Leah Thayer said what?

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Who is Leah Thayer?

By The Paul

Leah Thayer Senior editor at Hanley Wood Publications
Leah Thayer Senior editor at Hanley Wood Publications.

Leah Thayer, senior editor at Hanley Wood Business Media

Editors and writers live in relative obscurity, firmly in the big picture. They are the soul of a magazine, and most of their time is spent writing for their readers.

Last week, Remodel Crazy spoke with Leah Thayer, a senior editor with Hanley Wood’s Remodeling magazine.

Leah was raised with 6 brothers and sisters in a cozy suburb outside of Washington, DC. Her father was a custom home builder, and Leah grew up in the home her dad built.

In college, working toward a major in English, Leah developed a love of language and began to expand her writing skills. She successfully tried her hand at writing, editing, newsletters and even speech writing, mostly for business audiences. She also did a fair amount of promotional copywriting – “fun,” she says – and also wrote for magazines and did a fair amount of ghost-writing for a well known author.

In 2004, after freelancing as a writer/editor for 8 years, Leah felt the need to get involved in the bigger picture, and she went to work for Remodeling magazine, a Hanley Wood publication. To Leah, Hanley Wood provided a singular focus. Inspired by her love of older homes and the ties to the industry her father was involved in, Leah looked forward to writing about building industry people and challenges.

Having a journalist as a spotlight guest provided Remodel Crazy with an opportunity for a provocative article. A professional reporter on the other side of the interview table could share how she felt as an observer and as a consumer without the concerns inherent in writing the article herself.

I asked Leah for her opinions, and I got them.

RC: What changes are you expecting to see for the remodeling industry?

Leah: Remodeling is such a dynamic business. It seems that the middle is fading in many ways, just as it has with department stores that once tried to serve every aspect of the retail market. Yet some very strong, larger aggregates are gaining strength, and smaller companies that have a strong niche and are adaptive are also doing well. I expect Green to continue to grow, aging in place to capture more of the market and other specialties, like very efficient kitchen and bath remodels and cabinet refacing, to also do fine.

Another big change that seems to be sweeping the industry is that whereas remodeling companies were traditionally started by craftsmen with trade backgrounds, I’m now seeing more companies being started by white-collar individuals with business backgrounds. They’re definitely bringing more of an emphasis on marketing and systems and technology to the game, adding a new level of competition to traditional remodelers. I’m hopeful that the trade won’t suffer, however.

RC: As both an industry writer and a homeowner, what would you want from a meeting with a contractor?

Leah: Well to start, be on time for our meeting, make eye contact, have a firm handshake, and leave your shoes at the entrance before entering the home. Be friendly. Be aware of the niceties. Don’t block any driveways when you park, and don’t smell like cigarettes, and say hello to the dog and the kid! BRIEFLY explain the process your company follows and what we should expect, in terms of scheduling, mess, payments, inconvenience, warranty. Be specific about when we’ll get a proposal, and what will it cover, and what our responsibilities will then be.

If you’re meeting with a couple, communicate with both of us! Disregard women at your peril. Above all, listen – really ask good questions and listen to our answers – and take good notes. Try to cover everything, and take nothing for granted.

I find that it’s also helpful to leave some marketing items behind before you go, such as references with phone numbers and addresses, and proof of licensing and insurance.

Another thing: when your phone rings, answer it with a friendly and professional tone. Don’t just grunt “hello” – I’m surprised by how many remodelers who do! Train your staff to also answer professionally. Likewise, if you can’t personally answer the phone, leave a message that is also friendly and professional. Return phone calls quickly.

Later, when you present your proposal, have a good writer proof it for you, for spelling and grammar and clarity. Our confidence is pretty easily shaken when your proposal has typos in it, or is hard to understand, or doesn’t even get our address right.

RC: What would you do if you were a contractor in 2010?

LEAH: I suggest that you find the time to do a solid market analysis – or even an informal survey – to identify your real competition, establish where you excel, and focus on work in that area. Never forget that your existing client base is your best target market. Find the time to go through your old customer files, and make contact with them one by one. Even if your clients have moved, you could still be getting on the radar of the people who live in the home now. Do the same with trade partners.

This seems to be hard for a lot of remodelers, but I really encourage you to get involved in your community: volunteer at events, contribute to causes, show your neighbors that you care about them. Along the same lines, don’t be afraid of social networking. Get a Facebook page, join LinkedIn, be on Twitter. Don’t be intimidated; enlist the help of a teenager if you have to! Be curious, positive, accessible, and responsible.

Finally, be good to your staff and trade contractors. Show them that you appreciate their hard work, talk them up in front of your clients, and give them every reason to believe that you respect them and are grateful to have them. It’s not all about money. A respectful pat on the back can give a big lift to morale and productivity.

RC: If you could do anything you wanted today, what would that be?

LEAH: I really like writing about remodelers, but I’d love to expand what I do beyond remodeling and write about great business practices in every industry. I love the energy and creativity of dynamic small businesses, and I want to be their champion by giving them a voice before a greater audience than they have now. Mainstream media outlets make it way too easy to think that the only businesses worth talking about are huge businesses. I know that’s not true.

Read what Leah writes inside the pages of Remodeling magazine.  She is a Tweeter and Blogger who informs and reports in a smart and concise way.

Follow Leah on Twitter http://twitter.com/LeahThayer

Follow Leah’s blog

8 COMMENTS

  1. Great article Paul, Well done as always, Great responses from Leah. Paul’s interview-blogging skills just went up a notch or two!!

  2. Leah, that was great. This shows that you really know the inside of a remodeler’s biz. In detail! Thanks for the tips and the great article. And thank you, Remodel Crazy for posting posting this.

  3. Great interview!

    Fantastic answers and some great nuggets for any construction and or design business owner to be exploring. You couldn’t have picked a more creative and dedicated person to interview!

    You’ve even got a few heavy hitters commenting on your post here…Can’t go wrong with Michael Anschel and Tim Nagle…

    Obviously some remodelcrazy goodness has been delivered.

    🙂

  4. Paul,
    Very nice interview! What Leah says about meeting with a contractor really resonates with me. While talking about design and décor is sexy, homeowners must also learn about the professionals’ business practices and the process they will utilize during design and construction. This information, given up-front, tends to ease any tension and misgivings about the project they are about to undertake!

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