Columbia’s pretty rad. We’ve got things going on and, better yet, things to do and take part in. Since my last two CBT articles...
When it comes to remodeling, Kerry Bramon, president of Kerry Bramon Remodeling and Design (KBRD), says the biggest problem in the business is that designers don’t always know what their products and services cost. “If you don’t know what something costs, you shouldn’t be selling it—in my opinion,” Bramon says. “If it turns out to cost twice as much as you thought it would, then it was probably a stupid guess.”
With a tinge of regret, Bramon, 53, has figured things out—his way. He’s been down that road: “Most everything I learned was backwards,” Bramon says. A designer and builder before he was a business owner, he put together the pieces of the business puzzle in reverse. “I learned production, management, sales, marketing,” he says, “but it works: marketing, sales, management, production. That’s the order that things really happen.”
After graduating from University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1976, Bramon worked in the Juvenile Justice Center for about a year. That was all the time he needed to have his eyes opened. In that line of work, change was invisible and impossible to control—a source of frustration and dissatisfaction for Bramon. He was at a crossroads.
He talked over his career confusion with his grandfather—a builder, a farmer and a bricklayer. “I asked him what he liked about being a builder, and he said he likes to see things change. I think I’m the same way. My dad (a civil engineer) and grandpa and uncles were all toolmakers. They could take apart and put back together almost anything,” Bramon says. “They are just real visual and mechanical.”
As might be expected, Bramon gravitated toward construction. In 1977, he married Becky, a former classmate at Hickman High School, and his dad helped him take out his first construction loan. Conveniently, he built his first spec house one lot over from his folks’ house on Crown Point, where they still live. “I didn’t stray too far from home then … and still haven’t,” Bramon says. “Then, we started buying lots and building houses.”
“By 1980 everything was pretty dysfunctional,” Bramon recalls. “Interest rates were 21 percent. I had two spec houses at the time. It was a flashing sign that I didn’t like working on things I couldn’t control; 21 percent is a very dysfunctional interest rate. Only about three housing permits were issued in Boone County that year that were non-governmental. The economy just closed the building industry down. We built FMHA houses (Farmers Home Administration) for a few years as a survival mechanism, because there was money available for them. Those were challenging years.”
Meanwhile, Becky and Kerry had two daughters, Laura, now 29, and Joni, now 27. Looking for a larger home for their growing family, they moved into one of their spec homes—one month before their world capsized. That year, 1984, was significant for two reasons: Julie and Betsy, the Bramons’ twins. Talk about change. “We moved, we started a business, and we had twins,” Bramon says. “For us, the twins were a life-changing event. It was a watershed year.”
By 1986, Bramon and his brother, Greg—a partner then—had built the office building on Rogers Street that houses KBRD today. “That wasn’t a very good experience for either one of us,” Bramon says. “We split up our business a year or two after that. He decided to go back to work for PCE (Professional Contractors and Engineers) and a regular paycheck. The mechanical production part suited him more than the business part.”
By 1987, Bramon pretty much had decided to focus his efforts on remodeling exclusively—a decision that now helps protect his business from the current housing market bust.
“During that process, and while my girls were getting bigger, I started going to the National Association of Home Builders’ trade shows,” he says. “It was really good training in how you run a business.” Bramon became a Certified Graduate Remodeler (CGR) in 1996.
With marketing now high on his list of priorities, Bramon sends out a slick four-color newsletter twice a year to almost “anybody that’s ever called us or we’ve done work for—about 6,000 to 8,000 copies.” He maintains a Web site, kerrybramon.com, filled with referrals and before-and-after photos of projects.
“Kitchens in Bloom” home tour organizer Ann Havey says she appreciates his support in the annual spring fund-raiser that features recently refurbished kitchens and the contractors responsible for them. “His consistent, generous donations to our organization have helped the Boone County Council on Aging assist the most vulnerable population in Boone County—the elderly on fixed incomes,” Havey says.
Because of his participation in Kitchens in Bloom event, Sally Papreck selected KBRD for her remodeling project. “Kerry and Angela [Holloway] are very accessible,” Papreck says. “I am a client who needs a lot of help/direction, and they have been patient, understanding and accommodating with me. Timetables, terms and finances have been clear to me from the beginning. What at the onset seemed like a hugely complicated undertaking has gone smoothly and easily.”
While Bramon admits that not all of his personnel decisions have turned out well, one he made in 1994 helped him positively change his direction. Fresh out of environmental design at MU, Angela Holloway began working with Bramon as an on-staff designer. Able to translate a floor plan into three dimensions on a CAD (computer-aided design) system, Holloway is adept at helping clients see their future. Holloway, who completed a national interior design exam NCIDQ in 1998, says, “It raises the bar for what clients expect of me. In our design/build remodeling process we pride ourselves in listening to [our clients] and uncovering our clients’ values and what they want to accomplish with their remodeling project.”
In her new book, The Perfect $100,000 House, Dwell magazine founding editor Karrie Jacobs defines “design/build” as “a philosophical approach to making things which involves the whole process of designing and building … that demystifies the language of architecture.”
With time, Bramon has learned that the design/build process is the only way to run a successful remodeling business, he says. “It’s a good win-win relationship between the business and the homeowner and everybody.”
Predictability is desirable for Bramon. “I’m an engineer at heart. I like control. I like to be able to predict what the future looks like and make it happen,” he says. “I like to control all the pieces from the very, very beginning to the very end. Probably this business really suits me because it combines the best part of mechanical engineering stuff that runs around in my head with people skills and the business skills to make it work.”