Friday, December 10, 2010

Still Crazy After All These Years

Many of us boomers spent our youth exploring the boundaries of what society defined as “normal.” We grew our hair long and wore pants with comically wide leg bottoms. We engaged in certain illicit activities, hitchhiked around the country, and invented a glossary of special terms to describe our state of being. We saw ourselves as a tribe of merry pranksters that would bring peace and justice to the world, and rock ‘n’ roll was our weapon of choice. All in all, we behaved in a way unlikely to inspire confidence among employers.

So we found jobs in construction and other businesses that would have us.

Forty years later, some habits are hard to shake. The part-time work became a career. We still love the Beatles; and while bell-bottomed pants and words like “groovy” have thankfully passed into history, a few aging hippies are still looking to create some peace and justice in their corner of the world.

A couple of years ago, Paul Lesieur, owner of Silvertree Construction near Minneapolis, had had enough of the caveman attitude on a popular construction forum; he wanted to start his own forum, to promote a more thoughtful and constructive dialogue. So with the vision and determination of an idealist he outlined his master plan, found a web designer who built the site for a piece of the action, and rolled out RemodelCrazy in August 2009. Sixteen months later, the site is self-supporting and steadily building membership and advertiser participation.

Lesieur says, “the intent is to gather the industry, from plumbers to tile salespeople; they’re all equal, and we’re all going to help each other raise the industry as a whole. Very far-reaching and idealistic, but that is the plan. I want all of us to move forward, even the guy who sweeps the job site.”

“When you go to a NARI awards meeting, the larger firms with the resources to go after the awards are usually the winners,” states Lesieur, “yet there are 200 other very capable contractors in the audience who aren’t getting recognition. I respect the guys who earn those awards, but the two-man company in the audience that does a good job for their customers – those guys deserve the same recognition, and that’s what I’m about.”

At one time Lesieur was upset with NARI and NAHB because he didn’t think they represented the remodeling industry as a whole. But he came to appreciate the positive things they have accomplished, so part of his objective with RemodelCrazy is to create a community that could enhance their reach. With a combined membership numbering less than 20,000, NARI and the NAHB Remodelers don’t have the political clout of an organization like the over 1 million members National Association of Realtors (NAR). While building an organization of NAR’s size isn’t literally his goal, Lesieur hopes that his more inclusive approach can create enough scale to increase the influence of the remodeling community – to be “one voice for the industry,” as Lesieur envisions it.

Unlike those utopian ventures back in the 1960’s, Lesieur’s plan includes making a profit, or “monetization” in the parlance of the digital era. In addition to traditional advertising revenue, RemodelCrazy will also take a percentage of sales generated through the site for products that have been reviewed by selected RemodelCrazy members. Each review will be based on the members’ actual hands-on use (no testing lab), and be bluntly honest, but fair-minded. No money will change hands until a review is complete – good, bad or indifferent. Some of the products currently under review or in the pipeline include estimating software, a HEPA vacuum, insurance coverage verification web site and a discount buying club for contractors.

In keeping with the irreverent spirit of the 1960’s, Lesieur – who has ten or so certifications – has created his own professional category: EIEIO (Excellence In Everything I Offer). While that is undoubtedly a tweak directed at the pretentiousness of the alphabet soup approach to credibility-building, he is sincere about establishing a peer-to-peer credential. “The key is to establish respect among your peers. It’s serious, it’s fun; but we want to be responsible, and we’re doing that by combining the two,” he says.

A few minutes spent on the RemodelCrazy site confirms this dual objective. Meaningful commentary stands side-by-side with photographs of a member’s breakfast. Maybe this is what the age of Aquarius is really about.

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