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Getting Started in Home Improvement

It’s a hard world out there for anybody just getting started in a career. Many young would-be professionals don’t know where to start when it comes to finding a good job, much less starting their own business. This is especially evident in home improvement, where many professionals are running their own companies, which they built from the ground up. Needless to say, getting started in the home improvement industry is a daunting task! Where do you even start?

Why We’re Asking:

Our experts have all been around the block a few times in their respective fields, and most of them run their own businesses. They’ve been in the position of trying to get their company off the ground while still figuring out how everything works. If anybody knows the ins and outs of getting started in the industry, it’s our experts. That’s why we’re seeking their advice, in hopes of finding a few pointers for the next generation of would-be home improvement professionals.

So tell us, experts:

How do you get started in the home improvement business?

What kind of education do you need to be qualified?
Should would-be professionals go to trade school, or get an apprenticeship? Or both?
What advice do you wish you’d had when you were just starting out?

It’s hard out there for someone just starting out in their career. With some advice from our professionals, we hope to make it a little easier–or at least a little bit less scary!

Experts, post your answers in the comment field below!



  • Pablo Solomon 10/16/13

    I got started in the home improvement business over 50 years ago helping my father renovate homes.
    Here is what I learned along the way.
    1.Buy the best tools that you can afford.
    2.Treat you clients with respect and honesty.
    3.Be on time, be on schedule and stay on budget.
    4.Keep up with current trends, products, rules, methods, etc.
    5.Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
    6.Live below your means and above your fears.
    7.Your wife will like you more if you keep your home in top shape.
    8.Find the best help that you can and treat them well.
    9.Stay on top of things–work and paperwork.
    10. Maintain a balanced life.
    Best wishes,
    Pablo

  • Mark Puglisi, ACE 10/16/13

    Getting into the pest management industry was about timing for me. You see I was having a late dinner at a very well know restaurant chain with my wife. I was just back from the Military and between jobs and noticed a crew of pest control guys waiting for the restaurant to close. My wife said, “You know, you would be good at that because you like to work with your hands”. So the next day I applied at that company and the manager hired me on the spot, that was 36 years ago and haven’t looked back since.
    Our industry back then wasn’t as hard to get into as it is now, but never the less you must be 18, and you are required to have at the very least an applicator’s license that certifies that you have the basic training to handle restricted materials and know about safety. My Dad taught me a lot about life and work and always said “no matter what you do in life, even if it is to push a broom, be the best damn broom pusher there is”. So I quickly realized that the training I had was not going to work for me. I needed to know more than just how to provide an exterior treatment to a home. I needed to know EVERYTHING about my new profession and off I went. I eventually obtained my Br-I, II and III license and also my QAL agricultural license.
    I soon found myself managing one of the offices I worked in and then realized that I hit the top of this company, if I wanted to go forward I needed to move on. I worked my way up the ladder to Vice President and General Manager of a local pest control company for 13 years. I continued my schooling and became the first in the US to obtain a new certification as an Associate Certified Entomologist.
    The pest control trade has been good to me and my family. One reason is bugs don’t watch TV or care about the economy, so there will always be a need to protect the homes and businesses from harmful pest. We are true environmentalist and have been a key contributor in extending the life expectancy of our population through reduction of diseases.
    There are many schools and resources now available to those that seek out a carrier in this industry. Many companies offer trainee positions to get you in the ground floor. Most that I have met over the years stay in the industry, but may move on to another company.

  • Doug Murrell 10/16/13

    I started my own business after working for someone for 18 years. This gave me the knowledge I need to do the work that I was best at. Having an good account and Lawyer will also help. To decide if it is best to be a DBA or Corporation. Owning your own business can be rewarding and sometime frustrating but in the end it is worth it.

  • Katie Miller 10/17/13

    For those interested in their own interior design practices, first get an education at a top interior design school – University of Cincinnati and Michigan State are two great programs in the Midwest – and really throw yourself into your academic design work so you have a stellar portfolio and solid design software skills when you graduate. 3D modeling programs like Revit and SketchUp are essential in today’s design practice. Landing your first job at a firm will be tough and really hinges on the quality of your portfolio standing out above the rest. People skills and your ability to network are also things that will make you stand out (and help you succeed throughout your career).

    When you have built up the skills needed to start your own practice (including knowing how to set your fees and understanding contracts), I recommend you begin initially with freelance work while you still have a job with an employer, provided they allow “moonlighting”. That will enable you to build up enough of a client base to then make the jump to being a full time solo practitioner. Also consider becoming an active member of the Roomations Designer Network to get design work online (a.k.a. “e-decorating”) and set up a profile on Houzz so people searching for a designer in your area can find you.

  • Kerry Ann Dame 10/18/13

    I started over 20 years ago working for designer Lynn von Kersting at Indigo Seas in Los Angeles. I wanted to build my life around travel, art, antiques and culture, and it seemed that Interior Design would give me the opportunity to weave them all together. Breaking into the the industry can be very, very difficult – people would walk in and offer to work for free just to learn and make connections. Having a paying job was a dream, and working for a world-class designer was a tremendous learning experience. While I was recommended for the job through a personal referral, what got me the job were my traveled background, work experience, computer skills and people skills. I can’t stress enough how important it is to work at a job that has a related skill-set, starting as early as possible. If you want to work in interior design, then a great college job would be at a furniture store that does design, antiques shop, or decorative fabric store. The right experience will let an employer know you understand the materials and processes of the industry and can hit the ground running with good customer service skills and poise. Graduates with no real-world experience are quite useless to a busy designer. Your design degree will make it clear that you have the technical skills. An employer wants to know what you can do.
    The next most important thing to do is to develop your eye for design. I was fortunate to travel extensively growing up, and to live in a major city with all it had to offer. After college I took all my savings and spent 3 months traveling Europe on a shoestring, focusing on all the places I had studied in Art History. Later, this experience and my fluent French convinced Indigo Seas to send me to Paris and London to buy antiques. When I married and moved to the southeast, I was on my own, and called on my skills as a seamstress to start a workroom business that brought me my first design clients. My advice to aspiring residential designers:
    Take courses in Art History, History, Photography, Art or Architecture even if they are not all required for your degree. Cultural sophistication is a prerequisite to becoming a good designer – even if your taste tends towards the modern, you need to be familiar with the history of design and world cultures to put things in context. This is how you’ll be able to understand a client’s taste and needs, and use the inspiration you’ve gained to give them the creativity they deserve. Travel if you can to a major city – New York, London, or Paris, at least once and take in all of the museums and visit their design showrooms. Tour a museum or historic home, or design center, in every town you visit – you’ll be filling your mental files (and Pinterest boards!) with a design library that will become your lifetime resource. If you can’t offer your client original ideas based on your wider experiences, you’re not doing your job. Remember, Interior Design without context and substance is just shopping!
    Internships can be great experience, but be careful not to work as a contributing unpaid staff member. You should be exposed to the entire workings of a design firm at an internship – get out of the sample room! Offer to be the note-taker and measurer, swatch carrier, photographer, etc. for the designers and ask questions to make sure you get it right. Keep close track of the skills and responsibilities of the internship so you can put the details on your resume.
    When you finally go after that Interior Design job, try to have some work in your portfolio besides computer renderings and sketches. Volunteer to help design a project for free – choose something that will be personally satisfying and provide good photography. For example: Layout and colors for a friend’s kitchen remodel, a new paint scheme for a daycare, or design selections for a community center that is getting new carpet and furniture. Take photos along the way. If you put the word out, you’ll have a lot of requests – choose carefully, be sure to only give your time away and not products, and take really good photos to add to your portfolio. If you are a blogger, write a story about it and post your photos.
    While your portfolio and design style may pique a client’s interest, it is your willingness to work hard and give fair value for what you charge that will make you a success in the field. Never stop learning.

  • Grand View Builders 10/18/13

    Grand View Builders’ president, Marc Jungers, started his Houston-based home building company in 2009 after 25 years in the homebuilding and real estate industry. For young professional looking to start their own business in the home improvement industry, he stresses that nothing is more valuable than the experience one gains prior to opening a business. He suggests working in your area of interest for a few years to really learn the business, how things work, and how things can be done better. This is a great time to learn from mistakes, before starting a business.

    Finding a mentor who can share their expertise and lessons they have learned is also very helpful when starting out a career. As a young professional, there is a lot to learn that you probably didn’t learn in school, and this person will be an invaluable guide.

    While is it very important to get as much experience as possible before starting a business, once you think you are ready, do not hold yourself back by waiting for the perfect time. There will always be an obstacle to overcome. When Grand View Builders was founded in 2009, much of the country was still reeling from the economic effects of the Great Recession, particularly the homebuilding and real estate industry. Many would argue that 2009 was not an ideal time to start any business, mush less homebuilding, but thanks to the strong Houston housing market and recovering national economy, Grand View Builders is now a successful and growing business.

    Once you make the decision to start your business, you want to hire professionals with diverse experience and backgrounds. This allows for diverse opinions and viewpoints, which are vital to the success of a growing business. At Grand View Builders, we guide our team with the philosophy that we will grow by utilizing our combined experience in several areas of the homebuilding industry. This combination allows us to offer a wide range of options for our customers, and has allowed Grand View Builders to expand into other sectors, including custom homes, pools, and rehabilitation construction.

  • Nancy Dalton 10/18/13

    I think there are two questions here; one about breaking into the business I’m in and the second is being an owner. Being president of my own company is much different than working in my field of design build, specializing in kitchen and bath remodeling. I enjoy both aspects of my career but they are very different. I began my career in commercial work and then changed to residential design / build. I would encourage people to get an education in their chosen field but if it’s in design find a way to stay creative. Be interested in more than a narrow perspective of your field; look to trends in art, antiques, fashion and even theater. Most people realize early on if they have the personality, initiative and desire the complexities of responsibilities that come with upper management and ownership. There isn’t anything wrong with choosing a profession and also deciding ownership or management isn’t for you.
    From an owner’s point of view, I’ve never stopped learning. I’ve always had mentors and I formed a trusted group of professional advisors. You’ll need a CPA, an attorney, insurance and investment advisors as well as a good bookkeeper. From my very first job, I would listen and learn everything I could from the owners. This has been invaluable to me and how I’ve forged relationships with suppliers, sub-contractors and working with my own employees.
    Be engaged in life. In my first year in business a client asked me to attend a Rotary meeting. I enjoyed the camaraderie, speakers and doing something for my community locally and worldwide. Twelve years later I was president of my 125 member club. Six years after that I was Rotary District Governor for District 5030 with 3,300 members and 54 clubs. This was an opportunity of a lifetime and a full time other job. The opportunity to speak routinely to groups of 10 to 600 and provide training and education for thousands and to lead an entire organization in achieving multiple goals of both club and District was a dream. I should also mention this was entirely volunteer work and a completely unpaid position. I agree with what Pablo was mentioning, have a rounded and very full life. I know I have.

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