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Home Remodeler John MacDougall Gets Down to Business

This longtime pro shares what fueled his financial success — and one of the biggest factors remodelers tend to underestimate 

Houzz Pro

OCTOBER 5, 2023

“There’s something to learn no matter where you are,” says John MacDougall, founder and president of JMC Home Improvement Specialists in Parsippany, New Jersey. This belief in the power of lifelong learning has led JMC to become a thriving multimillion-dollar business with about a dozen staffers as well as almost 200 reviews and a perfect five-star rating on Houzz. We sat down with MacDougall to find out exactly what he has learned over his 47 years in the home improvement business, and what advice he has for other industry pros.

Opportunity Knocks

MacDougall started working for a roofing company during the summers of his high school years. And when he realized that full-time college wasn’t for him, he and a buddy from that company started their own business.

Since this was the 1970s, well before the internet became core to marketing, “I knocked on doors until we would get a job,” MacDougall says. “If I didn’t get a full roofing job out of it, I would at least get a gutter cleaning or a chimney repair.” This went on for two years, and the persistence paid off. “We built a good roofing business out of that,” he says. Roofing led to siding and then to decks, which “put us up a notch,” he says. “We got featured in a couple of magazines, and we advertised in The New York Times.”

A New Door Opens

MacDougall capitalized on the good press and advertising by moving from roofing, siding and decks into design-build services. “We had high demand and got all the jobs we wanted,” MacDougall said. Unfortunately, they still didn’t have the profits they wanted. Enter business coach No. 1, who advised, “Charge more money.” And along with following that advice, MacDougall joined a peer advisory program called Remodelers Advantage.

And that’s when the light bulb went off.

“I knew how to build a project, but I didn’t know anything about the business,” MacDougall says he realized. Remodelers Advantage “started teaching me the nuts and the bolts of finance as well as how to run a business and how to look at it.” He spent a few years learning with that group, then sought help from many more business coaches over the following years.

Mentorship Leads the Way

MacDougall firmly believes in the importance of getting help from a mentor or business coach no matter what size your company is, or whether it’s new or established. Because “A, you don’t know what you don’t know, and B, no matter where you are in your journey, there’s a lot to learn about things,” he says. “You may know how to hang a door, but you do not know how to write a contract; you don’t know how to collect the money. There’s a lot at each step to learn. And if you don’t learn a lot at any step, you’re going to fail.”

Having sought help from so many mentors and coaches over the years, MacDougall offers some hard-earned advice about how to find a good one. “You have to see through the filter of, is what this guy giving you a canned speech? That’s number one. Mentors have a tendency to answer the question on a universal basis as opposed to a specific basis. Number two, what is your gut telling you? And the third thing is, do they have the real concern to help you succeed?”

MacDougall’s gut and everything else eventually led him to business coach Mark G. Richardson.

Right Coach, Right Course

“I learned what a coach should be when I met Mark Richardson,” MacDougall says. For remodelers seeking to enhance their growth and elevate their business leadership skills, Richardson is the ultimate resource. A highly acclaimed author, speaker, columnist, and remodeling industry expert, he has empowered business and sales leaders nationwide with his wealth of knowledge and experience. With more than 30 years as Case Design/Remodeling’s president and cochairman, and accolades including being named Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2006 and earning a place in the prestigious National Association of Home Builders Hall of Fame, Richardson stands out as a trusted thought leader and visionary in the homebuilding and remodeling industry.

 “Mark has been more helpful to me than Remodelers Advantage, than any coach I’ve ever had. With him, we doubled my income a couple of years ago,” MacDougall says.

As MacDougall was already seeing great results from working with a right coach, taking Richardson’s business course for remodelers through Houzz Pro was a natural next step. Called Taking Your Remodeling Business to the Next Level, it covers all the important aspects of running a successful company: understanding finances, hiring and retaining a terrific team, managing time effectively, and much more. You’ll get video lessons, podcasts, quizzes, and supplemental materials, plus a certificate upon successful completion. Perhaps best of all, it’s free for all Houzz Pro subscribers.

“This course is a step-by-step instructional manual on how to go from zero to sixty in a controlled environment with an expert teacher sitting beside you guiding you through each step,” MacDougall says. “Listen to Mark and you will find yourself more relaxed and with a more profitable business!”

Click here to visit the course page.

Words to the Wise

MacDougall shares additional valuable advice in three areas.

1. Don’t underestimate labor. “Every single thing has a labor component,” he says. “If you get a delivery of a door to the site and they deliver to the curbside, it’s labor to get it inside and unpacked. Then you’re going to have to assemble and install it. That's two hours or more.”

Underestimating labor time on each component of a job can be a big reason for not hitting the overall profit goal. That means creating accurate takeoffs is key. “There has to be a visualization of the tasks performed in order to truly achieve a true takeoff,” he says. 

Tip: Houzz Pro Takeoffs tool can help you accurately calculate labor and product quantities, and quickly convert them into professional estimates to help you win more bids faster.

2. Listen to your team. “Calm down the noise in your head, stop, and listen to those around you,” he says. “There are people around you that you can learn from. If you interview your carpenter in the field and he says, ‘I never get my materials on time, and my drawings are never good,’ that’s information to learn from.”

3. Utilize technology. “If you want to grow beyond having a job, whether it’s working for yourself or not, then you’re going to have to use some technology,” he says. “You want to be a handyman working 40 hours a week, you can probably do without it, right? Once you’ve grown past being an hourly handyman, if you don’t subscribe to using technology, you’re going to be reinventing the wheel as you go.”

Tip: Houzz Pro software was designed with input from remodelers to make every step of a project, from planning to execution, easier and more efficient. Try it free to see for yourself.

While MacDougall is always learning, improving, and growing his business, he never loses sight of why he got into home improvement in the first place.

“Home improvement is about improving the life of a homeowner,” he says. “That’s the end game. If you know that you’re improving the life of your client, you know that that’s a good purpose.”

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