In this week’s “There is a Difference” interview, you will hear unique perspectives from a female remodeler with an impressive tenure in both remodeling and construction. Nicole Goolsby, entrepreneur and owner of Red Ladder Restorations talks with Draper DNA about a shift in home design trends during the pandemic, social distancing during renovations, how important it is for women in this industry to support and encourage one another and why that’s made her a powerful force in the workplace.
What is the difference in home design as we begin 2021?
Nicole: I am approaching this as a remodeler, because that is primarily what I do at Red Ladder. I think the difference is how people are focusing on the amount of time that they spend in their homes, because of the past year. I would say probably 80% of my clients and friends and family are all working from home. The approach to deciding what they want to do in a renovation is coming from that place of all of the sudden, “here we are, we’re at home all the time, what works, what doesn’t?” I think a lot of it is allowing for individual spaces when everybody would come home from work and everybody would come home from school. The goal was parents wanted to have the space that they could all fit in together. And I think we’re shifting a little bit more where during the day, they want to have the space where they can be apart; where the kids can have their computers going. You may have three kids on three different desktops trying to go to school. Mom and dad, both trying to work from home. So, that’s the biggest thing that I see in the shift of projects that I’m being asked to look at for families.
What do you think about the trend of indoor, outdoor living spaces?
Nicole: There has been a trend for quite some time of people wanting to expand their living area to the outside and to be comfortable in that. I live in an area where there’s a lot of humidity. There’s a lot of pollen in the summertime or the springtime, and lots of mosquitoes. What I’ve found with my clients is they’re wanting to have space that they can use at different times during the season. It’s not just having a really nice patio and a fire pit. It’s going beyond that. It’s the desire to have a change of scenery from being inside the house all the time, to having a place where you could actually go out, have dinner and not have to deal with the bugs. So, we’re seeing a lot of screen porches that can also be enclosed. I do like a Phantom vinyl screen a lot, but I’ve also seen a lot of projects where they’re doing the Eze Breeze sort of product, which is a clear vinyl covering that will close it in for the colder seasons. You can close it in during the winter time and you can put a little heater out there and it’s very comfortable in our climate. But then it can be completely open with the screens. We’re also moving further into the backyard space with outdoor pizza ovens and grills and everything built around a nice stone patio and then a fire pit and some built-in benches. We’ve even done a number of projects with hot tubs. That’s a new thing. I’ve been building for well over 20 years and I hadn’t done a hot tub until the last three years. And so, I guess maybe that’s coming back. I think it was a trend maybe in the ’70s and now it’s coming back and people are wanting to enjoy the hot tub for social purposes. And also, for just healing purposes.
How is the need for airflow and social distancing affecting your work?
Nicole: That’s a really interesting question, the air flow part. The social distancing is easy to address. We set up protocols when we are working in people’s homes, doing our renovations. And we think the order of construction, the speed at which we are able to build has slowed down because I want to pay attention to who’s in the house at what time. I’m not going to have plumbers and electricians and HVAC crews there on the same day as I might have a year or so ago. We’re going to control that environment more and keep folks who work together on a regular basis. They’re in their own bubble and keep them together and not introduce them to other folks that they don’t know. We have some pretty clear understandings with our clients in the home with masking when they’re around any of the workers and vice versa, of course. And I try to also keep it so that the homeowners are communicating just with me.
If we’re doing an attic renovation, for example, I discourage them from going out there and talking to the crews. If they’ve got a question they need to call me and they need to stay out of the work area. We’ve even gone to the point of turning a lock around on a door for a basement project, just to keep the household completely separated from the work that was going on in the basement. So that social distancing requirement has definitely affected the way that we work.
The need for air flow is really a newer discussion that we’re having. And I think it goes even more into what takes place after construction. And people are becoming more conscious in their homes of having that fresh air and introducing systems that will bring more fresh air into a home.
What’s the difference in how you are marketing your business following that pandemic?
Nicole: Well, the marketing question isn’t probably a great one for me because I don’t do a lot of traditional marketing. I’m a remodeler and I get most of my business due to referrals and that’s a very comfortable place for me. I like to know whose house I’m going into and I like them to know something about me beforehand. So, what we may be doing going forward is being a little more intentional about how we are keeping up with our existing clients and asking for those referrals.
I think marketing is not just about the website or the flyers or what you’re doing. I think marketing is about the way you brand yourself, one-on-one with your clients and hope that that brand will translate for them to the point that they are going to share it with their friends and with their neighbors. That’s worked well for Red Ladder up to this point, and worked well in my previous businesses. The other thing is, and probably a lot of remodelers are feeling this way right now, I don’t know if I want a whole lot more phone calls than I’m getting. It is wide open. I’m a very small business. I’m getting at least three or four new leads that are primarily from referrals every week. It’s a really great time for remodeling, but I don’t know what we could handle until I can get some more help on staff, so it’s a blessing.
How has being a woman in construction an advantage to you and your clients?
Nicole: I have been in the construction world, whether it was in sales or financing, working for another builder and then going out on my own over 20 years ago. I think that this is a fabulous industry for females, and I’m delighted to see more and more females getting involved in the industry because I think we do bring a lot to the table. Women are inherently more empathetic. We listen. And it’s not that men don’t listen. It’s that women listen in a different way. I think we hear different things. Being mothers, being caregivers, having that more natural nurturing role and instincts. I think we hear things differently and that’s a huge advantage to me as a construction business owner. Knowing what their needs are, understanding how they’re living in their home. Sometimes understanding better than they do what the problem is that they have and knowing what we want to remedy it for them, to make their home more functional, more beautiful, more comfortable. Through this pandemic that focus has really come to everybody. And I don’t know that they even know how dramatically it has changed the way that they’re thinking about how they want to live in their homes. So, that’s one advantage.
Another advantage that I’ve found over many years is the trust level. There’s just something about having a female, bringing a whole bunch of men into your home to do work that makes people more comfortable. They assume that a woman is going to be pickier. They assume that a woman is going to treat their home more carefully. Not that that’s necessarily true, not that there aren’t many builders and remodelers out there who treat people’s homes carefully and with respect and are very detailed oriented and picky about how their subcontractors work in the home. But I think we just have an advantage and that is the expectation. It’s a nice surprise when a male owned business is going to address those things, but it’s kind of automatically assumed that the females will.
How is it being in construction as a woman in the field? I think how it’s an advantage to me personally, over the years has been the wonderful flexibility that construction careers allow for any individual. But when you’re juggling things like being a mom or being a wife, taking care of elderly parents, construction gives you that opportunity. You might start early in the morning. You might work into the night. Now being a business owner, we do a lot of work at home in the evenings after we’ve finished, whatever other duties we might have. So, I think that construction is an advantage for women. Not only that women have an advantage in construction. I really feel very strongly about women being in construction and how we mentor each other and encouraging young women who are the age that I was. And I went out on my own and created a construction company when I was 34, right after I’d had my third child. I want everybody else to know that they can do that. We bring a real balance to home building and remodeling.
Thank you, Nicole, for sharing your thoughts and insights into how there is a difference.
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