Welcome to Ask Alex. This will be an occasional feature of our blog, where you can find answers to your remodeling questions and learn more about Mayflower Construction.
In the first installment below, Alex Arjantsev responds to general background questions that customers sometimes ask. Read on and get to know the owner of Mayflower Construction!
How long have you been in the industry?
I’ve officially been in the remodeling business for 11 years.
Why did you decide to start a remodeling business?
I have a master’s degree in civil engineering and a lot of construction experience. Ironically, I started the business to launch my father’s career. He was new to the country and I wanted a job where the mastery of your craft matters more than your mastery of the English language. I always intended to help him build the business and then leave it for him to run on his own. I guess the universe had other plans! My father hated it and ended up quitting and I fell in love – not with the field work, but the business potential. I felt like a well-organized, professional remodeling company would be really successful.
What was your first remodeling job?
The company’s first official job was 10 years ago. It was a kitchen and I used a Home Depot design. The first job is always the hardest, and I happened to land it through a referral. It came out really well and was a great start to my portfolio, but I didn’t have access to the materials, design equipment, or general knowledge that I have now.
How did you learn remodeling?
Actually, I’m completely self-taught. My grandfather had a giant tool barn and I spent many childhood days building things. As I grew older, I expanded on that with education, research, and experience. I went through a lot of trial and error before I refined the processes I teach to my teams now. Which – and I’m going to do a shameless plug here – is one of the many reasons you should pay a little more for an experienced contractor like Mayflower.
What do you hope to accomplish with Mayflower Construction?
I want to bring remodeling into the 21st century by focusing on our packages and creating standardized pricing. I hope to eventually offer customers the option of building their bathroom completely online and having it delivered by one of our professional teams.
What is the most rewarding aspect of owning Mayflower Construction?
The ability to learn! Owning Mayflower Construction has given me the opportunity to do things I never thought I would have to! I’ve learned so much about QuickBooks, websites, editing, technology, and all of the back office elements of running a business.
Mayflower Construction gives me the freedom to make decisions. My ideas can either succeed or fail, but I get to choose what I do instead of reporting to someone else. I see the results of my planning and my hard work happening before my eyes every day.
What has been the biggest hurdle to overcome?
It kind of ties in with the last question. The freedom of having complete control over your workday also comes with the realization that, no matter how much you plan, things may still go wrong. You can plan a project by the day, but you can’t plan for a truck breaking down or someone getting sick. You can only control yourself, everything else is a variable that moves independently.
As a business owner, you’re invested emotionally and financially. To most of your staff, your business is a nine-to-five job. They have their own families, lives, and priorities. They may not even realize how vital their effort is to the business as a whole. Accepting this and not holding it against people is another hurdle I’ve worked to overcome. You have to find the balance between holding your employees and contractors to a high standard and being practical.
What would you recommend to other small contractors who want to do the same thing?
Get an education. A lot of contractors think having a successful business means being the best at their craft. That’s only 50% of it! To have a successful business, you have to understand business. I quickly realized this and went back to school to get a second master’s degree in business administration.
Build connections. Some contractors try to do everything themselves, but you have to network and find people to partner with who have different areas of expertise. This was one of the hardest things to learn, because these connections don’t happen overnight.
Have a professional face. Contractors underestimate how important it is to have professional customer service. In the beginning, you could pay a few hundred dollars a month to have someone answer your phone and schedule your estimates. I started with a call center, grew to an office, and then opened my own show room. As you continue to grow, you continue to upgrade. At the end of the day, a customer who’s about to spend $80,000.00 on a kitchen wants to meet in a nice showroom where they can see their materials and see that you’re running a professional operation.
What do you wish you would have known when you first started?
I wish I would have known that I need to qualify my clients. At some point, you have to decide who your client is and what you sell. If you own a restaurant that sells hot dogs and a customer asks you for pasta, you decline the business. It’s not because you’re ungrateful, but because you sell what you know you’re good at.
What's one thing you want the average customer to understand about the remodeling industry?
I think the ultimate problem in my industry is that the everyday customer doesn’t see us as a professional business with a set product and price.
I don’t know how many times I’ve fallen for the “Do a good job on my bathroom for half price and I’ll buy my kitchen from you for full price.” Or, “Come give me a free estimate of a house I haven’t bought yet. I promise I’ll buy it and I’ll hire you.”
This is our full-time job, just like you have your full-time job. We have bills and families to support and we expect to get paid just like you do. No one likes to talk about profit in our industry, but I try to be very upfront about it. Making a profit doesn’t mean I’m greedy or selfish, it just means I got paid for my job.
Likewise, when you negotiate your salary for a new job, you typically have a minimum salary or hourly rate you will work for that you determine based on your experience and qualifications. If you want to get paid $20 per hour and you’re offered $10, you decline the job offer. We do the same thing.
Essentially, you are the boss of the company we are hoping to work for. You’re interviewing us, but we have a minimum amount we charge based on our level of expertise and craftsmanship. You might be able to find a cheaper contractor, but that doesn’t mean we are worth less.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
My client’s projects are the culmination of years of hard work and development within my company. Artists typically describe their art as their children. Each project is my work of art, and I care and grow attached to it in the same way I would to my own child. I designed it, I created the package, I chose the manufacturers we offer. I am not happy or proud of a project unless I know that even the things a client can’t see have been completed correctly.
We don’t do Mickey Mouse construction. Even if a client will never see or know or even if it takes a little longer or uses a little more material, we’re going to do it right! Every renovation I complete is stamped with my business name and I want it to last.
Planning a remodel? Give us a call now at 703.388.9088