Episode #17: Malcolm Nicolson, Style Revamp

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About this episode

Malcolm, owner of Style Revamp in Rocklin, CA, specializes in high-end, custom carpentry projects. He talks about his journey from starting as a general handyman, to niching down into his current specialty as a custom carpenter… Thanks for tuning into the Handyman Success Podcast! We hope you enjoy this episode.

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Audio Transcription

Hello and welcome friends to another episode of the handyman success podcast where our mission is to teach you the listener and inspire you to either take your handyman home and proven business next level, maybe you’re thinking about getting started. Overall, our mission is to teach and inspire through, really the stories and experience of our guests. So my name is Jason call owner of handyman marketing pros. With me is my co host, Alan Lee, owner of honestly, handyman services in Sacramento, and the handyman journey coaching group. Today we are joined by Malcolm it was style revamp he is in we’re actually pretty close to our neck of the woods in the Sacramento region. So Malcolm, thank you so much for coming on, man, if you don’t mind, just kind of given us a little background about yourself and what you’ve got going on there. Okay,

how far do you want me to go back,

we’ll leave that up to your discretion just after you started.

So let me just give you a quick overview about how I got to where I am now. So I actually spent probably 25 years in high tech down in the Bay Area, doing everything from selling consulting services to large networking systems, etc, etc, etc. And all along that time, you know, I’d always been buying homes, I shouldn’t say always been buying homes, but all the homes that I bought, for myself, my own occupancy were fixer uppers, you know, I always bought something was kind of the dog of the neighborhood, and then worked on fixing up. So I actually over a period of time organically started developing skills and just general you know, woodworking, you know, and household names, painting drywall, you know, all the various things that we do, and we’re renovating a home. And then I’ll never forget the date, December 10 2008. This one, the economy was sort of going haywire, I got a phone call from my employer who was at that time American power conversion. And I was in their Big Data Center Group selling Big ups as the data centers, basically saying that my services were no longer required. Why, of course, you know, that happened, and probably the worst possible time, you know, 15 days before Christmas. And at a time when the economy was really turning south in a hurry. And try as I might for a good long while I tried to get back into high tech. And it was just a combination of things. You know, I was on the upper end of the age bracket, you know, and they just don’t want to hire young older guys. So that was difficult. And I was at that time living in Rockland, we decided to leave the Bay Area, we came to Rockland. And I was, you know, got to know a lot of the people in the neighborhood. And they all knew that I had tons of tools in my garage. So they knew that I knew something. And one of my good friends who lived down the street came to me one day he goes, he goes, You know, my wife bought this thing from Pottery Barn, that she wants me to get on the wall today. And I have no clue how to do it. You come help me? And I said, Well, sure. So I gathered up a few tools went over to his house. 30 minutes later, the thing was hanging on the wall perfectly. And he looked at me and he said to me, he goes, you know, Malcolm, you know, you have skills that people would pay for, like right then and there that the light bulb clicked on. And I said, maybe since I can’t get back into high tech, again, maybe what I should do is think about just reinventing myself and doing something entirely different. And so it was at that moment, the style revamp was born right then wow, old about that was roughly eight years ago, if I remember correctly. That’s how we got started.

So I had no, I didn’t know that history. Thanks for sharing that.

No, no worries, I do that. Because, you know, it’s not it’s not uncommon, especially in this world today where, you know, you build you get, you’re in one career, and for circumstances that may be entirely out of your control, that just goes away. And the last thing you need to do is just sit around and mope about it, you got to do something else. And so think about how you can reinvent yourself to be of value to your community. And that’s kind of what I did, you know. So that’s how the journey began in what I’m doing now.

I know a lot of folks have experienced that with COVID layoffs. Now there’s a lot of handyman Home Improvement businesses that have started since March 2020. So awesome. So Malcolm, it’s you and your wife, Laurie, if you could kind of give us a little lay of the land as far as you know, like the focus that you guys have, like the types of jobs you do like what you guys do in the business and if you also don’t mind sharing, you know, like some revenue numbers maybe like last year and any goals for this year, really anything on that subject too, but overall, just to kind of frame your guide his business and where you’re at on paper for our listeners.

Okay, excuse me? Can I go back to the beginning when I first got started? Because where I started? That’s great. No at all.

We’re not gonna stop you, man.

Yeah, that’s fantastic. Let’s hear it.

So when I first got started, you know, when I decided to become, you know, quote, a handyman, I really had absolutely no idea how to do it. So I had always been hearing all these ads on radio and TV for home advisor. So I, you know, what the heck, let me call him up and see what’s out what that’s all about. So I actually got involved with HomeAdvisor. And I started getting their pathetic leads. And by the way, any of you who are out there, I would highly recommend, stay away from him. It’s not, at least my experience was not good at all. But some but but but what did happen was I started getting some jobs. And I started off at a very low rate, hourly rate, I think I started at 40 bucks an hour. It wasn’t too much longer after that, that I realized 40 bucks an hour is a little on the thin side. So we need to start raising it up. So I started raising my rates a little bit, and that was doing a little bit better. And then all of a sudden, I started getting calls from Yelp, and people who had found me on Yelp. And I’ll be the first one to admit I back then we really knew nothing about social media and marketing is released all these other company, we knew nothing about that. But what I did find was it was interesting was that these, I got some five star reviews out on Yelp, organically, I had no idea they were even out there. But people were kind enough to go out and do that. And I started to find that those that I started to get a lot of additional business from that. And it just started just slowly but surely started to grow. And I found that the Yelp leads by far and away were way better. I found that the that the HomeAdvisor leaves were terrible. And the one that finally did it for me that caused me to just sit tell HomeAdvisor please go away, was I got a lead. And they always tell you as soon as you get it comes to you in a text message form. I got the text message. I looked at it. I immediately called the client got the client on the phone. So maybe three minutes had gone by. And I told him who I told her who I was and why I was calling. She said, Oh, I’ve already had the work done. It’s already been completed. And right. So I said, Well, wait a minute, that’s impossible. I just got this tweet from Yelp. So I call Yelp back and I said, Hey, what was happening? They go well, it’s too bad. Just the way it works. I said, Okay. Goodbye. So anyway, the bottom line was, is that slowly but surely, we started to build up the you know, we our online presence began to grow. And again, it was all organic, who we really weren’t pushing it. But then my wife started doing some, this is where she really kicks into play. She was handling all the backend, but she also started doing a lot of social media marketing, you know, Instagram posts, Facebook posts, pictures of what we were doing. And it just started growing from there very, very, actually, very, very quickly. And about four or five years into the plan. I mean, a lot of the projects I was doing were, let’s be very honest, they were, you know, they were outside the scope of what the CSLB allows the California state licensing board, you know, their rule is that any project you do as an unlicensed handyman cannot exceed $500, labor and materials. So I started to get kind of nervous about that, because people were asking me to do bigger and bigger projects. And I just didn’t want to get in trouble. So at that point in time, I decided to since a lot of the stuff I was being called into, were various kinds of woodworking projects, Trim Carpentry projects, I went out and I got my license from the state of California. And then so now I have a C six license, which is a cabinetry millwork carpentry and Trim Carpentry license. And that gives me the opportunity to do the kind of stuff that we’re doing. So what we what has happened is that in that period of time, our our business has really veered into that lane. And what we’re finding is, is that there’s just not a lot of people out there doing it, and some of the jobs can be enormously profitable. You know, we just finished a project. And let me back up one second further. And one of the other things that we did this may be a little bit different than a lot of the other companies that do what you would call classic Trim Carpentry is that we took the time to really learn how to become really good painters, you know how to finish up to make it look fabulous. And it took some time to do that. But we you know, I spent a lot of time researching materials, researching techniques, and just struggling trying to figure out how to do do this stuff and do it extremely well. So as a result of that, you know, we now can, for example, if we do a kitchen, we can put a finish on those kitchen cabinets. It literally looks like it just came out of the factory. It’s that, you know,

and just to clarify to you for our listeners, Malcolm style revamp they’ve really niched into this kind of like custom, beautiful kitchen cabinetry. And I know you guys do like the borders around mirrors, but some some more like Trim Carpentry, like that is their, that’s their bread and butter that they’ve transitioned into. So just just wanted to clarify that really quick.

Yeah, so we do very little of what you would call classic handyman stuff anymore. The only stuck the only time we really do it now would be in conjunction with some of the larger projects we’re doing. But going back to what I was saying before, so we had a project up in kata Madera, which is a very, for those of you who are not familiar with Aria, it’s a very exclusive area, the Placer County where we put up 2000 lineal feet of shiplap. Wow. Yeah, it was a lot. And and that job, we, you know, that job growth, and we also finished it, and that was a $28,000 project. And that was a good project.

How long did that do that take you one week? One week? How many guys did you have working on

it get back it was one week, it was a it was five days of installation. It was fine. It was the other guy there are painters came in afterwards. And it took them five days. So we were all told it was one week for four guys. But it was spread out over a two week period. Right. So two guys were on the carpentry crew. And then two guys came in on the paint crew and did all the paint work. Okay. So it was, but you know, the material cost was pretty pricey, too, though, those materials are not cheap. But those are those can be very, very lucrative projects, you know, now where I can sometimes lose money. And I shouldn’t say lose money, but not make very much would be on some of the kitchen jobs that we do, those can be very, very tricky. Mainly because there are just a huge number of details each you have to make sure you account for. And if any one of those goes south, you know, you can find yourself in a hole that you have to dig out. So kitchen jobs can be they can be good, but they can also be they can also be tough. And what we do, what makes us a little bit different our kitchen jobs is we’re not just like a typical painting company that would come in and take down your cabinet doors and repaint them and put them back up there. That’s not what we do, we literally re you know, refresh the entire space. So we’ll take off all the cabinet doors, all the drawer fronts, all those go away, we order all brand new ones of a different style. Usually the popular style right now is the shaker style, you know, and we’ll go ahead and we’ll we’ll paint those, we’ll remount them but then the other thing we do is we do a lot of where we modify the cabinet structure for example, on the project we’re on right now the client one and all their cabinet is taken to the ceiling. So we will build what we call box extensions which are will then go up on top of the existing cabinets, take it up to the ceiling will crown that off, you have all new doors and stuff made for that sometimes we’ll take the actual we’ll actually take out maybe the cooktop section of the of the of the cabinet run, rip that out entirely so they can slip in a brand new freestanding range unit then build a new bent enclosure like a shiplap enclosure etc taken up to the ceiling. So we do a lot of really what I call you know custom work that is not typical of most of the guys that are out there. And quite frankly that’s that’s an area where you can make money you can also lose money doing that if you’re not careful. But it’s also a huge differentiator between you and somebody else’s after because very few are doing it in fact I don’t know anybody else is doing it.

So when When did you specifically make this transition to doing like just strictly carpentry stuff and kitchen stuff like and what are the what are the specific like gross revenue numbers look like? Like maybe you know a few years ago when you were doing just handyman stuff What was your gross revenue as compared to where it is now?

Yeah, I will say you know the when I first got started way back when I would say the first year I did it I think I bet I don’t even think I cleared 50 grand that first year you know, wasn’t even I don’t think it was close. Now you know if you know on a good month if things are going according the accordingly you know we can grow anywhere from 40 to even 50,000 a month. Now, believe me there’s a lot of costs associated don’t don’t for a second think that I’m walking away with tons of cash in my pocket. I’m not I wish I could say I will was just like, I have sometimes feel like I have a Shopback hooked up to my wallet, you know, just sucking all the money out of it. Yeah. But it you know, you know, we’re grossing a lot, I’m not making as much on that gross as I would like. So right now my focus is on really fine tuning business processes, fine tuning operational processes, what we’re doing in the field, to just make sure that things go smoother, faster, cleaner. And that’s everything from, you know, just trying to figure out the most efficient way of doing something, and then making certain that we have the right equipment and tools that can allow us to get it done in a hurry. So I’ve invested a lot in equipment and machinery to help the processes go faster. You know, so

if you wouldn’t mind sharing, maybe if this is too much of a personal question, understand, but out of that gross like 40 50k a month, what do you what do you bring in like profit, like after you’re paying all your guys after you’re paying materials? Do you not have a rough number on that? Yeah,

yeah. If I do a 50, grand, you know, in a month, and it depends upon the project that I’m doing, that’s where it gets hard to, you know, I can’t give you an exact number. But it depends upon the project, for example, on that shiplap job I was telling you about that was actually very profitable. I just finished another shiplap job where we also, you know, built a custom hearth and a custom mantel in another house, and that was 6000 bucks for that job. And that took me just a couple of days to do it. Those jobs I do really well, the kitchen job I’m on right now is a money cut, you know, that was me dry. But it’s also because we do, we ended up doing a lot of other things. Beyond just the kitchen itself. We ended up rebuilding the entire staircase, the entryway into the house. We built all new box beam or box newel posts and just number of other things, repainted everything we’re putting in iron balusters in the railing, you took away all the spindles. But that that job is really that one is actually costing me money. So at the end of the day, if at the end of the day, you know, if I can you know, if I’m running at about 10,000 bucks in my pocket, I’m doing good, I think, you know, doesn’t always work out that way. But that’s on a good month.

Right? Right.

So what so as far as like your goals and like working on business processes, and kind of from my understanding, just kind of improving profitability with your current overhead. What do you do you have like something that you’re shooting for? Just like really? Anything above that? 10? You’re like, Alright, cool. Is there a specific goal that you have profitability?

I don’t. What I want to go, what I want to do is yeah, yes, there is I want to get it up to where I’m roughly profitable about 20 grand a month, you know, and I’m not quite sure how I’m going to do that yet. You know that. I mean, it’s not it’s one thing to put a number down on a piece of paper. It’s another thing to be able to get there. Yeah. Yeah.

And sorry for putting on the paper though. Yeah.

Yes. All right. So right now, the big thing I’m working on now is one of the areas where I know that I’m, that I have a challenge. And anytime you’re doing the work and what I call custom work, it’s really hard to estimate those accurately. And that’s probably the most difficult thing. So but right now, but I’m focused on for example, if I’m doing a built in project, like I’m doing one right now, for a client out in Folsom, where I’m doing on both sides of a fireplace, I’m doing some very contemporary built in cabinets with floating shelves above them. And what I’ve done is I’ve really focused on taking the time to understand how long does it take to build a particular cabinet box, okay. So when I say cabinet box, you know, typically, if you look at your kitchen cabinets, they come in specified sizes, usually, and they will be anywhere from, you know, 24 to 36 inches wide, you know, by a specified height, they’re usually 31 and a half inches high. And when you put your toe kick in, it takes you up to 35 and a half. So looking at that, and understanding the costs of doing that both from a material standpoint, from a labor of fabricating it standpoint of view, and then labor and materials to actually put a finish on it, and then installation, breaking down all those costs. So I, I can have a very clear understanding of how much is costing me to do this. So that when I do put together an estimate, I have some fairly accurate numbers, numbers. What I’m trying to do is, is break down the custom part into a series of smaller modular components if that makes sense. That makes

sense. Yeah. And also just just see, just keep going on. Because one of our questions is how you’re estimating jobs. So if you don’t mind just giving us the full scoop on how you’re estimating these kinds of custom jobs,

with kitchen with kitchen cabinets, I know, you know, I’ve actually got that down fairly fairly well in terms of I know what it costs me to buy my, you know, my finished, you know, doors, endorphins, etc. And their nature, they charge me by the square foot. So when I go in and estimate a job, I just go in and literally measure the lineal footage, both width, height, and depth. And then I calculate a square footage that I can then use to for my cost. So for example, doors and drawer fronts, if I’m doing a paint grade material, it cost me $8.97 a square foot. So if I’ve got 63 square feet, I know that’s about what my cost is going to be. So then I take that price. And I add to it, what I know is going to be the labor to do it. And then I take that number and double it when I have everything finished. So I tried to take all my costs both labor and materials. And that includes also the amount of overhead. So the other other part of factoring in on an estimate is I take my monthly fixed cost of overhead, I’m not saying this the best way to do this while I’m doing it, but I take my monthly fixed costs for overhead. And I basically divided by the number of work days in a month. And then for every day, I think I’m going to be on a project, let’s say like this building is going to take two weeks to finish start to finish it I add one day, I add two weeks of overhead to that project. So that project is covering two weeks and my overhead. And then I also add in some profit, you know, because the business has to make a profit to besides me. Okay, and so that gets added in as well. And then that’s how I come up with my final price. Okay, that makes sense.

Awesome. Yeah.

So what are like what is, I guess some of your biggest like challenges when it comes to estimating? Is it just the variance of the different jobs and spaces?

Yeah, that is absolutely the biggest challenge. And that’s, and again, this kind of falls back into getting into your lane and staying in your lane. So I’m also looking at with some of the projects that we’re doing, and I am, I’m saying, Okay, we’re not going to do one like that anymore, at least not for a while, okay. And I’ve kind of gone back, again, it’s taken a few steps backwards, to say, Okay, I’m going to focus on this set of core kinds of projects, do only those, and get really good at those and really profitable those. And then as we kind of have all of our systems and processes worked out for those, then work our way slowly into taking on expanding our offerings into different areas of custom work, because almost everything we do is custom, although I’m trying as hard as I can to take custom and break it down into an aggregate of smaller, kind of what’s the word? I’m looking for more predictable jobs. By the way, your video has gone haywire on me. Yeah, I

know, it’s ours, as well. We’re working on that some technical difficulties, but we can continue talking nonetheless. So in your business, can you tell me a little bit about do you have employees? Do you have 10, nine, nine contractors, like what does that kind of labor force look like?

Can they be the contractors? Can 99 contractors? And by the way, I’m glad you brought that up? Because that’s one of the things I wanted to talk about. Okay. When I say that I have challenges on projects, it’s with manpower, that’s the number right.

So that you would say that your number one issue kind of okay, man, without

a doubt, not only are they expensive, you know, because these guys, the lowest paid guy that I will bring in as a 25, the highest paid guy is at 35 or 40 bucks an hour. So, if you just blink and slightly under miss, estimate, the amount of time that those guys are going to take to complete a particular task, you’re gonna lose money on that you’re definitely in a hurry. And I mean, in a big hurry. So in my opinion, that is that’s the one thing that it just is funny. I just in the last three weeks or so, I’ve been reflecting on all of this going back and looking at old numbers. In fact, my wife brought this up, she goes, you know, we made more money a year ago than we are now. And I realized where what there’s there was one major difference and that was one guy that I brought in, that cost me a lot of money. He’s very good at what he does don’t get me wrong, but he’s also a lot slower than I anticipated it to be. So I imitation to complete a job sometimes will exceed what I anticipated that it would and as a consequence, that’s where I can lose some money right there. So those are those are some of the challenges. So if I were to roll it backwards, and these are 1099 guys, I think I would start going back and picking up some more like apprentice type guys that I can bring in, and slowly train in our sweet spot in our in our lane. And, and get them up to speed so that they and my goal is to get to a point where I’m not the main Carpenter on the job. I’m just I’m in the background filling in if necessary, but I’m more in the in the role of driving the business. That’s what I want. That’s what I’m trying to get.

That’s cool. So yeah, so as far as your 10, Nines go, do you mind sharing kind of like how that pricing structure goes? Because I know that we have guys that kind of question. Should I go DB two? Should I go to nine, nine? And then like, also, what do you pay a 10? Nine, nine? And how do you do that? Do you do like percentage of the job? Or what does that look like for you guys?

I’m not sure I understand the question now.

So like when when you hire someone to be a 1099? Contractor, do you give them like, say 20% of the labor? Or do you give them a flat hourly rate? How do

I give them a flat hourly rate? Okay, one of the one of the one of the changes that I am making is in these with my finished guys that guys are coming in and do all my finish work. I’m what I’m starting to do is I’m sharing with them prior to starting the project, this is the project we’re going to do, give me a quote for your end, but you’re going to finish it, you know how much you want to charge me to do that. And part of the reason why I’m doing that is because I’m trying to eliminate the Yeah, I’m trying to eliminate having to go back and pay for mistakes that they may have made, if that makes sense. In other words, if they’re if they’re kind of working for me on an hourly rate, and they they screw something up, then I have to cover the cost of them fixing that, what I wanted to do was at least for a period of time, until we have everything really worked out and running fairly smooth, is to have them quote the project to me, then if so they say, Okay, we’re going to paint all the kitchen cabinets, and we’re going to charge you $6,000 Do I say great, you know, all sorts of old materials they have to use to specify the processes that they have to use, in other words, two coats of primer, two coats of finished coat, you know, we’re going to use a catalyzed polyurethane paint on the surfaces, you know, so we have a really hard durable, beautiful finish when it’s done, you know, at all, you know, and they’re gonna then base their price on using all that stuff. And following those rules set of rules when we do it. That way I can kind of like, what I’m trying to do is if I eliminate all the hassles and the worries about what can go wrong and the finishing job, then I can turn around a refocus my efforts on what we’re doing and getting everything worked out to the point of getting to the finishing job. In other words, all the carpentry all the preparation work, you know, sourcing the materials, it goes on and on and on.

Yeah, that makes more sense that and then at that point, it kind of becomes like an expense, just like materials are like okay, what do you what are you going to charge me to do these cabinets, and then you just factor that into your pricing? That’s, that’s it, you know, maybe put a little markup on it if you want or whatever it’s going to take

absolutely put a markup on it, nothing is free. That’s at the end of the day, I’m still responsible for the job. So you know, I there has to be a profit in there for me to to even, you know, otherwise, you could just say the clinic? Well, I’m not going to do that you can go right walls,

hire this guy to do it. Yeah. So I think that’s a that’s a good topic. And that kind of brings up another thing. It’s kind of a debate or conversation that’s been happening for years. But do you mark up your materials? And if so, how much? Yeah. Like, yeah,

yeah, it’s somewhat, you know, I wish I don’t really have a standard number some, it’s somewhat dependent upon the client, that location, etc. But I’m, I’m, I try to be somewhere around 50%. So if I’m paying 100 bucks for a piece of casing, I’m gonna charge them 150

for it. Right? Yeah, that’s, that’s a good that’s a good, you know, formula to use. We, we used to use kind of a matrix where it’s like, depending on the price of the item, we would, you know, mark it up more market a blessed depending on this, so that, but now we kind of just multiply everything by 60%. You know, we kind of just do a flat 60% markup on everything in it, it tends to work out well. For both us and the client. It’s makes it easy peasy. Just 60% and good to go. So I

agree. I couldn’t agree more. I you know, in fact, I’ve been thinking about even taking it up a little bit higher. But I right now I’m running it at 50%. But you know, that also brings up something I kind of briefly blew by them when I said it depends sort of upon the project and the client where they’re located. And one of the things that I’ve actually learned very quickly is that you know, you can’t do you, not everybody, this is not this is not meant to sound arrogant in any way But let’s be, let’s face it, not everybody is going to be able to afford your projects. Okay? So if I get a call, for example, from someone in, let’s say North Highlands, as an example, I know that they’re not going to be able to afford, what it is that we do. And so, you know, I tried to, you know, weed them out fairly quickly, not in any way, but just, you know, basically, let them know roughly what the price is going to be, so that they can decide to move on. Which brings me to another thing too, and that is the, in this custom world that we have, you can spend an enormous amount of time just running around looking at jobs that you might never get. So one of the things that I’ve done is I really put a focus on making sure that I, before I set foot into a client’s office or home, I know that they are prepared, that they know about what this is going to cost within plus or minus a certain range, and that they’re prepared to spend that kind of money if you’re just gonna waste your time. And I tell the guys who say, Look, no, no, if they can afford it before you even bother going out there, you know. So if I’m getting a response from email, for example, I’ll take a look at what they have, we always ask for a description of what they want to do. And by the way, Jason, you know, this, we have set up on our website so that they can click on Request an online estimate, they give us the details of what they want to do, it comes into our email system. And I’ll always send it back saying, hey, send me inspiration photos of what you’re looking for. Yeah, this is what you have to show me what you want. And I can take a look at that. And I can get guessing and get fairly, not not exactly on the number, but within a range of say, let’s say plus or minus 20%, either up or down. I can give them an idea about what that’s going to cost. And they’ll say, hey, that’s in our budget, come on out, let’s do it. Or they’ll say no, so good. More than we wanted to spend. Thank you very much. And say, Okay, that’s great. I just saved myself a trip, you know, right?

Yeah, you can you can weed people out right from the get go. That’s one thing that we’ve really implemented this year is just just being straight up with someone being like, Okay, you need even you could do it on small stuff, right? Oh, you need a kitchen faucet, and, you know, a garbage disposal, you’re probably looking at, you know, at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done materials, everything like that, you know, we might be looking at 500 bucks, depending on what we’re getting this and that. And if that number sounds outrageous to them, you know, then obviously, they need to go somewhere else. And that’s fine. They’re just not the client for us, you know? And that’s exactly right. And the price may change, like, you know,

so yeah, so what we have found is, is that our sweet spot from a geographical standpoint of view, in our area is placer. County, that’s where the money


Eldorado hills, and then if you want to consider sac county would be probably most likely Folsom in that area there. So we do that that’s pretty much where we kind of, that’s our sort of sphere of operation, you know, and so that’s, I think so especially if you’re starting out, trying to understand who your clients are and who your clients are not, you know, and understanding that very, very quickly. By the way, can you see is my video working to you?

Now, you’re working great. Yeah, we’re just having some technical difficulties on our end, but conversation works nonetheless. So good thing, it’s

a podcast good. That actually, there was a post the other day in our Facebook group that was that asked basically like, hey, what do you guys think about going after, like property management companies? And to me, it was like, the wrong question. Like, the first question is like, you know, what kind of customer you’re trying to serve. Right? So narrowing that down first, and then if they fall in that bucket, then yeah, you should definitely investigate that. But so it’s a great thing that every business owner needs to look out. And that, you know, most, they probably don’t, or they take a long time to realize, like, oh, I need to just be serving my ideal client, or else I’m going to be wasting a lot of time and, you know, killing my profitability. And I imagine that’s under scored in the custom work that you do, Malcolm,

I, you know, I will tell you this, Mike, I did work for a number of property management companies back when I was doing more, what I would call the general handyman work. And I will tell you that I after a period of time, I said you know what, you know, they are not they’re not they are they’re not really interested in paying for value. They’re interested in paying just to get the damn thing done. And so that looks marginally good. And the third tenants won’t complain. And that just wasn’t me. That’s not my, that’s not the kind of work that I like to do. So I started to steer away from them, not to mention the fact that they tend to be pretty cheap. They don’t want to spend a lot of money, you know. So I found On that working for property management companies was just not not something I really wanted to do long term. Yep.

And so on that note, what, if you don’t mind kind of talk about your transition from going from, you know, largely handyman into the custom work? Could you kind of flush that out? Because I know a lot of our listeners, like they have their desired niche that they’re looking to go into. I know, there’s a lot of people that want to do carpentry, if you don’t mind kind of fleshing that out. And like, how you made that jump, and just what that transition looked like for you.

Yeah, I. Yeah, absolutely. So I, I started to get just a couple of requests. Well, let me back up. So my, my brother owns a very large commercial millwork and cabinetry shop down in South Sacramento. He employs probably 50 Guys, and they do largely commercial cabinetry, you know, like reception desks, you go into hospitals, you see the big reception desks and all the fancy countertops. That’s what they do. And I’ve worked with him on and off over the years. And he’s actually has worked for me, too. He works. He’s one of the 1099 guys that I bring in from time to time. But anyway, so I started getting some requests from clients, where I was out just doing general handyman work, saying, you know, we’re thinking we’d like to have this built in in this area right here. Do you know anybody that can do that? Is that something that you can do? And I said, Well, no, I can’t really build it. I know somebody who can, I can install it for you, if they if we get it built. So that’s kind of how that’s one of the ways it got started, was I started just getting random requests for things that were just a little bit outside of the what you call the traditional handyman work. And when that got posted out on Yelp, from some of the people that I was doing work for, you know, it just kind of just, it just kind of grew. I, for example, I did a project in in Folsom for a client that had just come here from the Bay Area. And they had in their master bedroom, they wanted to do this grid work of wall trim that was kind of done in a panel, sort of a panel. Look, it’s it’s on my website. And I did that, and they were absolutely thrilled with how it turned out. It really did turn out fabulous. Unbeknownst to me, she took pictures of and posted it to Yelp with a five star review, you know, and I started getting calls off of that, you know, she did it, she they just did it. And so you know, you start you know, so just little by little, so somebody will call you up then and when they see that, and they’ll say, Well, I have some a little bit different, but this is kind of what I’m thinking I want to do. Is that something you can do? And we would say? I would say, yeah, yeah, I can give that I’ll give that a shot. And so we just started slowly but surely getting these requests in around the handyman work that were more what I would call carpentry really, in fact, they were very much more carpenters related. Right. And we, you know, obviously, I was starting to make a little bit more money when I was doing those. But the one that finally tipped the scale was I, a woman from our church down from Bayside had a kitchen that she wanted to redo. And I had been in or doing some fancy carpentry work around for some went some mirror trim and some other stuff, which is also one of the ones on my website. And she really, for whatever reason, she just really liked me personally, you know, she husband dead. So she had this job where she wanted to refresh their entire kitchen. And she wanted she asked me if I’d be willing to do it. And I, my first reaction was No, I’m not doing that this way outside of what I’m comfortable doing. And then, you know, the more I thought about I thought, you know, if you know if you don’t, if you don’t stretch, you’re never gonna grow. Right? Yeah. So I finally said, Okay, I’ll do it. So I and that involved, you know, mate, you know, refitting all the kitchen cabinets would pull out drawers, you know, down into storage areas, you know, pull out drawers for pots and pans, and all new doors and drawer fronts. And so I said, Okay, I’ll do it. And I’ll never forget when I was doing the painting work, I was doing it at my house. And I literally went into my live into my whole downstairs, my house and I laid out two by fours over all the floor, and I painted all these cabinets and I took our doors and door friends and I had my boys and my wife, I would paint them and they would run in and I’m setting them down on these two by fours in the living room in the dining room and in the family room so it could dry it was just it was a freaking nightmare to do it. But it turned out really really good. And I posted that on our website. And sure enough, boom, I got another call from someone else. And it was from a referral from a real estate agent that had just sold a house to a woman who coming from Citrus Heights in the Lincoln. And she wanted to read your kitchen. So I got that job. But then they got posted on the website. And then shortly after that, I got a call from one of our good friends that live here in the neighborhood, they wanted me to do the same thing. But this one was a much, much more substantial job. And I did this when all and by the way all along this time, I was in the process of getting my license. So I could do this stuff legally. But it just sort of grew from there. So now we’ve done I can’t I don’t not even sure how many we’ve got. I think I got five kitchens, I haven’t even posted him yet on the website. And we haven’t even done that yet. And a bunch of other really cool commercial woodworking projects that we’ve done as well. So so the other the so that’s the other thing. So you know, when you mentioned custom woodworking that pulls in a lot of traffic, you know, the built ins and the floating shelves and the mantle’s and all these kinds of things. There’s just a big draw right now don’t

Yes, and I think by and large that custom woodworking right like, to me that screams more high end client than, like, you would just just organically get more clients from like cada Fodera, than North islands, right, because that’s just the way it works. Right. So.

And one other kind of side note to this to Malcolm, if you don’t mind, you kind of explain the transition, how you are now focusing on that, you know, that’s based, that’s the work that you guys do. For anyone that’s looking to get into that, like, what kind of pitfalls or like any, any kind of like tools or something that they need to be thinking about, to make that transition for real. Yeah, you know, not just kind of says, like, every single week, you know, you got cabinets like drying out in your living room.

Well, what we what we’ve done is we have refocused our efforts, so that we basically turn our clients site into our workshop, that’s, you don’t have a dedicated workshop workspace anyplace. So we, we pretty much go to our client site, we set up, you know, we, if we’re lucky, we have a covered patio out back that we can set up shop at. And we go from there. So the kinds of things that I’ve invested in tool wise, are things that that make it easy for one or two guys to handle and do the kinds of things at a client site that a cabinet maker can do in their, you know, 50,000 square foot plant. So we’ve invested in tools and equipment that allow us to do that, to a great degree, maybe certainly not as efficiently as they can do it. But I’m not also paying for their overhead either. That’s the trade off. So we’ve been you know, I’ve invested in things like, you know, high end track size, a lot of stuff and dust extraction, because you know, dust becomes a major problem on the job and at a customer site is a huge problem that, you know, you have to take pains to try to deal with that. So we’ve, I’ve spent a lot of money there, I’ve spent a lot of money on finishing equipment, you know, the right kinds of arrows, you know, paint sprayers and tips and guns, and, you know, we spent I spent a ton of money on Festool Sanders, you know, that can really do a fine job of Sandy and extracting dust, you know, we can go in and sand a kitchen cabinet and pick up 99% of the dust right at the source, you know, so all these little kinds of things are things that you know, are, are the places where I’ve spent a lot of money, you know, a lot of the hand tools that we have, our high end is high end stuff, because, you know, we’re doing delivery and trying to deliver a high end project. And sometimes it’s hard to do that with low end tools. As I say, you can’t do it. You certainly can. But it’s a lot easier if you got the good stuff to do it, you know. So that and that’s what we’ve you know what, you know, Jason answer question, we’ve been investing in that kind of stuff by actually for the last couple of years, slowly but surely over time. There you go.

That’s fantastic. Um, I know that we talked a little bit before the podcast about this, this idea of sticking in your own lane. Can you can you talk a little bit about that. To to the viewers here just kind of about choosing what you want to do or what you’re good at. And sticking with that. Can you can you talk a little bit about that and why it might be beneficial.

Oh, yeah, absolutely. So you know, one of the one of the the I think the downsides to a handyman business is that you get calls for, as I was telling you about, I have one of the guys that works for me from time to time, is trying to kind of be sort of being sort of a part time handyman guy. And he’ll go from, you know, one day, he’s doing yard cleanup for a client to the next day where he’s fixing drywall, or dry rot, you know, so he’s sort of like all over the place, you know, and what he’s doing in I mean, I understand the motivation and doing it, don’t get me wrong, he’s doing anything you can for the sake of just being able to generate a billable dollar. And as I say, I understand the necessity of doing that. But I, as I told I said, I said, Look, I said, if you keep doing what you’re doing, the way you’re doing it, all you’re going to end up being is just a glorified laborer, which by the way, is not necessarily a bad thing, if you want to build a business around that kind of a model. But I don’t see you wanting to do that, what I see where you have skills that where you’re good at it, or you’re good, is that’s where you want to focus your time and your effort, not only because A, you can build up a really good clientele in those spaces, and you can work out your processes to such a point that you really become, you know, you start making some money, you know, you making some good money, you know, and you’re not just all over the board hither and yon, you know, so you’re not having to, you know, invest in a tile saw one day and a power washer the next day, that makes no sense, you know, you know, are you a power washer? Or are you tile setter, what are you, you know, so find your lane, what is you want to do, focus in that area, and then do everything you can to do on the back end, to build up your, your, your name and your company’s name in that space. That’s what you want to do. That’s what I think. So that’s kind of what we’ve been doing, we’ve kind of decided, well, this is the space that we want to occupy. And we’re going to try to really focus on really getting good and profitable in this space. And then when we feel like we’re in that when we’re doing that doing well in that area, now we can maybe reach out and maybe expand that which we’re going to do just a little bit at a time, getting good at that build up his presence in that area. And then do it again with something else, you know, but just slowly do it. Don’t try to be all things all people right off the chute. You can’t do

it. Love it. I think that’s so that’s so true. And I mean, for instance, like, Malcolm, you’re like, third, you know, maybe 20 minutes up the road for me. So we, me, I do not do custom carpentry. I don’t bid, you know, like I build things for function, not form. You know what I mean? And so whenever someone wants me to build something for for him, I’m like, call Malcolm like, he’s the guy, you know. So I think it’s very important to know, what you want to do, and also what you’re good at. Because I think, more importantly than just the money is like, providing a good quality product to your client is what’s more important. So if you can’t do something satisfactory, or if you can’t do something with excellence, like, don’t do it, like I hate custom carpentry, I hate painting. So Malcolm, you can do all of that.

Yeah, I listen, I’m with you. And you know, and I’m, I’m like, I’m not there are a lot of guys like me, but there’s a lot of guys who are not. And that is that. Even if I’m losing money at a project, I’m not gonna walk away from it. Until I know it’s done. Right? It looks good. And it’s a quality product. Right? Integrity. Yeah, integrity is a huge piece of that. And even though you might lose money at it, you know, word on that gets out, I’ll give you an example. I just, I was just finished up doing this. This client had a office or actually a small sitting room, off the entryway, their house, they wanted to do something in there, they wanted to do some shiplap. And they were concerned about the cost of it. And they wanted to demo out the existing fireplace facade was among these old ugly cast stone fireplace facades that you see a lot out there. And they didn’t like that anymore. And so they asked me what I could do. So I said, Well, I said we can, you know, we can rip out this and I can build you a different hearth, you know, something that looks more like it’s supposed to be here that has the correct scale and size to the room because the previous bill didn’t have that. So and they said, Well, you know, and so they showed me a picture I showed us some pictures of similar projects I’ve done they say what I want that one just right like that. It was the same you know, in this was the hearth was made out of wood where a custom made it and the same thing with a mantel like custom made the mantel and when I stained it, it turned out terrible. Absolutely terrible. I looked at I went and then the client comes in says, Oh, I like it. I said really? I said I don’t like it. But he was you know, he said well, I think it looks good. I said you know It came, I said, Forgive me, but I don’t think it looks good. So I basically took at my own expense. I spent the next day, completely sanding all that wood until I got all the stain out of it. And I started all over again. And then the next time I did it, I got it the way I wanted, I changed my process a little bit. So I got it the way I wanted it. But the point I’m trying to make is, is that I knew it wasn’t right. And I wasn’t going to let it stand even though he liked it. You know, you know, and so, and I know that a lot of guys will say, Oh, hey, you like it? Okay, great. I’m out of here. I’m gone. But I just I just I wasn’t going to do that.

You know, right. That’s awesome, man. I love it. And that’s, that’s huge. I think integrity is huge in business. And Word travels fast. Whether you want that word to be good or bad. It’s going to travel, you know? So wrap it up here, we got to hear about 10 minutes left, what would you share?

Is this of any value to you? By the way?

This is huge value? Oh, yeah.

Yeah, for sure. I mean, the integrity piece, I mean, that’s, that’s like a trait of any long term successful business owner, whether you’re a solo owner operator, or scaling a company, without integrity, you’re not going to maintain your clientele, you’re not going to spread a good, you know, good reviews and good word across town. So it’s a trait that I think starts with the owner and leadership and then trickles through to anyone that’s working for you. You’re just not going to succeed.

I’m going to use a word of profanity here, I hope you don’t mind just one time, you know, and the way I would sum it up is simply this, you know, sometimes you just gotta give a shit. You know? That’s the bottom line you do you have to care. I have one client up and kind of a dere, which is where we did a whole bunch of custom carpentry form. And right next door to him they have a he’s are freaking expensive homes. I mean, yeah. Yeah. And right next door, there’s this house where they did a great big landscaping job. And they, I don’t know what why they may they had to put some equipment in there. But they had to, they had a fracture in the fence and in the in the top rail or across the top of the fence. And the way they fixed it was they went back in, and they just took a two foot piece of two by four, and nailed it on both sides of the break and walk away and left it. And that’s been there for two years. And every time I go to their house, I look over there and say, have they not come back and fix that yet? Wow, looks terrible. It really was, but they didn’t, you know. But that’s an example where somebody sometimes they just don’t care. I’m done. I’m out of here, I’m going, you know, and, and believe me, that will catch up to you in the long, actually, pretty quickly, it’ll catch up to you.

If you’re the leader, and the owner, you know, if you aren’t showing care, then that’s just the example you’re setting for anyone you’re training or on the job with you. And that just has a really nasty trickle effect that I’m sure we’ve all witnessed through you know, our own art, like other companies servicing our homes or, you know, any kind of service. Yeah,

definitely toxic. So, so as we kind of wrap up here, we got about 10 minutes left, what would you say have has been your biggest wins and your biggest losses in business kind of in general? Well, I mean, thank you. That’s kind of a loaded question. You know,

why what? Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s kind of hard to. So I would say the probably the biggest wins would be when you run across that spot in your, in your lane, if you will, that turns out to be kind of profitable. And your biggest loss is exactly the same your, when you run across that spot in the lane that you’ve chosen, that you’re not doing so good. But not to give up. The key is, is that the fact that you’re doing it means that there’s a market for it. And what it just means is you got to figure out how to do it better. You know, that’s, that’s, that’s a never ending cycle process, you know, about process improvement, business process improvement, which is you have a cycle from start, what can we do to make a better than, so the outcome is better at the end. And when you get to the end, you come right back to the beginning again, and start all over again and say, How can we even be better yet? And that’s just a never ending cycle of improvement, you know, trying to get better at it. How, you know, what are all the things for example, just the process of, of bidding a job, you know, I sat down one day and just started writing out actually typing out just a list of all the different things that we not only our customers are asking us to make, but all the materials that are involved in that. And the thought was, okay, well maybe what I can do is I can put a monetary value on every one of these items on this list. And then as I’m doing a bid and a quote for a client, I’ll simply go through and eliminate the ones I don’t need, you know, and at the end of it I’ll be done with a itemized list of all the stuff I’m going to need, and what I think that’s going to cost. So that’s actually something I’m working on right now just to try to make that process faster and better and more accurate. Because when you’re bidding custom jobs, you know, it’s hard to pin down labor materials, you know, estimated times, all those different things, you know, I mean, it’s just all the little stuff like, for example, how long does it take you to pack up all your tools moving to a job site and set up?

They take you clean them up? And then clean them up, clean

up the jobs? And when you’re done? How long does it you know, how much does it cost to buy tape, plastic and paper to mask off a kitchen? Table? Well, guess what do you think that would cost? Just by the way, you’re talking about buying masking tape, few rolls of plastic, you know, some paper just so I can mask off around, you know, cabinets knew all this kind of stuff, protected floors? Thinking? Well,

I bet I bet you could, depending on the size of thing, you probably have 5075 bucks in that materials. I wish I could get it. That way not buying it from the dollar store?

Evidently not know, I mean, we probably spent off brand. Three 350 bucks just on

allow only Council Biden wouldn’t even have thought that. So

yeah, I mean, it’s amazing how quickly it all adds up. I mean, material, especially now when the price is going out of sight everywhere around you is you got to really keep your finger on it.

Yeah, I think I think that’s where it comes down to is like, you have to know your numbers and everything. Like you have to sit like people ask me all the time, like, what should I charge for this? What should I charge for that? How much should I be making per hour, but it’s like, you have to literally take the time, sit down, write out all your expenses. And I love your idea of write out how much does the roll of tape cost? How much you know, blah, blah, blah, like, figure out how much this stuff’s going to cost you and how long it’s going to take. And then you do the equations and figure out what you need to charge appropriately? You know, I will

tell you, yeah, I would tell you that the devils in the details, and when I say that, I mean, there are all the little tiny hidden costs that if you’re not accounting for them, that can really cost you dearly. You know, yeah, that’s why, for example, on an on a kitchen job, in particular, man, there’s a lot of them, there are just a lot of little things that you have to account for. And it’s like 10 bucks here, 15 bucks, or 20 bucks here, 3040 50, you know, and it just it adds up in a hurry, you know, yeah, at the end of each shot, one of the things I do is I, I keep every receipt that I receive, and every every everything, I get to complete a job that goes into the file. And at the end, I add up all these numbers, and I take a look at what I estimated versus what I actually spent to see how I’m doing on that to try to make adjustments, you know, and that can be a real eye opener. I’m telling you that’s doing that.

It takes time, though, to invest in that. But yeah, be giving yourself a pay raise. And in the short, medium and long term. Yeah, I mean, on this topic that, you know, we talked about the book Profit First is a really good read to kind of put into perspective, like these little small exercises to look at your profitability and your income, your expenses, because you just take the time to look at all that and make a plan and start making improvements. You know, you don’t need to hire more people and get more jobs to make more money you can you can make more from what you’ve already got. You just got to look at it closer.

Yep, yep. Yeah, no, I

think you you say that, because and that’s one of the going back to what I said earlier about, like, for example, I was, you know, looking at it, having, you know, some of these 1099 guys bid the job to me, so I can, you know, because when you look at some of these projects, from start to finish, and all the moving parts to involve the one, you can be a come to completely overwhelmed by all the detail. So by eliminating maybe 50% of it, taking that off your plate and allows you to focus on the other half, and really try to understand what’s going on, you know, where you’re doing things, right, where you’re doing things wrong, you know, so I’ll give you just a brief example of that. So for example, you know, one of the things would many times happen, in fact, they happen probably on every single job we did, which is at least one cabinet, we would get the door sizes wrong, you know, so they would come in, we would go to put them up and go, Oh, well, these are gonna fit this in online, you know, so then you got a delay of about 10 days, from the time you replace an order for the replacements to they come in, then you got to go through the whole cycle of painting, prepping all that stuff. So we I looked at and said, Well, you know, how can I avoid making that kind of mistake? And the end and the answer was fairly simple, which was, you know, typically if we’re doing a cabinet replacement where we’re replacing everything. They’re usually a half inch overlay cabinet door, which means it has to face frame, the cabinet doors when they close they overlap the opening by a half an inch both top and bottom left to right, up and down. One of the ways that we use simple way to eliminate just making a tape measure error when you’re measuring the doors is to also measure the openings. So if you know what the opening size is, you can cross reference your door size to the opening size, right away if you’ve made a mistake, or if there’s, if you’ve written it down wrong or something, and you can catch it before it becomes a problem. So if it’s a simple procedural change that we made, that really helped a

lot, yeah. That’s good. So So what would be some parting advice that you would have for the new guy looking to get started in the handyman industry? Or maybe even transition into more of a Trim Carpentry? You know, niche? You know, what would you what would be your parting advice for that guy?

I would say the first thing I would do is try to get a sense of, you know, what is I’m good at? What is it that I enjoy doing? What is it what what does my lane look like? You know, you know, what is? What is my lane? That’s number one. And then and then you need to have a plan, you know, which, you know, and the old saying goes is that, you know, if you don’t, what is the you know, if you know, failure to plan is planning to fail, right? So, you know, get get yourself a plan, you’re in your in your lane now, what am I going to do to to grow that business in that lane. And, you know, that brings up the other thing, marketing, you know, I think I think that, you know, that that handyman marketing booklet you guys put together is really a great source of information on on what to do, I think it’s well written, anybody who’s starting up in business, you can read that in 15 minutes, you can figure out, okay, I need to go do this, you know, in terms of like, you know, who to you know, where to put your advertising money, and how to spend it, you know, where to do it, we’re not to do it. And I think that’s, that’s another thing. So you need to get, you need to get, you need to be able, as quickly as you can develop your web presence, and it has to be in web presence. You know, I think that is crucial. I mean, it’s not like the old days, where you put an ad in the Yellow Pages, and people will be searching through for god knows what, and they’re going to, you know, give you a call that those days are long gone, you know, so having a great web presence is I think, is absolutely critical. And then understand your processes and your your your costs, you know, you you got to understand, you know, this is what it cost me to do a job like this. This is how much I think I can charge my customer, and then go about doing it. And then the last piece of advice I would give you, especially if you’re doing projects, is don’t do the project on your money, do it, their money. So when we go in, we don’t we I charge no deposits on an estimate. Or, you know, someone says, Okay, we want you to do the job, I say great. I said, I don’t want any money right now, I’m not going to take any till the day we start the day we start, they write me a check for 50% of the project right then in there. So if it’s a $25,000 project, they’re gonna give me $12,500 Right there on the spot. And then we have a, a progress payment schedule that we use from from that point through the close. And typically, if it’s going to be a two week project, if it’s going to be a two week project, or a three week project, I’ll do a 40% deposit, and then a 3030. So the 4030 and 30 do and the whole idea be about that as they’re up fronting the money for the project to you. So they’re actually almost acting as if they’re like the bank or if you have a line of credit, you know, and then at the very end of the project is a very small amount due at the end.

Man, that’s huge. Malcolm, you are a wealth of knowledge. It was a pleasure having you here on this episode of the handyman success podcast. Thank you so much for being here. viewers out there listeners, we’ve got a few things that we want to recommend. We have a handyman success mastermind group on Facebook. Malcolm is going to get plugged into that so he’s going to be on that Facebook group. So if you have any questions at all for Malcolm you can leave them in the comment section this video or get connected with him on the handyman success mastermind group on Facebook. Great people. Everyone that’s been on our podcast is in that group. So there’s a wealth of knowledge there. Also check out the handyman journey Facebook group on handyman journey mastermind group on Facebook. Another place where there’s a whole great wealth of knowledge. Thank you guys so much for tuning in. If you guys are listening on YouTube, go ahead and like this video, subscribe to this channel. Anywhere else leave us a comment send us an email at handyman journey@gmail.com There’s a few different emails a few different ways to reach us but just send out a smoke signal. We’ll hear Yeah, we’re here to help. Yeah, if you need any help at all, give Jason a call. This guy does fantastic website said handyman marketing proz.com Reach out to me at handyman journey.com we would absolutely love to help you with your business and Malcolm thank you so so so much for being on this podcast

we appreciate you My pleasure

Bye Thank you have a great day everyone we’ll see on the