Talking Shop: The Martins of Cabin Works
Ryan Summerlin June 23, 2014
Sarah and Phillip Martin, Owners, operators, Cabin Works, 625 E Agate Ave, Granby (The former Xcel Energy office)
How long have you been in business? 4.5 years
How did you get started in this business? We saw a need for busy and absent property owners to employ a reliable, local and attentive property maintenance company to assist with maintaining and upgrading their homes.
Business mission statement: Cabin Works exists to provide homeowners with valued cleaning, maintenance, and remodel services in order to maintain or increase the value of their properties. Cabin Works strives to consistently deliver high quality services, while maintaining the highest levels of professionalism, integrity, and fairness in our relationships with our associates and clients.
Any certain trend in consumer habits lately?
“Remodeling of kitchens and bathrooms are very popular lately. People are also committing to larger remodels more quickly than previous years. Also, housecleaning for vacation rentals has increased drastically this winter over last year.”
Success in the mission: We have many customers that have been using us exclusively to provide various services for their homes since we started in 2010 and have been seeing consistent growth in our customer base.
Challenges to the mission: As with any growing business, we are dedicated to providing the same high level of service that we adopted when we started our family business. As the business grows and we hire more staff, it will be challenging to ensure all our staff will adopt our philosophy of building and maintaining the relationships we have built over the past four years.
How do you cope with Grand County’s seasonal surges? Because of the many services we offer, we are able to maintain a level of consistency throughout the year. Our snow removal crew in the winter becomes our yard care crew in the summer; our housekeepers and maintenance crew take care of vacation rental properties in the high seasons, and focus on deep cleaning and remodeling in the low seasons. We also service commercial properties, which helps support our stability in staff and keeps us busy year-round.
What do you think is the biggest business barrier in Grand County? The barrier to any business operating and expanding in Grand County is to attract and keep people. We try to find the balance between paying our associates as much as we can and providing job flexibility without having to price our services higher than our customers are willing to pay.
What do you think is your biggest business barrier on a state and/or national level? The tax burden that is placed upon the employer.
What can government here do to help? Offering more grants for technology improvements, employee training and other business development programs would be very helpful. We were recently approved for a grant through the Town of Granby to help with the cost of our new roof sign.
How does your business give back to the community? We donate services to auctions for nonprofits, sponsor sporting events, and chamber events. We also try to shop locally as much as possible.
Give examples of how you are environmentally responsible. We are in process of transitioning our cleaning products to green options; though not fully transitioned, we have made a lot of headway in this area in the last few years. We also perform many trash removals for property owners and donate as much as possible to local thrift stores, prior to disposing the remainder at the transfer station. We try to minimize the amount of paper we use by offering secure access to information through web services and by printing back-to-back. We also take advantage of the great recycling program at Country Ace on Saturday.
How do you support other local businesses? We try to purchase supplies locally as much as possible. KopyKat, Alpine West, O2 Creative, KMG Marketing, Fraser Ace, Country Ace, Shermin Williams, Willie’s Paint Store, Holden’s Hard Drive, Day and Associates, Legacy, Alpine Lumber are just some of the companies we utilize and depend on throughout the year.
How do you feel about direct competition? We strive to work with other service companies in the area with the common goal of providing quality services to our clients. Because our company does not provide rental booking services, it allows us to work with property management companies to provide labor support.
What business products or services do you get outside of Grand County? All service support and the majority of our supplies are obtained in Grand County, but we do find that wholesale clubs and Amazon can offer certain products at lower cost. We are always blown away by the level of support we receive from our local vendors and when there is only a small difference in cost, we prefer to keep it local.
How do you market yourself? We strive for customer satisfaction, so referrals are very important to us. We have an online presence, advertise in the newspaper and are also members of the Winter Park/Fraser, Granby and Grand Lake Chamber of Commerce.
What’s the main thing you have you learned in your years in business? Change happens and it is important to continually adapt our business to meet the growing needs of the community, our employees, and our clients.
Where do you go for help when you need it? We have a wonderful support network here when we are in need of advice or help on various aspects of our business. Todd Winczewski of Day and Associates is always willing to help when we run into tax questions; Rick Holden of Holden’s Hard Drive is always there to help with our IT questions; Patrick Brower of Grand Enterprise Initiative was very helpful in helping us network and refining our overall business goals this past year. Our local vendors and subcontractors provide an incredible support network as well.
Who is your biggest business influence/mentor? Sarah’s father. He is an entrepreneur in central Maine, who has owned and operated several successful businesses through the years, including property management and owning a fitness and tennis center as well as restaurants and nighclubs. He is always there to lend a hand with our financial statements, systems development, and all aspects of business ownership. He has a wonderful relationship with his long-term employees and clients. We strive to achieve the same.
What do you think is the most significant economic driver in Grand County? Tourism for recreational activities. We noticed that the summer concerts in Winter Park have made a big difference in the summer season visitors. More events could really help. The social scene and nightlife are not a huge draw which we hope to see improve in the future.
If you could go back in time and start up your business venture all over again, what would you do differently? You can’t go back in time, so we strive to learn from the past and incorporate these lessons into the future.
What’s the best compliment you received from a client? We love to hear “Thank You.” Cleaning and maintenance can be a thankless job sometimes, mainly because customers aren’t always excited to spend money to repair their house or pay the associated fees with maintaining a vacation rental. We understand there are more fun things to spend money on.
What do you consider to be your biggest mistake in business? Something we have learned over the years is the importance of knowledge testing and working interviews as part of the employment application process. Trusting some individuals on their word alone has unfortunately impacted us negatively in the past.
What organization(s) is (are) most useful to business owners? We are huge fans of the chambers of commerce in all of our towns and all they do for our company as well as other local businesses.
How much of a role does technology play in your business? Huge role. With our background in engineering and computers, we utilize technology as much as possible to help streamline our business, communication between staffing and information about our clients to ensure information is kept secure and is available when needed.
What are the technology challenges in your business? Cost. Ideally, our field staff would have WiFi- accessible tablets with them at all times in order to access our dispatch calendar and view the client information the employee needs, but unfortunately the cost of monthly service, considering the number of employees we have, is too high for our company at this time. Instead, we offer web access to our employees on our inhouse pc and also to those few employees who have smart phones, so it supports our effort to minimize paper.
What’s the general key to making a client happy? Making expectations as clear as possible, keeping promises, and meeting or exceeding expectations.
Is there any certain trend you’ve noticed in consumer habits lately? Remodeling of kitchens and bathrooms are very popular lately. People are also committing to larger remodels more quickly than previous years. Also, housecleaning for vacation rentals has increased drastically this winter over last year.
What are some tricks such as signs or window displays that you’ve noticed work in attracting customers to your front door? We are in process of improving our signage at our office location so that we have road exposure. We are maximizing our branding by broadcasting our logo on all of our trucks and trailers and this has proven to be an excellent referral marketing strategy.
What are some ways to keep up staff morale? We have 25 employees, and up to 30 during the busy season. Treat our associates like family. An open door policy, fuel cards and seasonal bonuses sure do help.
What are some ways you train your staff on an ongoing basis? In our cleaning department, we have a full-time head housekeeper on staff that is responsible for providing initial and continual training of our staffing, from cleaning techniques to information about various cleaning products that we use. In the maintenance and remodel departments, we assign new employees with an experienced staff member in the area they are working in and train from within.
If you could give advice to a novice entrepreneur, what would it be? Create a business plan and research your market before you commit because starting a business is going to cost more than you anticipate.
Is there a better question we didn’t ask? If so, what is it and how would you answer it? It would be, what do we like to do for fun? We have two small children who love this area and the mountains that surround us as much as we do! We enjoy camping in our pop-up camper, hiking, mountain biking and downhill skiing with them. We love our community and feel very fortunate to call this area our home.