The restoration industry is one that I like to consider a “fly under the radar” type of industry; one never realizes the depth of it, unfortunately, until they need it. It is then that one sees not just the mitigation and reconstruction skills of the industry, but also the empathetic and emotional characteristics needed to navigate the dynamic waters.
Growing up, I used to love going to work with my Dad. The smell of a construction site was one of my favorites and I enjoyed drawing pictures with his secretary. I watched him build a handyman service into a full-fledged residential construction outfit which then started servicing the restoration industry. My young, naive eyes certainly did not grasp all the different needs required of a leader in this space until much later in life.
With Change Comes Challenges
After getting married, my husband and I decided to move back to our hometown to start a family, and along with that came the opportunity to work in the construction business. At that time, there was no real succession plan, but as any founder begins to realize, a plan is needed. I stepped into the business with a dual undergraduate degree, an MBA, and four years in a corporate office environment, but even that did not prepare me for the blue-collar industry ahead. And boy was it exhausting! I quickly realized how very little I knew about construction and how quickly the wool could be pulled over my eyes. Being a female in a male-dominated industry didn’t help, and I quickly switched out my heels for something comfier and got down to business.
My husband, Tyler, was a big motivator and mentor for me. He pushed me and helped me through difficult times. When tough decisions needed to be made, he didn’t let me back down, and there were many of them. My experience in the corporate world had shown me how important professionalism, technology, organization, and chain of command were. Those were some of the first things I focused on.
Bringing an old company up to new standards was a challenge in itself, as there were many employees who had been there since the founding stages of the company and were set in their ways. Even with my Dad backing every decision I was making, they would not acknowledge why big changes needed to be made when “we have always done it this way.”
With all change came huge resistance. I had to stick with my ideas and be confident in the changes if I wanted them to work. After a few successes, I started to earn respect from the employees (some whom I had known since I was a little girl, another hurdle) and that maybe I really would be able to make some positive changes in the business.
Baby steps were a good thing and those small wins helped build confidence in me to take on the bigger, meatier, more drastic but necessary changes. Some of those changes stirred up incredible struggles and anger,
and in turn a needed restructuring of the
Thankfully, I had a wingman: current COO George Scott. He had big ideas like me and the drive to see the changes. We built extreme trust with each other and I could count on him to be my truth in the things I didn’t understand. Our tag team mentality allowed me to run the operations of the business while he was able to manage the construction, labor, and material side of it. Our unique and direct set of skills allowed us to drive change from all angles, promoting it and enforcing it to give the changes the time to generate true positive effects.
All changes and decisions were not all wins. There were many dark days where I wasn’t sure if I had the ability to make the hard adjustments and push for the transformations that were needed. Growth is uncomfortable and not everyone will agree or like your decisions, but the company was my responsibility; it was our last name on the building, and it was something I took very personally.
Chelsea Mihalko Trimbath (VP) alongside COO George Scott.
When People are a Problem
“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” — Alexander Den Heijer
One of the hardest and most drastic changes that needed to be made was a total culture change. It started out as a culture of negativity and blame. Every person was for himself or herself and there was a complete lack of responsibility and accountability. The numbers showed it. The customer was always “difficult”, any issues never had to do with any of the current management.
This way of thinking was so deeply rooted into everyone, that for some the only road to change was, unfortunately, through the door. This was a hard pill to swallow. I watched as the negativity, dishonesty, and mean words impacted everyone. Some of these people had been with the company for many years, but time after time proved to me, no matter how many times we had open and honest conversations about management styles, customer service, appropriate ways to handle problems, and failing job after failing job, that the change had to be drastic.
It started by parting with a few, but it was quickly realized that changing someone’s perspective is a very difficult thing, especially when “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” And so, the restructuring came, and it was hard. There were tears and angry words. But in the end, the realization is that we just weren’t meant to be. The employee/employer partnership is just that – a partnership.
I chose to then hire based not just on experience, but also on character and personality. I wanted to see a smiling face and a positive team player on the other side of me. Not someone who was undermining me as I walked away, making my path that much harder. We went from finger pointing to owning mistakes. We sat down and had discussions around less-than-stellar performances and left with ways to make it better the next time.
We follow a process so accountability is obvious and respected. We help each other. We talk constructively and do not demean anyone. We help our people and give them all the opportunities to succeed at work and in their personal lives. We are transparent and everyone takes pride in what they do. And most importantly, we listen. We are a family and it shows; our flower is in bloom!
Uniformity & Rebranding
Another major shift that occurred was uniformity and rebranding. We had three locations across the center of the State of Pennsylvania, and all three operated differently; different processes, different paperwork, different standards, different everything.
We started with the simple stuff; standardization and consolidation of paperwork, processing of paperwork, and use of online cloud platforms allowed management to be aware of what was going on at the other locations.
Our administrative team started tracking appointments, handling warranty issues and customer inquiries all the same, which lead us to build an in-depth database to analyze. Each job folder contained all the same, required information and we eventually moved that all to our online platform. We created vendor uniformity across our locations as well, from our internet and trash services, to material vendors supplying and delivering to job sites.
We moved onto rebranding our advertising so all the logos matched, upgraded to newer and similar vehicles, and updated our website. We now lead the online presence in our area and were able to successfully process online leads and retargeting. All of us are dressed in logoed attire and understand the importance of a unified, professional appearance. We are religious about our weekly Jobs in Process meetings per location and it’s a rare occasion when anyone misses.
All these seemingly simple little changes have given us a new, organized, professional feel and look. A new employee will be able to know and understand the process from any point and how to get to the end goal. These points also help others get comfortable in knowing which direction to go and the steps to follow, giving people the authority, accountability and satisfaction of doing the job well and the ability to hit clear goals.
The only thing constant in life is change. Some of those changes are easy to handle and others whip through like a hurricane. I continued to march through those storms, and it turns out sunny days were just over the horizon. Still, the lessons learned during those tough times helped shape me as a leader.
A few of those lessons are:
Respect: I learned that respect is certainly earned and cannot be demanded. It is earned through hard work, determination, and dedication to the end result. It is earned by taking failures as a huge learning experience and leading others by example. It is earned by taking accountability and holding others accountable. It is earned by listening and being an empathetic, fair leader.
Education: Never stop educating yourself. The self-help genre in the bookstore is not something to laugh at. Reading and learning from other business leaders’ mistakes and experiences will help you be better informed for your future self. I have become addicted to podcasts, from business entrepreneurial (The James Altucher Show) to Meditation and Mindfulness (10% Happier by Dan Harris), and have increased my personal library substantially. Working on myself has become a hobby and I am dedicated to always showing up as my best self.
Confidence: Self-confidence has always been a struggle for me. “I can’t do that” is constant voice in my head. When you lack that confidence, it shows. I had to turn that voice into saying “I can do that; I can do anything.” With the support of my husband, my decisions, good and bad, gave me the confidence to know that I can do anything. I can take a struggling company and climb that mountain to turn it into a powerful success. I can choose to remove people I believe are sinking the ship instead of guiding it, and in any difficult circumstance, I will come out on the other side.
My journey in the restoration industry has been fulfilling and rewarding. When I look back on those beginning years, I see how much positive growth happened to not just the company, but myself. I am now surrounded by an incredible team of people who have the same passion and motivation as me: to succeed. They embrace new changes and are a true inspiration to me to keep moving forward on this path. We all support each other; we help each other and we rely on each other. It’s a place I am proud to be apart of and excited to go into every day.
I realized without all those difficult decisions and sleepless nights in the past, I would never have been able to be surround by the team we have today.