took good care of these new clients and thanked those that referred them. We just worked as hard as we could to provide the best design and bring our expertise to the table. Since we are also the owners of our company I think it made clients feel they were getting the best attention and put them at ease during a turbulent economic time.

    I spent many hours building our web site and learning as much as I could about social media. I learned about the newest green products available. We also added a new cabinetry line that we felt added a custom very high end product to our showroom. This was counter intuitive and has been the best thing we could have done. Clients may not want flashy, but they do want the very best construction and finishes.

    At the beginning of this recession I had just taken the position of Rotary District Governor; a demanding and time consuming second full time job. I was doing a great deal of public speaking and working with our 3300 local Rotarians to bring positive changes to our community and to various areas throughout the world. Business was difficult and the days were extremely long, but this put things into perspective and gave me a wonderful sense of purpose and happiness.

  • Toby Barnett 04/12/12

    Before the recession, my mother and I were independent real estate brokers and owned our own business. We averaged 21 agents and did a fair amount of volume for not being part of a large franchise. Then in 2007, our agent’s production volume tanked and, as business, we left to foot the bill. Those same agents also quit paying their office dues and fees further cutting into the company’s savings. In 2010 Mickie and I closed our independent office and join with a local franchisee to get grounded and move forward. Now, 2 years later, our production volume has increased to normal levels and is projected to break a few personal bests. The recession has also taught us the importance of keeping up with marketing efforts, staying diligent with follow up, and be the best we can be so we don’t have to go get “normal jobs”.

  • Nettie Owens @ Sappari Solutions 04/12/12

    For the most part, my business, organizing, and the industry as a whole has seen growth through the recession. Although people are spending less they are looking to simplify and use what they already own to create and enjoy the space they have. That is where my company comes in. We help our clients declutter and organize what remains creating a streamlined home and lifestyle.

    In a booming economy, organizing services are helpful but people are not necessary looking to live with less. In a recession, the eye turns inward at self and home and people need help with living with less, with creating budgets and more efficient financial processes and with getting the most out of what they have.

    The recession, I believe, has brought even more awareness to the organizing industry and what they can offer.

  • Sam Lazarus @ ServiceMaster By Best 04/12/12

    Our best year since we began was 2009, and then we took a dive in revenue. We began extensive cut backs. Slow on the trigger, but we managed to cut back from insurance to trash haulers. Anything and everything was on the chopping block. This made us lean in all our operations. We will continue running a leaner business model and implementing the efficiencies we developed in this time.

  • Jennifer Dusina 04/11/12

    Closet organizers go hand in hand with new home construction. Five years ago, this was the bulk of SCHULTE’s business. We focused mostly on B2B solutions and supported our dealers so that they could sell to single family residential builders. Now, homeowners are mostly staying put until the housing market recovers. In fact, a recent survey revealed that 67% of home owners said they are perfectly happy living where they are. And those who do decide to move want to recover their “lost paper equity” first. Needless to say, we’ve shifted our focus on the remodeling industry. Upgraded closets and organized spaces are the perfect way to increase the value of a home. Plus, without clutterd spaces, the home runs more efficiently and people save time, money and stress.

    The new homes that ARE being built have much smaller floor plans. People today want smaller, livable spaces. Gone are foyers. Instead, they’re being replaced by family “drop zones.” Out are home offices secluded from the rest of the house. In are spaces where the family can do crafts, pay bills, wrap gifts and work together. It’s not about square footage anymore, it’s about keeping smaller spaces organized.

  • Terry Ferguson @ IUEC 04/11/12

    The recession has been devastating to the construction industry and has given me a small idea of what the Great Depression must have been like. Electrical contractor friends of mine have gone out of business and have lost their homes.They have taken jobs that would have been taken by high school kids. Their unemployment benefits ran out and they had to depend on food banks. Some had to move in with their kids to pool their resources to make ends meet. The recession has forced me to reconsider vacation plans for this summer and depending upon the price of gasoline, maybe just start building an electric car. I worry about my friends and neighbors more than myself when looking at the long term effects of this recession.

  • Tracy Metro @ Home Made Simple - OWN Network 04/10/12

    Based on my client’s budgets, I’m not so sure the recession IS over! But, I do believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and as a designer I think I’ve learned to do more with less, and creatively problem solve in a way I’ve never had to do before. I would say eclectic, imperfect and unique are three words that best describe how I’ve been working within the recession’s limitations.

    For example, recently I was troubled with how to make a room feel special when I found the budget couldn’t handle the unique wallpaper I wanted to use. An option was painting that wall a highlight color; unfortunately, it felt so “ho hum!” In fact, dare I say BORING? So, I hopped on (you can follow me there, if you care to see my aesthetic), cruised around for inspiration and lo and behold found it. Actually, my idea didn’t come from anything I saw there, but it got my mind thinking about free products I could use to create my OWN wallpaper effect, and boom I had my answer… which was at my finger tips nearly everyday. Newspapers!

    I took stacks upon stacks of newspapers and turned them into vertically stripped wallpaper by tri-folding individual newspaper pages between 1-3″ in width. Then, using wallpaper paste, I coated the strips and placed them on the wall in a varied pattern to create a mosaic of print. The furniture that I used (some of theirs, some I supplemented from discount and thrift stores) had a modern speakeasy vibe. Want to see the newsprint wallpaper I created turned out? Go to to see the images. Also, follow me @TracyMetro for design tips and general merriment!

  • Neal Walsh @ Aeroseal 04/10/12

    The recession has had a dramatic impact on many homeowners who must now carefully consider and evaluate each line item in their monthly budget. Interest in home energy conservation has really taken center stage for families across the country. According to recent industry reports, the energy efficient home improvement market is expected to grow more than 25% to $50 billion within the next couple of years. Clearly, the interest in saving energy and reducing utility costs is on the minds of millions of Americans nationwide.

    So it’s no surprise that the many HVAC professionals are reporting a significant increase in customer interest in duct sealing. Thanks to recent articles by the U.S. Department of Energy, This Old House magazine and others, homeowners are learning that internal aerosol duct sealing is often the most impactful thing they can do to decrease their monthly utility bill. As a result, many of our Aeroseal service providers are finding that the recession has shifted customer demand for duct sealing. The number of homeowners calling for help in improving the balance of heating and cooling from room to room has, in a growing number of cases, been overtaken by calls for help in reducing energy waste and lowering costs.

  • Alan Hilsabeck 04/10/12

    Wow! Finally the drought is over; at least here in the Dallas area. We have been really busy and have a years worth of work in just the first quarter. We cannot say the same for 2010 or 2011.
    The recession did effect my business greatly; however, we were able to weather out the “Storm”, barely. Yes, there were times that I thought of changing careers all together but then determination and the not wanting to “give up” attitude kicked into full gear. I began Marketing heavily, but this time On-Line with as many Free opportunities as possible. Anything to keep our Name “Out there”, and it has paid off so far.
    Did we lower our fees for what we charged, no. We did however take on any projects that came along no matter the budget, where as in the past we stuck to our “range” of the size and type of project types we considered.
    As things continue to pick up, we will continue to utilize the things we learned and some of the new ways we do business moving forward. The recession made us “Think” and become smarter in our day to day operations.

  • Grand View Builders 04/09/12

    The recession has affected Grand View Builders both negatively and positively. For example, we have had to reschedule expansions into new home markets, and take the time to assess whether these expansions were timely and cost effective. Although we did thorough research while proposing the project, essentially, we had to take a step back and examine what we were doing even more closely, which has helped us win in the end. Now that we are on track to expand into our new community, The Villages of Oak Forest, we know that we have made a sound decision that supports our vision of expansion both financially and idealistically. This is definitely a practice that we will carry forward with in the future, as no expansions should come without a very detailed thought process about what is best for your business.

    While many economists continue to have a bleak outlook for the housing market, in Houston, we have seen significant signs that this is not true for us! According to RIS Media, the Pending Homes Sales Index, an indicator that bases readings on contract signings (not closings) is at its highest level since April 2010. Additionally, the NAHB has reported the March Housing Market Index numbers have remained steady, showing that there are still interested buyers. Taking these numbers into account along with the fact that Houston is the number one city in the nation for relocation, 3rd in the nation of cities with the most new construction as well as 3rd in the nation for personal income growth we would have to say that all signs point towards growth and expansion in Houston!

  • Dawn Ohnstad, Realtor, Coldwell Banker Burnet, Wayzata, MN 04/09/12

    The recession effected us as Realtors in a way that is not necessarily, or at least, entirely financial. Obviously, business dropped off dramatically which inspired concern and low morale throughout our industry. Meetings were filled with statistics, projections, brainstorming and regrouping. Office space went from small to smaller…some branch offices closed…and something close to 25% of all the licensees in Minnesota left the business. This last part was a good thing for those of us who remain as it weeded out the ones that probably were more suited for other careers and “upped the stringer” a bit. But the biggest change I have seen since the recession is the attitude shift. I am not certain all agents would agree, but as someone who started in the business just as the recession began (2004ish) it was apparent to me that sellers blamed us for falling prices. Sometimes their demeanor toward us upon hearing about the lowered value of their home bordered on, well, hostile. Who could blame them? Then it switched to a fearful kind of vibe, where the seller would practically cover their eyes when we were about to deliver the news….they knew they wouldn’t like it, but they expected it and didn’t blame us any longer, but it was still hard. Being a source of comfort then was part of our new job description. Then things became a “new normal” and sellers already had a good idea what the real value of their home was before we got there…they were now just looking for a high quality and trusted advisor to get them through the obstacle course…to minimize the damage, to coordinate the move, to provide good resources in other areas (accountants, lenders, movers and title…). And now today, looking back…it was a difficult transition, but I think it improved our industry as only the strong have survived and the flight to quality has demanded more of us. It’s a good thing (as Martha Stewart says!)

  • Tanya Stock @ VidaVerde 04/09/12

    It dramatically changed my business to move out of residential remodeling to consulting and research as well as coaching and advising.

    When one door closes another opens. You find yourself with a new challenge and new opportunity. But it also required a whole new level of education and that was to customers. Previous clients had not had nor thought they needed someone to negotiate and navigate the green waters until they found out the hard way.

    Building green is a competitive and often confusing myriad of competing programs, ideas and products. Understanding the pros, the cons and seeing the green for the washing is all part of what it takes to go green.

    By focusing on collaboration and affordability I was able to retain a focus and business plan that worked for both me and my clients. It was and is not an easy shift. I find those waters for even myself tough to navigate appropriately. It is a constant effort to stay apprised of current trends, products and still find time to build your business.

    So for many single shingle businesses I am staying afloat but you do so by having many oars and sails available in the water.

  • Pablo Solomon 04/09/12

    My wife and I are old enough that this was not our first recession. We were more prepared than most people because we have saved and invested in a diversified manner and could weather the storm.
    Our international art and design business depends on a good over all economy. From past experience we knew that pushing sales in a recession is very hard. So instead we concentrated on building name recognition, building client relationships, building our image in the community, etc. We provided free services for our clients such as evaluating art collections and making recommendations on what to keep and what to sell. We acted as honest brokers between clients wanting to buy, sell or trade. We supplied art and expertise to money strapped charities. We even worked with law enforcement on art theft cases.
    And of course we worked with writers, photographers, publishers, etc. to exchange our expertise in art and design for name recognition.
    As a result, since the beginning of this current recession we have appeared in 30 books, most of the major magazines and newspapers–from Wall Street Journal to National Geographic. On TV, radio and even in film.
    Because of our intense focus on building name recognition and a positive image, we actually have developed new clients and made sales even in this tough economy.
    Best wishes to all my fellow professionals,

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