Housing rebound helps contractors get back in business

By
Courtesy of the Associated Press

October 24, 2012

nterior designer Joe Fava always has believed in not putting his eggs in one basket. That philosophy paid off in 2008 when he was hit with the double punch of the recession and housing crisis.

Like others in the industry, Fava Design Group saw many projects die in its home state of Florida. But Fava, who has had his own design firm in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for a decade, was fortunate to have ongoing projects in Mississippi, Maryland and New York.

He had work, but it was far away. Working out of town and yet still running a home office was a challenge.

“That helped us get through the downside,” he said. “But I was traveling sometimes twice a week. I’d come back for a day and then take off for Baltimore or New York. I was on the job site with a client, but also trying to manage the office. It was exhausting.”

Now that the construction industry is on the rebound, interior designers, kitchen contractors and tile businesses are seeing their revenues rise 20 percent or more this year. But Fava and other owners still have scars from the recession, so they take all the work they can get, even when it stretches them thin.

Fava is doing interior design projects across south Florida, from private homes, such as a luxury condominium in Boca Raton, to country clubs, which are now renovating their lobbies and sprucing up.

He recently opened a new Miami office and hired an additional designer and assistant to handle the additional work load.

“In the past six months to eight months, business has completely turned around like gangbusters,” Fava said.

Homebuilders are getting busy again as the housing market emerges from the recession, and so are many businesses related to them.

Here’s a look at how three such companies survived the housing meltdown, and how they are rebounding:

FEWER STORES, BUT STILL 14-HOUR DAYS: At 6 p.m. on a recent weekday, Ted Bohne got ready for his second shift. Fourteen-hour days are not unusual, he said, to manage Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Pino Tile & Marble and its related granite and contracting businesses.

But he’s happy about it — business is up 15 percent this year, with the biggest growth in Broward County, he said.

“The landlords are feeling a little bit better. They’re fixing up lobbies they haven’t touched in years,” said Bohne, president of Pino Tile.

Pino Tile is a smaller business than the 13-store operation Bohne led before the recession and housing crisis. His wife, Beth Pino, and sister-in-law, Brenda Pino, oversee two stores. Bohne’s mother, Linda Douglas, volunteers her time to help.

“We started feeling the pain in 2006,” said Bohne. Their then tile-and-carpet business took an immediate hit because floor coverings aren’t a necessary purchase.

Bohne filed for personal bankruptcy in 2010. That same year, he and his wife began to slowly rebuild the family business by tapping her retirement account to open a store. Then came the second store, in Delray Beach, Fla.

“We don’t buy something if we don’t have the money to pay for it. We don’t use credit from any vendors,” he said.

“We’re much more conservative. We’ve passed on opportunities because of concerns of getting too big.”

AN UNWAVERING LOOK TO THE FUTURE: Bill and Joe Feinberg, partners in Allied Kitchen & Bath in Wilton Manors, Fla., had just invested in a new showroom in 2008 when the recession and housing crisis was taking hold.

“In the past five years, we’ve worked very, very hard to stay busy,” Bill Feinberg said.

He and his brother stepped up their community networking. The kitchen-and-bath remodeling company increased magazine advertising and hosted more local events to generate more business.

The new showroom, while expensive, actually helped.

“People would look at us and know we were a strong company because, here we were, building a new showroom,” Feinberg said.

Allied Kitchen & Bath’s investment in their future paid off. Revenues have been up 20 percent this year and last, he said.

But to get there, the four Feinberg brothers in the business — including David and Rob — had to tighten their belts. Instead of laying off workers, they trimmed overtime hours, vacation and paid time-off.

Theye were able to keep all 40 employees working and now those employee benefits are back, Bill Feinberg said.

To survive the downturn in the market, the brothers didn’t pay themselves for awhile and even mortgaged their houses. As business improved, they paid off the loans.

Feinberg said he would like to open another showroom, but is waiting to see what happens with the nation’s new health care law and other issues affecting the economy.

“I’d love to invest more in our business,” he said.

MAJOR SHIFT BROUGHT CHANGES: Susan Connor, owner of design firm P&H Interiors in Coral Springs, Fla., said she saw a major shift in her business during the recession.

“We were used to doing quite a bit of model homes. It was 50 percent of our business and it dwindled to 20 percent,” she said.

In 2006, Connor had bought out her partner and then the bottom started falling out of the market. But Connor said she managed not to cut staff — she just didn’t fill jobs as some employees moved out of state.

Needing to change to survive, Connor developed a different method of doing business. She called it “evolution design,” where the firm designed one room at a time, instead of an entire house. “We took on small projects,” she said.

The changes have worked. Connor has added three staff members, and now has 22 employees.

The firm has home-design projects in the area. And she’s back doing model homes for a successful Bridges development in Delray Beach.

“There is huge pent-up demand,” she said of the new high-priced homes in the development.

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©2013 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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