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Larry Abbott Houston Remodeler interview

Make a Plan

Whether it’s considering an exit strategy or handling the aftermath of a hurricane, Abbott aims to stay a step ahead.
Edited by Kacey Larsen, Qualified Remodeler January 2019

When and how did you choose this career?

Just after high school I earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, but was not motivated or satisfied with the low pay  and conditions of my first job. I set out to travel from New York westward and ended up in Houston. Low on money, a friend’s boss asked me if I ever “swung a hammer” and invited me to work with them for the day. I fell in love with creating things from wood using my hands and also making decent money. I noticed how most of the contractors I met or worked for were very unorganized and had poor relationships with their customers. I knew from the basics I learned in college that I could get the job done better and communicate in a more productive, courteous manner with the customers.

I first started on my own as a small residential repair contractor at age 28. Failing to make it on the first two attempts, I regressed back to working as an employee for other local Houston construction companies. The third attempt in 1986 would set me sailing through to the present on a 32-year run.

What is the focus for your business?

For the last four and a half years, I have worked with a business consultant who implemented systems, policies and procedures, which immediately improved my business. To be honest, I am working on my exit strategy, which doesn’t actually include complete retirement. I took a three-month growth plan course from Goldman Sachs. They taught me how to work “on my business” as opposed to “in my business,” where I wasn’t going to be micro-managing everything in person all the time. It is like taking an eagle’s view from above and sorting things out to allow yourself some very much earned freedom. Of course, I’m still trying to clone myself in order to accomplish this feat.

What led to your membership with your local NAHB chapter, and what keeps you involved?

Upon visiting the Greater Houston Builders Association for the first time in 2002, I felt an energy and a happiness from those attending the luncheon. Our chapter has over a hundred event opportunities annually to meet amazing people—there is no advertising or marketing better than face-to-face. Being a member the past 14 years has been a successful investment in my business. In this town, the name alone can give you instant credibility. In addition to being on the GHBA Remodelers’ Council board for many years, I was honored to serve as the 2018 President of the Remodelers’ Council.

What are the greatest opportunities in your remodeling market?

The opportunities are many, especially in Houston and the surrounding areas. There seems to be enough for everybody, but only the strong and organized survive. We find ourselves trying to follow a big part of our clientele  into  high rises or high-density living arrangements. This is not something I had strived to do, as we have always been successful and preferred staying “on the ground” working on single-family homes. Once you get your men acclimated to the service elevators and cramped parking spaces, along with expanding the estimating categories to accommodate the time necessary, it’s not all that bad. I’d say get used to it if you are going to work inner city.

Did Hurricane Harvey affect your business? Has that changed your approach?

The after effects of a hurricane are as much emotional as they are physical. Living in Houston, where we have experienced three catastrophic floods in the past couple years, it has introduced a huge market in the remediation and repair business. We had a couple jobs in progress and several previous customers that flooded. The demand during the aftermath of a natural disaster is overwhelming, to say the least—and you can’t help everyone. Having been through this before and usually knowing the storm is coming, we have time to plan some type of strategy. The first few days we are out there, all over an affected area helping at no charge. Then we try to choose a few select homes and write up standard remodeling project contracts, in hopes that between the insurance money and homeowner funds the job can be completed.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention about career accomplishments?

Putting together a good, strong group of individuals in the office and in the field. People who enjoy their job and who are always “engaged” in the mission to serve our customers. Having your financials together is another comfort and necessity, probably at the top of the list.