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Interior designer Christina Salisbury took on this kitchen remodel during the pandemic.

Home improvement businesses got a shock during the initial stages of the pandemic. But most of them have adjusted, and some are seeing unprecedented growth.

Nearly 60 percent of Coloradans have completed at least one home improvement project since the start of the pandemic, according to a recent survey by PaintCare, an organization that recycles paint, and Ipsos.

Home improvement during the pandemic is a nationwide trend that’s been dubbed “pandecorating.” With time on their hands and, in many cases, funds in their wallets that aren’t being spent on travel and entertainment, people have turned to making their homes more comfortable and functional.

According to the PaintCare/Ipsos poll, 65 percent of people surveyed across the nation said they completed projects they’ve been putting off for some time; 24 percent were inspired by ideas they found online, and 21 percent noticed the need to do repairs and improvement projects after being at home in quarantine.

Colorado Springs home improvement businesses from contractors to interior designers have seen their customer pipelines fill and even overflow. Most say their expansion is limited only by the lack of skilled workers that pervades the entire construction industry.

LABOR CHALLENGES

New requests for projects dropped off noticeably in March and April, said Chuck Farrington, owner of remodeling contractor Springs Home Improvement, but since then, the company has seen a steady stream of new inquiries.

“We have remained busy since April, and our backlog of work is one to two months out,” he said.

Some of the requests don’t fit the company’s focus on interior remodeling, kitchens, bathrooms and whole-home updates or are smaller than the company accepts.

“Of the projects that we are focused on, we certainly are getting more than normal conversion projects, like combining bedrooms to expand master suites, loft conversions and opening up living spaces,” Farrington said.

Some clients are looking for more defined spaces and quiet places, and home offices.

“People are looking at utilizing their home differently,” he said.

The company also is getting inquiries from people who have just bought homes and want to personalize the space to suit their families, as well as some requests from people who are updating their homes for sale.

Farrington said the company’s web presence, word of mouth and repeat clients keep the phone ringing. 

“I would not say we have done more outreach since the pandemic,” he said.

The biggest challenge, he said is finding quality craftspeople, especially carpenters.

“At times we have to rely on our vetted subs more than we would like to,” Farrington said, adding that the company has to interview 20 or more people to find a carpenter with the skill set and demeanor the company wants.

“It’s just a strong market,” he said. “There is lots of work out there.”

Tom Stewart, owner of Stewart Remodeling, said business has been growing over the past few years, and the pandemic has done little to slow it down.

The company, which focuses on designing and building projects that average $80,000, has seen its business grow by about 20 percent since last year at this time, and that was on top of a 20 percent increase in 2019 over the previous year.

In March and April, though, “everything in the design pipeline went away,” Stewart said. But by May, “people were starting to realize we weren’t all going to die, and we’ve seen a steady increase since then.”

At first, he said, “we altered our business plan to take on small projects, but we almost immediately pulled back on that because business picked up.”

Stewart said he had to lay off one employee but now has hired four people and has 13 employees who design, schedule and manage projects, and keep track of the business.

He subcontracts the actual remodeling work except for small tasks such as trim work.

“Those are hard people to find,” he said. “We’re paying more than we ever have and offering benefits to try and get quality people.”

More than 50 percent of his projects come from repeat clients or referrals, and the rest from online sources and a few postcards sent to people when they buy new homes.

“We haven’t had the capacity to take on more work,” he said. “We want to take advantage of this opportunity — we could be taking on more, but it’s a challenge because of field labor.”

Stewart thinks that, while people being at home has spurred his business, “you’d think there is uncertainty with the virus, and I wonder when that starts working in.”

At some point, he said, “that will trickle up, but we’re certainly not seeing it now.”

FOCUSING ON STRENGTHS

Al Pfeifer, owner of True Love Painting dba Pro Painters Colorado Springs, said business dropped off in April — usually his busiest month — but picked up again in May.

As he started getting busier, Pfeifer, who works with his wife, Alice, found his customers were asking for services they couldn’t do themselves, such as painting cabinets and fine finishes, rather than painting walls.

“Our customer count went down by half, but the value [of the jobs] went up a lot more,” he said. “That was good for the business. It’s allowed us to focus on every project instead of doing two at once.”

Pfeifer thinks that’s a trend in the remodeling industry — people staying at home and working on projects they can do themselves but contracting out the bigger or more difficult jobs.

Pre-pandemic, the company was doing exterior painting but transitioned to interior work this year. 

“The transition really worked for us,” he said, “Our profit is about the same as last year, but last year we did twice as much work.”

The extra time has allowed Pfeifer to achieve some of his personal goals, he said. He published his first book, a spiritual story called Archangel Michael Breathes, last month.

Barry Floors, which installs all types of flooring, has always been busy but has seen a 30 percent increase during the past nine months, owner Barry Richardson said.

The company specializes in hardwood flooring and also installs carpet, laminate, tile and cork flooring, as well as refinishing existing floors.

“Everybody’s home, and they’re looking at their floors for the past six months and saying, ‘We should get something done,’” he said.

Barry and his wife, Kelly, do most of the work themselves but subcontract with about 10 people who work only for Barry Floors.

“We call them in-house subs,” he said. 

Richardson said he is able to rely on these people “because we take care of them and their families. … We’ll take 3½ weeks off in December. I bank their hours for them during the year, take a little here, a little there, and put it in savings for them so they can take three weeks off in December and they’ll get paid.”

For the Richardsons, no job is too small, but they also work on custom homes in Beaver.

PANDEMIC PIVOT

Christina Salisbury started her business, Evolved Interior Design, in May 2019. 

She was beginning to build her clientele, with a focus on commercial interiors, when the pandemic struck.

Now all of her projects are residential.

“I had to make that switch,” she said. “The commercial market has deeply changed.” 

Small businesses like retailers and restaurants are having to do their own redesign work, modifying their interiors to comply with pandemic rules and doing a bit of DIY updating along the way.

So Salisbury now is serving clients who want to expand home offices, remodel their kitchens and revamp their bathrooms.

“Kitchens have become the heart of the home again,” she said. “Not having enough room in the kitchen, or the organization that they really wanted, was really an important aspect to several of my clients.”

She’s also hearing that demand has been strong for new outdoor living spaces, although she hasn’t done any outdoor projects herself.

Salisbury said she finds new clients mainly through the internet, social media and referrals.

“I try to use my connections in the industry,” she said.

Salisbury said she will be reassessing her business model at the end of this year to see what adjustments she needs to make.

“I do want to get back into my commercial roots,” she said. “But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

 

Reporter

Jeanne Davant is a graduate of the University of North Carolina. She worked for daily newspapers in D.C., North Carolina and Colorado, and has taught journalism and creative writing. She joined the Business Journal in 2017.