Sarah Henry tells us how the Pro and Homeowner relationship is like a marriage, why her company has an employee position title of “Relationship Manager”, and how she leads through vulnerability and humility.

Full Podcast Transcript

Grace Mase  0:08

Hello, and welcome to the Revivify podcast. I'm your host, Grace Mase. I'm here today with Sarah Henry. She is the owner of Gaspar's construction, an award-winning construction company started in 1973. It's a second-generation establishment based in Seattle, Washington. It has a very impressive history, and they have a strong focus on both consumer and employee experiences. Sarah is an incredible thought leader in the industry, and I'm so excited to speak with Sarah here today at Revivify. Welcome, Sarah.

Sarah Henry  0:45

Oh, thanks for having me today, Grace. That is a very sweet introduction.

Grace Mase  0:49

I met you over a year ago and watching how you manage your teams, and how you set your vision for your company is remarkable. So I'm quite intrigued about your former training in HR, share with us how that training influenced the way you're leading?

Sarah Henry  1:06

Oh, gosh, it's so hard to separate out one facet of ourselves that's kind of built us to be who we are today. But I think I've always had a passion around people and people development. I went into human resources thinking this is how I'm going to do it. My experience of corporate HR was anything but that. But I think the training and background that I had, certainly in corporate America, as well as in my degree in business helped me become the leader that I am today, in my focus for employee growth and development, which are both very, very important to me.

Grace Mase  1:42

Oftentimes, we focus on the actual construction, the process, and yet we let the people behind, and expect people just gonna follow through the process on their own, manage their way through their emotion that they're going through. So now ties into the emotion. And I remember when I first met you, you were speaking at this conference and talking about for homeowners hire designer or building professionals for their projects, it's kind of like marriage. I love that focus, because that focus of the customer experience is about delivering positive experience for your clients. It really resonated with us because we share the same value. Successful partnership requires a shared vision, ability to give and take and a willingness to work hard together. And above all, the pleasure in each other's company. I'm curious about the emphasis on the partnership building, did it start when you took over the company?

Sarah Henry  2:35

I would say it started probably before and I've just carried that torch and maybe burned it a little bit brighter. But yeah, definitely remodeling your home is an extremely personal experience. And so that relationship that you develop with your remodeler, hopefully, is a good one. But it's personal. And we end up becoming a member of your family for a period of time. And so it's important that we enjoy each other's company.

Grace Mase  3:03

Absolutely. Well, just like you mentioned, you get to know them how they live, what their lifestyle is like, and what makes them excited, and what brings joy in their lives. I assume they're just like any partnership, there's a two-way street. They're looking at you just as much as you're looking at them. What things do you look for in the homeowners?

Sarah Henry  3:20

Well, I'll answer that in just a second. And I will say, Grace, it's so true. They are looking at us the same way that we're looking at them. We want to make sure that our clients and our employees are a good fit for us. And in fact, I had an employee this week tell a client at a completion celebration, that when she came to work for us 15 years ago, she was blown away by the fact that she turned in her resume and said, Yeah, I'm ready to come to work for you. And my dad at the time said,, "Well, why don't you look at our website and make sure that this is the kind of job you this is the kind of place you want to be and that it is a fit for you also." So I think that same that's the position clients are really surprised when they hear me say that it's a two-way interview in selecting. And what I look for in an ideal client is transparency, passion for their project, I don't want to be more passionate than they are. And you know, when it comes down to it, they need to have the budget.

Grace Mase  4:16

That's interesting. A lot of time homeowners have fuzzy math, either from resources they gather from the web or from friends and they have this loosey-goosey at some points. Some are much better, obviously. How do you help them to get to that point?

Sarah Henry  4:31

Oh, boy, it is definitely not. It's not like going out and buying a car. It is such an involved process. And no two projects are exactly the same in residential remodeling and no two homeowners are exactly the same. The homes have similarities, the systems have similarities, but what the project develops into being is so unique to every single project. So when I meet with homeowners, we talk about, I spent a good couple of, I would say probably spend two to four hours with someone getting to know them, before we're really talking about, "Okay, do we, are we going to sign a contract? Are we going to move forward together?" Because I really want to understand them before we're helping them figure out what the right budget range is. And we always start our design process with a budget range that we have mutually agreed upon. I like to say if the number range is slightly uncomfortable for both the client and for me that we've probably hit the right number. Because the reality is, for most homeowners, their wish list exceeds their budget. And so our job is to help them prioritize that wish list to make their dream project a reality.

Grace Mase  5:46

It's great. And you mentioned just now the word communication and collaboration, which also repeated often on your website, too. And I love how what you say on your website, and how you show up is very much aligned. So with that in mind, those values go into, and also transparency, when you meet with a new client, how important will you feel like I mean, how do you detect they have good intention to collaborate? A good communication style?

Sarah Henry  6:13

Oh, you're just listening to what they say, you know, are they guarded? Are they open? Are they? Are they willing to engage? I have a lot of questions that I asked homeowners. Are they willing to engage with me? Or do they just want a commodity and they just want me to, you know, sell them something right then, and that's it? Because remodeling is a relationship and I think, I met with some clients last week, who are millennials, and they said, "You know, the hardest part for us," (they're in the middle of the design process) and they are realizing how many decisions there are to make, and how personal those decisions are. It was beautiful, because she said to me, "Yeah, I didn't really kind of believe you when you told us that this was a process that we would have to pick everything out. We just kind of felt like, we kind of want this color scheme. And you just put it together for us." And the next question that I asked, she said, "But I see now the value in this." And the next question I asked is, "Okay, so grout color for the kitchen backsplash." And she was like, "Oh, you guys can just make that decision." And I went and pulled out the sticks of grout and I started pulling them out. And well we could go this way, we can go with the green to match the green. Or we could go and she was like, "Oh my gosh, I'm so invested in this decision. I had no idea." So I guess a willingness to trust me on some level if they're going to move forward with the process, but it's just listening to how they answer. For example, in the budget question I hear often from people, well, I don't hear this often, actually. But it's a little red flag, which is well I don't want to tell you my budget because then you're going to spend it all. That's true. And my answer to them is that's absolutely true. I probably am going to spend it all but it's not because I'm figuring out how to charge you more. It's because I'm figuring out how we can fit as much as possible on your wish list into that budget.

Grace Mase  7:57

That's really good. I had the same experience yesterday meeting with a client building a brand new home, just gone through a planning review. They're super excited. I'm looking at the materials schedule and just trying to mentally help them get ready. And they were also overwhelmed. And I think when you touched on this transaction versus relationship. Those two is such an interesting dynamic of how they show up with the intent of this is a transactional arrangement where I pay you, you do work, versus relationship, how do we help each other to create the best version of the space that they will ultimately enjoy for the very long time? And so yeah, that's interesting. And in your company, you also have team members with the title of Relationship Manager, which is quite unusual. I don't think I see a whole lot I usually it's customer service and customer account manager and whatnot. So tell me a little bit about how you decide to come up with a Relationship Manager, and why?

Sarah Henry  8:56

It definitely has evolved in that title is new, I think this year. And it is absolutely the role of the sales salesperson. And my sales team is like, we don't want to be called salespeople. And they are building relationships with the clients, as well as sticking with the project all the way through design and construction to make sure that their job, the hat that they wear, is to make sure that we're delivering on all of the things that the clients asked us for when they first came to us. So they're really responsible for carrying that relationship all the way through and introducing the homeowner to each phase of the process and all of the people involved.

Grace Mase  9:38

Hand holding is definitely a big important part because oftentimes homeowners don't know what they don't know. And they're, just like you mentioned, there's so many decisions they need to make throughout from the beginning design phase during the construction phase, the finishes until the end. It can be overwhelming. And so having someone just being there, saying, "I got you. Let's go through this together. You're not alone." However, there's a part of as a Relationship Manager, obviously, we all have different personalities and different communication styles. How do you pair the Relationship Manager with each homeowner? Do you meet with the homeowner first and say, "You know what, I got Jenny over here, she's a great  Relationship Manager will be able to connect with you well or match compatible with you? Is that how you guys operate?

Sarah Henry  10:23

I'd love to say yes, I think that's an opportunity for us in the future. We do do personality assessments for the entire company. So everybody who works for me has had a personality assessment. So we talk a lot about styles and personalities and homeowner styles as well. And so I do think that the evolution of a phone call comes in and you meet with somebody, and it's awkward to switch people on the homeowner. So we don't do probably as much as we could, or maybe should, because we definitely are paying attention to a client's communication style.

Grace Mase  10:58

That makes sense. Just on the flip side, how would you advise homeowners to, when they show up first a first meeting in person? What should they ask? Or maybe not in person, maybe through Zoom these days. What type of things they should ask to make sure that they find someone they're compatible to work with a good match?

Sarah Henry  11:16

Well, I think it's oftentimes that homeowners get really stuck on the budget question. And they're selecting contractors based on what they hear from a numbers standpoint. And I think it's really important that people get a sense of what their budget is. But if you can at all put that on the shelf for making decisions, I highly, highly recommend that. Because the numbers that homeowners get are rough, they vary wildly, depending on the perception of the person who's sitting across the table from them until the project is actually designed. So I would really focus on personality and fit. And does the conversation move smoothly? Do they feel like they're being listened to? what's important to them in that relationship and ask questions around.

Grace Mase  12:04

That's good. Now, I want to get your perspective on remodeling. And I also know you guys have a whole division on handyman. How, this year has been challenging for many reasons, and simple things as how we collaborate with our clients where we used to show up in person now we try to do more Zoom conversations instead, in the initial phase. And then managing your business and managing your crew make sure they are safe and protected when they go out and perform the work as well as there are significant delays due to manufactured backlogs. So did you guys experience any changes this past year for you?

Sarah Henry  12:42

Didn't everybody? I think one of the things that is a small gift is that we all had to do it together. So it wasn't like one company. For example, if we said, okay, we're gonna start doing more Zoom calls with clients because we think that it can be really efficient, and it'll save time for both sides. And we're going to try this right? I think it would have fallen flat in the homeowners because in the homeowner’s eyes, hey, we want people to come to our home, we want them to see it, we want to see them in person. That is definitely still my first choice. But because all of the companies had to do it all at the same time, I think it became the new normal pretty quickly. And I think that there will be more Zoom calls in the future than there ever have been in the past.

Grace Mase  13:30

That's great. And I think if I were to ask a good portion of our contractors, the application Zoom, every one be looking at me like Zoom what? But now everyone is familiar with that Zoom technology and able to pick up a call, after a day of work and have a conversation meeting the homeowners.

Sarah Henry  13:47

You know, we definitely do more design meetings and construction, weekly meetings with homeowners in the house with us like they will be downstairs and our lead will be upstairs and the production manager might be on them at their home. And so it's a very interesting dynamic.

Grace Mase 14:03

So do you think just now, knowing that construction, oftentimes is the crew would be on-site, obviously, that still remains. But the dynamic between the in house or crew that's working on managing projects, preparing orders, whatnot, how is that shifting the way you guys used to operate in the same space together in the office versus now dispersed throughout everyone's individual homes? Would that continue?

Sarah Henry  14:31

Interesting. I can't remember what organization it was, I want to say that it was like Dell or IBM or somebody, maybe five or six years ago went to all online and realized that they had a significant reduction in productivity. And so they came back to having meetings, you know, having people come to an office. And I think that we're going to experience a similar you know, getting from six months getting through nine months. That's one thing. But I think as time goes on, and I already feel that the dispersion of communication and things that you might ask a co-worker sitting next to you that you're not going to pick up the phone and make a phone call for. So there's a loss of information. And there's a loss of just kind of historical data in companies that's not getting transferred on as new people join. So I don't know, I think for our company, I've realized how much can be done remotely and I think we will continue to do a lot of that. But certainly, I'm not getting rid of my office.

Grace Mase  15:33

That makes sense. I think, just as simple as in a design process when you pass by a person's desk they can pull you say, "Hey, I'm working on this. I'm having a problem would you mind help me to go through it?" It's so much easier, just get resolved right there versus compose a long email, attach a file, circle certain things and send off and hoping they'll get to it, get to the email quickly so that you can get an answer versus just sitting there and wait. So definitely, there's a balance, there's a benefit of flexible working styles of being able to still have a balanced life on that side, in addition to be productive, contributing to work. Now, historically, the construction industry gender split is about 98%, male 2% woman. Yet, Gasper's construction is almost between 60% to 40%, gender split in employees, which is not very common. So how did you overcome and this challenge and achieve this close to 40/60 split?

Sarah Henry  16:31

Well, I think having a woman at the helm probably makes a difference. I have four women and two men on my executive leadership team. I think that's one area that for sure, we have made inroads in. I think there's a lot of other opportunities in diversity and inclusion, that we've still got a long road ahead of us. We're incredibly LGBTQ friendly, we have attracted that community. So I know that it's possible. And we've attracted a lot of women so I know that it's possible to shift and create a workplace that is friendly to all.

Grace Mase  17:05

That's wonderful. Can you tell me a little bit about how, you have gone through a fairly interesting evolution of a company, starting for remodeling, you build a whole arm of handyman division? And if you don't mind share with us how that evolution started or came about.

Sarah Henry  17:24

Because we had clients on large remodeling projects, that wanted us to come back and do small things. It naturally was like, well, gosh, yeah, once that lead's available in six months, they can come back. And so it was creating a division initially just to serve our clients and have an extra level of customer service. And it has just grown. When we had the recession in 2008, the handyman division doubled, while the other division scaled back significantly. So we knew that we were on to something having a division within the company that is, I don't want to say recession-proof. But certainly, people still need all of those little things to be maintained on their homes, even when times are tough. They might not do the kitchen remodel, but they're gonna repair rot. They're gonna do those kinds of things. So that division has continued to grow and thrive.

Grace Mase  18:15

Wow, that's fantastic. Now, how do you see moving forward 2021 as an evolving, we know that the remodeling industry took a little dip in they're sure picking back up, and obviously, all of you guys are very busy right now. So how do you foresee what 2021 is going to bring for you?

Sarah Henry  18:33

I think 2021 is going to be an extension of 2020 and continued to be quite busy. At least that's how it looks for us. I think beyond that, I don't know, my crystal ball gets fuzzy.

Grace Mase  18:45

Yeah, well definitely been interesting how things are just completely blown out of proportion. I think many of us have, you know, a roadmap to plan out for the year. And all of a sudden you just have to by March, you have to quickly shift and make a few changes and to adapt to in order to continue to thrive. Now from the homeowner perspective, what kind of tips would you offer them as they're going through 2021.

Sarah Henry  19:08

This year, we all feel like we could have/should have been more prepared for life. I mean, people can't find dishwashers, because they're all sold out. And Amazon shipping is like, there's nothing that I can get. I don't think from Amazon this week like it's all out into January. So I think in general, I would just advise to plan ahead instead of kind of kicking that can down the road. If there's something that has been leaking or showing signs of rot, or wear, get a professional involved in that solution sooner rather than later because they're likely to have a backlog, it's likely to take a while to get things done.

Grace Mase  19:47

That makes sense. Now, let's look into what you guys experienced as virtual remodeling homes this year. So if you don't mind share with us how you guys came about and how that worked out for you.

Sarah Henry  19:58

In the past, we've always done remodel homes with another 20 remodelers in the Seattle area, greater Seattle area, and homeowners have toured through the homes. And I think it's really hard to replace that. But we did do it virtually because we couldn't have people in homes and did three 360 tours, virtual tours through the homes, and we had way more attendance than we would have had in person. It's just hard to say how that attendance will map out for actually converting into work. But you know, time will tell. We had enough success that we were thinking about doing another one in the spring. And it'll be interesting to see when we can go back in person, whether we keep doing it virtually, or whether we go back to doing it in person because there's a lot of benefits to virtual.

Grace Mase  20:45

And I can imagine just even virtual instead of traveling, flying and make all the arrangements with work, you actually can be remotely throughout the country, or to really appreciate what the offer or the innovation that you have provided. One thing I forgot to ask or meant to ask earlier, is about your employee engagement. You have set up improv with your employees. If you don't mind share with me how you guys came about and why you choose to go exploring improv with your teams.

Sarah Henry  21:18

So many reasons. I'm a big fan of singles training, communication training, I think I often refer to remodeling as putting on a Broadway play. Only the clients get to see what's behind the curtains. Because we don't get right there living in the home, they're watching us do it. So how do we give them the Broadway play experience when they're part of the Broadway play? And I am a big fan of storytelling; I think it's a really important skill. As well as there's a level of acting. I don't want to say that people are not being genuine, but there's just a level of being aware of how you're coming across, self-aware that's so often what we do. And improv to me is just an extension of increasing your self-awareness of being aware of what other people are doing around you. We did an exercise where we tried to plan a party in a group of people that were sitting in a circle, and one person would make a suggestion and the next person had to say, "No," and then throw out their suggestion. And then we changed the game. And it became "Yes,  and . . ." so one person would make their suggestion the next person would say "yes, and . . ." And it was so interesting, in the "no" round, no party got planned. Like, absolutely, you couldn't get past one idea to the next, so there was no evolution. But the one around where we did the "yes, and . . ." man, did we plan some pretty awesome parties! So just teaching people about an extension of communication.

Grace Mase  22:51

That's huge. "Yes, and" I mean, it's as simple as two words. And that changed the entire dynamic of the outcome. I want to try it this is quite fascinating. Never thought about it, I usually think about improv is you get on the stage with a couple of other people, you try to converse and take their idea and expand on that. But it really boils down to is just "yes and".

Sarah Henry  23:16

Well, in that particular meeting we had a whole bunch of different exercises. But that was one. Yeah. And it was powerful.

Grace Mase 23:21

I love the contrast of the "no" and how that kind of shut people down emotionally. I can imagine when your ideas being suggested someone just flat out give, you "no." And that feeling even though is an exercise, but I'm sure it matters, especially for homeowners. And when they've been told no. Right? Yeah. And I do think about my experience, the reason why I started BEYREP was the contractor we hired was referred by a neighbor, and simple suggestion made and he pretty much said, "No, this is a stupid idea. It wouldn't look good. It will look ugly, in fact." and that just kind of taken by that comment. And yeah, it definitely took a step back of our partnership and really begin to question certain things. But I love that, that's so great. Now, what other exercises do you do with the teams that kind of help them to improve their communication? So this is just a fascinating story.

Sarah Henry  24:19

We've done one where you have a deck of cards, and you have just the high cards, but actually, maybe it's all of them, but you divide you pull it out. So it's just the number of people who are playing and everybody gets a card. And they don't know what their own card is. But they have to put it on their forehead and walk around, interact with other people. And you're told to act, how you think your card ranks, but also react to the other person's ranking. And then we all had to line up and figure out what the order was based on not knowing what our own card is, but based on our interactions with people. It was fascinating.

Grace Mase  24:56

I can imagine! Well, it sounds like well as we all at home and spend a lot of time with our family playing card games, all these activities not foreign to us. But it really comes down and feels like Gaspar's is a family community, where you really kind of treat each other and not only professionally, but also in a fun caring way of engaging with each other. I wish I were there watching this whole thing, that must be so much fun.

Sarah Henry  25:22

It's funny, though, because if you tell carpenters, they're coming in to do improv class, you can imagine how many of them tried to get out of it. But at the end of it, they were like, "That was so fun!" So yes, and remodeling is stressful, our homeowners are going through one of the most stressful things of their lives. And so it's, it's on us to help guide them in a way that feels as comfortable as can be, given the disruption to their lives. And we have to support each other because we're out there interacting with and supporting clients who are going through stress. So, both of those are really important and giving people the skills to navigate it.

Grace Mase  26:04

That's beautiful. I love that you care about your employee just as much you care about your clients. And that's a rare combination, which I have tremendous respect for. I also noticed that you guys are pretty vocal about your social issues in your social media, which is fantastic. I know some time as business owners, they kind of struggle as to how they need to speak on these kinds of heavy issues, and how that may impact their business presence and whatnot. And I love how genuine you guys are using that business platform to share that insight. How did you make that decision?

Sarah Henry  26:38

I have never been one to share political perspectives. I still don't, it's not something that I condone. But things that to me are just human issues, it just, it, I don't know. It just doesn't seem like a decision that's hard to make.

Grace Mase  26:55

I agree with you. I understand from a business perspective, I'm with you on the never really voice on the political side. But there's a human issue where sometimes people politicize the human issue, and which becomes challenging as to what makes one judging others and be okay, and how does a company position themselves on those human issues?

Sarah Henry  27:16

Yeah, I think as a leader, we have to have the most humility and transparency and willingness to say, "Hey, you know, what, I'm pretty sure that I had racial, I partook in racial bias yesterday. And here's an example of that." and being willing to be transparent with my team. And then obviously, sharing that with my clients. That's just an extension of that. It doesn't mean that it's not scary and vulnerable. But I think that's part of the transparency piece that's so important to our culture,

Grace Mase  27:50

Just being true to yourself. At the same time, being brave, and navigating through those challenging times. Everyone is in somewhat the same boat it's not an easy time.

Sarah Henry  28:00

It's not. Yeah.

Grace Mase  28:01

Well, thank you for being a true leader. And thank you for being genuine and be truthful. And help us to understand there's a bright light as you're shining for all of us to see how the industry can be operated and should be operating. So do a quick lightning round. What's the secret recipe for your success?

Sarah Henry  28:18

Well, I certainly love the How I Built This podcast with Guy Raz, where he says, "How much of it is luck, and how much of it is hard work?" I think for sure, it's both. I bought into a business that had already been established by my parents that was already running and got the opportunity to make it even better. So a little bit of luck, a little bit of hard work, and a great team of people around me.

Grace Mase  28:42

I'll say there's a lot of hard work. I've seen you. You're definitely a very humble person, you certainly work super hard. Now, how do you tell young females out there who are interested in or considering going to the housing space? What would you recommend them to think about.

Sarah Henry  28:55

Just, go for it. Take risks, put yourself out there and go for it. Whether it was just naiveness, or whether I, and I think there's probably a level of both, but I just wasn't in tune with the sexism going on around me and just continued to do my thing. So I guess to the extent that you can do that, do that.

Grace Mase  29:15

Do you think growing up watching your father, your parents, growing the build this business and being, I assume, you actually been out in the field to be part of the process when you're a young age, did that influenced your attitude?

Sarah Henry  29:28

I think so in that my Dad was such a champion for me and such a cheerleader for me. Otherwise, no. I mean, I didn't have a passion for "Gosh, I want to go into remodeling." I thought I would be a lawyer when I was a kid. But I definitely became passionate at third Business School in entrepreneurship and taking over something that was already established in a near and dear to me into the family.

Grace Mase  29:49

All right. So would you consider passing it on to your kids someday?

Sarah Henry  29:54

I have one daughter and she's 12 and my brother has two kids. So there's a possibility for sure.

Grace Mase  30:01

Right? It's such an exciting time I mean, for your daughter, for your daughter to watch you be able to take on this enormous responsibility and run it in such a successful way. That's a great role model for you the next generation leaders.

Sarah Henry  30:16

Well, certainly I hang my hat on that she sees that and gets to experience that. It's hard. It is really hard to be as you probably know, it's hard to be a woman CEO and balancing all of the different priorities that you often feel like you're not measuring up in any one area. So I do hang my hat on the fact that I work hard and that she sees that there's good role modeling.

Grace Mase 30:42

That's fantastic. Well, Sarah, you have been an incredible inspiration for all of us. And I really appreciate you continue to push forward and help us to really elevate the entire industry, and always continue to push the benchmark higher for us to thrive. So thank you for all you do.

Sarah Henry  31:02

Thanks, Grace, it was a pleasure chatting with you today.

Grace Mase 31:03

So if you'd like to learn more from Sarah's company, check out gaspars.com. Thanks for joining us on this episode of the Revivify podcast. I hope you enjoy hearing from Sarah Henry about Gasper's construction. Thanks again for listening, and we'll see you next time.