Publication: One-to-One, Summer 2007
…HOW A GENERAL CONTRACTING FIRM SUCCEEDS IN THE POOREST MAJOR AMERICAN CITY
MY COMPANY, RESIDENCE ARTISTS, INC., is a general contracting, construction, maintenance, and decorative paint/design company specializing in the restoration of fine homes in the greater Cleveland area. We perform new construction, as well as remodeling and light commercial work. The majority of our customers are in the residential market. Last year, for the second time in three years, Cleveland was declared “The Poorest Major City in the United States.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 2006). Nearly one-third of the city’s residents (32.4%) are living below the federal poverty level, and no other big city in America had a lower median household income than Cleveland. For those living in the eight counties around Cleveland, median household income actually dropped $1,778 over the last five years. Since 9/11, many businesses have moved out of the Cleveland area for financial and tax reasons. As a result there is a smaller influx of “professionals” moving to the city who would need our help. The housing market is very slow.
Residence Artists began in 1973 as a painting and decorating company and added a construction division in the early 1980s. It is often said that R.A. is Cleveland’s only exclusive “one-stop shopping” company, where one can ask for everything from a new home, to a plumber, or a basic exterior paint job by making one phone call. My oldest son, Stewart (a graduate of John Carroll University’s School of Business), is the vice-president, and has been in a management role since 1997. He has worked at R.A. since he was 14, both in the field as a painter and as a warehouse manager.
The business is based solely on referrals from existing customers. Our team of workers demonstrates a diversity of skills that sets us apart from the competition. Presently, there are 35 full-time employees, including painters, paperhangers, artists, carpenters, and job superintendents. Combined, these men have over 415 years of experience. Even though they are tremendous technicians in their fields, more often than not, they are complimented on their attitude, cleanliness, dedication, and service. The ability to cater to a client’s needs while producing the highest quality product is what makes them truly special.
Because of the high rate of unemployment in the Cleveland area, there are many “part-time” carpenters, painters and contractors of all kinds who claim to do and be whatever a customer wants from them. This “army” of part-timers also work at a much cheaper rate than companies like ours that have legitimate overhead expenses (health insurance, unemployment, liability insurance, worker’s comp, vacation pay, and other issues).
With that economic picture as a backdrop, the men of our company approach work with an overriding philosophy of service, diligence, execution, thoroughness and professionalism, that cause customers to choose Residence Artists over some who might make these claims–but are not able to do the same type of work. To survive and prosper in this kind of environment, great attention to detail and constant communication are necessities.
A KINGDOM MINDSET
The work philosophy I embody as the owner continued to evolve in the early 1970s, when I first had the unique privilege of being taught by Charles Simpson, Don Basham, Ern Baxter (his classic message on “Divine Arrangement”), Derek Prince, Bob Mumford, and those who surrounded them.
I made a commitment to Christ in 1972 and was blessed to be exposed to these teachers and the biblical teaching of New Wine Magazine. During my college years, I worked in the summer hanging drywall and painting. Several customers kept calling me with more jobs to do, so I felt the Lord was opening the door for me to enter into the trades. Upon graduation in 1972, I went to school to learn how to hang wallpaper. I believe then as I do now that it is a godly attribute to be able to work with one’s hands. The apostle Paul wrote I Corinthians 4:12 “And we labor working with our own hands”.
Also, I have always been convinced that whatever I was doing should be done with excellence. I was the only college graduate at Max Hayes Trade School and the teacher couldn’t understand my being there. He said “But you have a college education” and I replied, “But God wants me to learn how to work excellently with my hands.” The Lord used this man to teach me principles of estimating and how to run jobs in the residential marketplace. He had a great work ethic and we became close friends. I eventually had the opportunity to pray with him before the Lord took him home.
My exposure to work started at a very early age. I was blessed to have a father who woke us up every Saturday morning at 7 AM, regardless of what hour we may have gotten in the night before, with the simple statement “IT’S TIME”. My brothers and I knew what “time” that was–it was time to work. Saturday’s were work days and evenings were work nights at the Landies’ home. As a teenager, I didn’t like it, but something was being put into me that I was able to take into manhood and then extend to others as I went into business.
I’m indebted to my dad for not paying attention to our pleas to be left out of the work projects. He himself had worked three jobs while going to college after returning from WWII. In 2 Thessalonians 3:8, Paul writes that he labored and toiled, working night and day that he might not be a burden to any. I’d like to make an encouragement to all fathers and mothers reading this to give your children household jobs and tasks, even if you can afford to have someone else do them. I personally believe you are doing your child a disservice by not teaching him how to use the basic tools of life such as mops, wash pails, brooms, lawnmowers, shovels, and weed-eaters.
EXCELLENCE IN CRAFTSMANSHIP
In Acts 18:3-4, Paul spoke of his trade, which was that of a tent-maker. The word for “trade” in my Bible footnotes told me that in the original Greek language, this is the same word that we use for “craft” and it is derived from the word that physicians use. It was a highly technical term and specialized. I found it particularly interesting that Paul didn’t refer to his apostleship as a craft or trade, but instead to his ability to work with his hands to create and make tents, from which he derived income. This work gave him identity and satisfaction.
I am blessed to say that although all four of my children are college graduates, each one has learned to work with their hands and could support themselves as a tradesperson in a craft if need be.
I saw in the early days as I do now that being a “craftsman” is an honorable occupation worthy to pursue and esteemed highly by “God Himself”. Read Exodus 35-36 and see the attention to detail and the incredible craftsmen God assembled to build the tabernacle. Another verse, Proverbs 22:29, says, “Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings. He will not stand before obscure men.” This was a foundational scripture for Residence Artists that I built on.
Personally, I believe there are many Christian young people who could flourish in trades if they were encouraged to go in this direction and their endeavors were seen as a godly calling, as valuable as computers, law, and politics. I never miss an opportunity to help a beginner to sow toward his craft with the hope that in due time God will reward him.
WORK AND SERVICE
From the formation of Residence Artists, I was guided by biblical teachings on work and service. Paul Petrie shared in the late 1970s a message on service that became part of our company. He said that it always costs to serve and that service is never free. My employees and I take on the role of servants. This concept of being a servant to others is not popular in our culture today, but is one of the aspects that distinguishes our company from the myriad of others operating in our market. We are servants in a customer’s home, there to please them and to do what they ask us to do with all our heart and all our might.
Years ago, Derek Prince’s teaching out of Luke 16:10-12 on faithfulness provided a revelation on how to be promoted in the kingdom of God. Jesus said that he that is faithful in a very little will be faithful in much. The word for very in the original language is the same word we use for “minutia” in our speech today. God watches the smallest things. He is the ultimate Detailer.
The Joseph Model taught by Charles Simpson provided insights into God’s basis for promotion. It is the seemingly “insignificant” things, not seen by others which God uses as a basis for increase and promotion. God is interested in the “very little” and it is in this arena that growth occurs. First Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.” Colossians 3:23-24 echoes this: “Whatever your task, work heartily as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.”
Working through and understanding the “whatevers” of life is a process that can’t be rushed. Many trainees and apprentices want rewards now, not realizing that God distills your craft the old fashion way; forging your skills though the furnace of time. Over the years, I’ve had a number of men tell me “If you just made me a supervisor and gave me a big job to do, I’d show you what a good worker I am.” I have found that talk can be cheap. We see in First John 3:18 that we need to “walk the walk” not just “talk the talk”.
Derek Prince taught out of First Corinthians 15:26 regarding “first the natural, and then the spiritual” allowed me to not over-spiritualize work, but also awakened me to the fact that there was no such thing as a “Christian” company and that being a Christian wasn’t a magic wand that allowed you to get away with an undisciplined, sloppy, performance-quite to the contrary! This teaching showed me that I can’t use God as an excuse for incompetence.
Over the years I’ve met manly “get rich quick” Christians who somehow thought having the Christian “title” was their ticket to success. Oftentimes, these people would get the cart out ahead of the horses and would begin to focus energies on building their own homes, without the proper foundational work in their company “craft” that supports them.
We are reminded by Proverbs 24:27, “Prepare your work outside. Cultivate it, then build your own home.” In other words, focus on your trade and gifting. For me, work was not and is not done by a clock or a timetable, but by an affirmation form on high that lets you know when a job is “well done.”
This commitment to diligence, service, and excellence guides us in our mission statement:
“Residence Artist is committed to faithfully steward the resources that we have been given and to perform our services at levels above the expectations of our customers by completing design, construction, restoration, decorative projects, and maintenance tasks with the highest level of personal integrity, technical expertise, and administrative skill.”
THE ABILITY TO HEAR
Another scriptural principle that has helped make Residence Artist successful and is a hallmark of what we do goes hand-in-hand with being a good servant is the ability to hear. I encourage all my employees to cultivate a “hearing ear”. We live in a culture where hearing is a problem. We are bombarded by cell phones, computers, email, television, and other distractions. Really listening to a customer’s desires and needs is the first step in serving them.
Charles Simpson taught a leadership message where he commented on committing our thoughts to paper, and how important it is to write down fresh ideas so you can get back to it when time permits, and it won’t be lost in the next ten conversations.
In choosing a team, once you know if an employee has a hearing ear and the capacity to serve, then it is important to recognize his sphere, his limitations, and the measure in which he can operate (thank you Bob Mumford for that teaching). As a coach, it is important for me to keep constant oversight of the “whatevers” and make sure all employees are functioning in the “space” where they can best serve both the customer and the company (see also 2 Corinthians 10:13).
In restaurant terms “we are only as good as our last meal.” You can do a great job for a customer for years, but if you have one bad project or a job that was incorrectly executed, you are liable to lose them.
The essential element in any business relationship is care. We are in a culture that demands a quick response to be successful. We have a system set up at R.A. to get quick feedback and quick results for whatever customer needs or requests come our way.
After reading this article, it may seem to you that everyone at R.A. works 24/7. Not so. Employees are encouraged to participate in family times, vacations, sports, and other life priorities. But, clear communication of those needs and desires are required so we can both serve our customers and help our worker’s families have quality time together.
Regardless of the economy you find yourself in, God is faithful to His Word, His principles, and His promises regarding stewardship, finance, and the workplace. It is with these tools that R.A. has been given the ability to prosper in the midst of difficult financial times.
Keith Landies is the owner and President of Residence Artists in Chardon, OH. He and his wife, Diane, have four grown children.
Scripture Reference: I Corinthians 4:12; 2 Thessalonians 3:8; Acts 18:3-4; Exodus 35-36; Proverbs 22:29; Luke 16:10-12; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:23-24; 1 Corinthians 15:46; Proverbs 24:27; 2 Corinthians 10:13