Fulfilling dreams at Home Sweet Home Improvements

By Posted on Jul 25 2014 | By

Bealeton firm emphasizes “feel good” performance 

“I’m a people person. Home remodeling and restoration demands close interface with your clients and I enjoy that. You become part of a client’s life when you take on a project. In this business a couple’s home comes in second only behind their family.”

Tom & Dawn Wooten

Tom & Dawn Wotton

While that’s not a mission statement, it could pass for one coming from Tom Wotton, who along with his wife Dawn, are owners of Home Sweet Home Improvements. “We develop a personal relationship with each client. We are not just a builder or contractor,” said Wotton.

Founded in 1991, the custom remodeling and restoration firm has steadily grown in good times and bad. Today, the firm averages 25 projects a year, ranging in cost from several hundred dollars for a simple design fee up to a $2 million dollar restoration effort.

The company focuses on construction management, additions, whole home remodels and historic renovations throughout the Northern Piedmont area. Typical of most businesses in the last seven years, the recession has had its impact. “We see a ‘pumping’ effect in the industry. At times business surges and then it drops off.”

While the recession officially ended in June, 2009 that has not been the Wottons experience. “The recession hit us really hard but 2008 was one of our best years; by 2010 business had dropped by 50 percent. Today, we are back to where we were 15 years ago,” said Wotton explaining the slowly improving economic conditions.

An important benchmark for projecting industry trends is Harvard’s Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity, or LIRA. The model is designed to estimate national homeowner spending on improvements for the current and subsequent three quarters.

The LIRA projects a strong growth in 2014, with gains in home improvement spending projected to be in the double digits for the first half of the year and just under 10 percent by the third quarter. Wotton’s firm is well positioned to take advantage of the favorable forecast.

In the beginning
Tom Wotton grew up in a military family and experienced numerous moves as a youth, much of it in Europe. When he was 15, he landed a job as a laborer for a historic restoration project and became fascinated with the construction industry. That early job led to his earning a degree in Construction Management and later obtaining a Class A Contractor License.

He is also a certified Master Plumber and Graduate Remodeler with the National Association of Home Builders. The man has his bona fides.

His early career was spent working for a residential home builder. As is often the case, the builder was not interested in pursuing remodeling work and handed off such projects to the up and coming Wotton.

Twenty-three years ago, he had sufficient remodeling experience and business leads to justify creating his own company. In 2004, his wife Dawn joined the firm bringing her degree in Business Administration and nine years experience as a senior budget analyst for a U.S. Government contractor to bear on the company’s success.

Dawn Wotton serves as the firm’s Office and Business Manager and oversees marketing, payroll, bookkeeping and finances. The firm has five full-time employees.

Company culture
As the company’s business grew, the essence of what they wanted to provide to clients crystallized. Today, it’s embodied in the “feel good” relationship they seek to establish with every customer.

“When we chose the name of the firm, we did not want to use the word ‘contractor’ or ‘builder’ because we felt we were more than that. We wanted our projects to make a customer feel good. We work harder at that than we do pounding nails, cleaning up and providing safety on the job,” says Wotton.

He shares a story that embodies his firm’s vision: “Recently, we received a phone call from a former client from a year ago. She said she was sitting in her kitchen and wanted us to know, ‘She still loved it!’ and that she missed our crew and wanted to know how everyone was doing. That’s the kind of experience we want to create for every customer.

“It was also a feel good moment for us,” said Wotton smiling.

To reinforce the success they have achieved, a visit to the firm’s website is revealing. Under the testimonial link are several comments on past projects:

“Your work at Boxwood Winery over the past few years has always been excellent. You are knowledgeable, prompt and always reasonable in your charges. We have never been disappointed and will rely on you in the future.”  J.K. Cooke (Middleburg)

“Excellent! I felt that you guys care about all of your projects. You are prompt to answer/return calls and deal with any issues that arise. I have never seen such care taken to where the nails were placed in the trim. It was very nice to work with you all.”  Shana S. (Warrenton)

“Polite, qualified workers, willing to listen, change, and come up with ideas to have a great outcome! Thank you for taking so much time to help me work through so many ideas and red tape.  It was so worth the wait, what a beautiful job!” L. Jones (Marshall)

“Very good! The employees of HSH are exceptionally nice to work with. There was never any question that you cared about us and our project. There is a sense that this house was built with loving hands!”  Cammie F. (Jeffersonton)

When former customers freely share their experiences about job performance, it employs the most traditional way of building new business.

While a valued reputation and word of mouth advertising are proven ways to build revenues, it often is not sufficient to advance growth. The Wottons generate about 60 percent of their business from repeat customers and referrals. To augment that trade they have undertaken other strategies.

One technique is seminars. Tom Wotton has held two of these in the past year and plans to continue the practice. He assembled six cabinet companies to sponsor the presentations that are held at a vendor’s office. Potential customers are registered for the seminar and Wotton covers the ins and outs of kitchen and bathroom remodeling, both from a do-it-yourself perspective to hiring a professional.

Another promising avenue for lead generation is the website “Houzz”. Houzz is a clever child of the digital age. It provides people with information they need to improve their homes; from decorating a room to building a McMansion.

The site offers builders the opportunity to upload photos of their work and showcase past projects to potential new buyers. “We posted photos of two of our projects and use the site to create ideas for prospects before we meet with them. It’s also a good sales tool. We recently had 800 views within a week,” says Wotton.

Print advertising rounds out their marketing efforts.

In discussing the scope and timeframes for completing specific jobs, Wotton emphasizes he doesn’t use high pressure sale pitches. “”It’s their home and it’s done their way.” Projects are often segmented into the three stages: material selection, purchase of supplies and final installation. “We must be flexible. Typically projects last from three weeks to several months, depending on the scope of the work to be done.”

One interesting segment of the business is people who have recently purchased a new home but want to make changes or additions. “Buyers tell us they were only able to get so many options with their new home and want to further customize it. That’s where our conversation with them begins,” says Wotton.

Historical renovations and restorations take remodeling to another level. Often such projects are tied to a family’s needs. The projects can be sensitive since older homes embody memories of times and people from yesteryear. The Piedmont area has a substantial number of these homes given its rich history dating to the founding of the country. “Family ties to the past and nostalgia are important considerations when undertaking such projects,” said Wotton.

A critical marker of success for Home Sweet Home Improvements is the cadre of trade partners it has developed. “Our partners are important and have been with us a long time. Our plumbers, electricians, designers, architects, and material suppliers share our culture.

“All of us want to provide a project that is on time and on budget and deliver a safe, clean, worry-free home investment. At the end of the day we want it to be a good experience for our customers,” emphasizes Wotton.

In the age of mass production, it’s reassuring to know homeowners in the Piedmont region have a local firm that is committed to providing hand-crafted home remodeling in the best sense of the tradition.

For a full description of the firm’s services, estimates, financing and more visit http://www.homesweethomeimprovements.com/


Published in the 2014 Summer edition of the Piedmont Business Journal.            

Categories : HAGARTY TALES