Remodeler Q&A: Abe Degnan

Abe Degnan

Abe Degnan – President
Degnan Design Builders, Inc.
DeForest, Wisconsin

Last year’s sales: $2.5 million (approx)
Years in business: 35
Number of employees: 6
Specialty: Design-build remodeling projects, ranging from kitchen/bath and additions to basements and fullhouse remodels.

Q: What are the top three things you look for from a supplier?
A: The top three things we’re looking for from our supplier is the relationship that we have with our sales person on the staff, the level of expertise that they have in products and actual construction processes, and their availability to us.

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Describe your best LBM vendor and why they are the best.
A: One of our favorite LBM vendors is Wisconsin Building Supply. What we like about them is that they integrate everything we need. For a company of our size, it is important to us to be able to buy most of our materials at one location, and because we have more buying power by combining all these things together, it is generally financially advantageous for us to do so.

When was the last time you changed vendors and why?
A: We have swapped LBM vendors from time to time. In general, it has had to do with the breakdown between us and our salesperson or the management at the yard. We consider ourselves to be really forgiving, but the sales person has to care. Fifteen years ago we left one supplier because we were having a hard time with the performance of our sales person. We formed a very good relationship with another LBM yard for a decade, until things happened with our sales person there. Meanwhile, I had formed a friendship with an LBM salesperson who was coaching my kids’ soccer team. The relationships that we form through builders associations and outside activities is key in our decision-making on who to work with when it is time to make a change.

Q: When and why would you accept a meeting from a new supplier/vendor?
A: I don’t like taking meetings in my office with new suppliers and vendors. I prefer for them to be involved in associations like NARI & NAHB, and the local chapters such as the Madison area Builders Association where I am a member.

Q: What is the number one problem that keeps you up at night?
A: The number one problem that keeps me up at night is dealing with labor and personnel and fringe benefit type of issues. The labor market is challenging. The rising cost of workers compensation and the Affordable Care Act have made things extremely difficult.

Q: What do you see as your biggest opportunity?
A:The biggest opportunity is the investment that we have made in marketing. It starts there, follows through the design and sales process, and then into the production department. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem, and so I took a leap forward and took our marketing person to full time.

Q: What do you wish LBM suppliers understood about your business?
A: What I want my LBM supplier to know about my business is that easy communication is probably the most important thing. Reliability goes right along with that. If they treat me fair and give me no reason to double check their prices, I will be a very loyal customer.

Q: What products  (if any) do you buy installed?
A: We work with a panelizing company who builds our floor, wall, and truss packages, but they also arrange for their own subcontractors to do the installation package for us. Our other LBM supplier has their own framing crew for stick framing for us. A different cabinet supplier does the installed package for us on cabinetry. Our exteriors, the roofing and siding, are installed through our subcontractor. And of course all of the specialty and licensed trades are installed sales via subcontracting companies.