Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Clifton Muckenfuss, I am Co-Founder of Carolina Exteriors, a Specialty Replacement Contractor based in Apex, NC, serving the Raleigh Metro Area. Carolina Exteriors offers residential home improvement services including Roofing, Siding, Windows, Doors, and Gutters. We believe that if we “build people, we build a winning team and combined, we Build Exceptional Customer Experiences. Our dedication to our people and customers and execution on our mission has led to us receiving numerous industry awards for customer service.
Carolina Exteriors was founded in 2010 amidst the last housing crisis and recession. We realized and understood that most contractors were great carpenters or “tradesmen” but not savvy business owners, and many found themselves overleveraged and without a sustainable business model. We [founders] drew from our previous business experience in Sales, Management, Customer Service and Operations Management to create a “customer first” company backed by systems and processes.
We bootstrapped the business on $3,500 and now 9 years later generate $4,000,000 in revenue.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
The founders are childhood best friends from small-town America (South Carolina). We took different paths after college and approximately 9 years later, reunited in North Carolina. I (Clifton) was recruited from Florida to work for a Mortgage Company in Raleigh, NC and Wesley was already established here (Raleigh) working for a major building materials manufacturer (James Hardie). After the housing crisis, the Mortgage Company went bankrupt and I (Clifton) found myself without a job. I then founded a Residential/Commercial/Cleaning Company (still in operations today, Managed by my wife, Mary Ann) and grew that business from $0 - $500K rapidly.
Surround yourself with POSITIVE people.
Then, Wes and I were talking about the possibility of starting a siding/exterior remodeling company since most of the contractors were retreating after the recession and the ones that remained, didn’t focus on the customer, but rather, only on the transaction.
From there, we created a business plan, bootstrapped the business on $3,500 and voila the business (Carolina Exteriors) was born. From humble beginnings (1990 Ford Van with no heat/no air conditioning, leaking gas tank, etc.), 2 owners / no employees, to now generating $4,000,000 in annual revenue and being recognized as a leader in our market and industry. Our growth has been incredible, we now employ 12 full-time team members and have over 50 trade partners that we work with.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The business concept/idea was hatched a few years prior to the Great Recession and when the mortgage market crashed, we saw a few things happen in the market:
- Homeowners were less likely to "move up" or into new(er) homes and instead had to stay in their current homes.
- Staying in their current homes meant they needed to update, upgrade and protect those investments.
- Contractors were pulling out of the market and downsizing - fear caused many of them to diversify into other unrelated segments (i.e. not construction-related).
We analyzed the market based on the above conditions and knowing a lot of replacement contractors were retreating, we saw an opportunity.
Our team's (current team) experience is primarily industry related. Our team has over 150 years of combined experience (directly related to construction).
We started the business primarily focused on Hardieplank siding (again based on my partner’s previous corporate experience with James Hardie, but also as a result of our market analysis - many of the existing homes in our area have siding (Masonite) installed that is failing / susceptible to rot and decay. The best "replacement" solution is fiber cement and James Hardie Hardiplank is the world's leader in the product category. We then added windows, doors and roofing, painting and gutters to our product mix, which led to expansion into decks, screen porches, and outdoor living projects.
Describe the process of launching the business.
$3,500 initial investment was minimal and included “initial legal” fees, a basic website that I leveraged a previous relationship to build (for cost), business cards, flyers, and door hangers. We had no money for online advertising, but I did utilize a previous contact and took out a FREE 2” ad in the local Yellow Pages. The “Free” ad landed us a job in a neighborhood and we capitalized on that job site, created a neighborhood marketing plan and have since completed 40+ projects of various sizes in that neighborhood.
The initial founders (team members) were me and Wesley (50/50 partners). Hiring, in the beginning, was not easy - we hadn't developed a real company culture and didn't have clearly defined job responsibilities/roles.
We hired our first employee from an online job posting, then soon realized he wasn't a good fit, replaced him with someone that was referred to us by some friends. That hire worked for about 2 years and as we rapidly grew, we needed a more well-rounded Office Manager. We interviewed many candidates over several days and selected a well-rounded Office Manager with a background in bookkeeping/accounting, with industry experience.
Our first "field" employee (Project Manager) was a friend of mine from church, whom I also played Church league softball with. He had applicable experience as well and after offering a job for many months (that he declined repeatedly), I finally typed up an offer letter and brought to a softball game one night - this was to prove I was serious about the offer. This was my "last offer" and I explained I wanted him on our team, but I was going to move forward with or without him. With some hesitation, he decided to accept our offer and he just celebrated 6 years with the company.
All other positions [Production Manager, Project Managers, Sales Reps and Customer Experience Manager) have ALL been referred to us by other employees/friends. I'm also proud to say that since our first 2 "initial" hires, we've had a 100% employee retention rate.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Focussing on the customer, I know that sounds basic, but our team does not look at a sale as a transaction but as a relationship. Shifting the focus from the “dollar being generated now” to one that will bring in multiple customers, therefore generating future revenue many times over.
We have a great marketing partner that has helped us launch a customer referral program - the “1 into 5” program - turning one customer into 5 is the mindset behind the program. There’s a special gift a customer receives (homemade cookies) within 7 days of job completion and then a series of email and newsletter communications to drive referrals, online reviews, etc. We’ve been very fortunate in our lead gen efforts and currently invest less than 1% of topline revenues in true advertising “lead generation” tactics/platforms.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We run a 7-10% Net Profit after owner’s salaries, distributions, etc. and our operation runs very leanly for the type of business we have / industry we serve. We have growth goals of $10,000,000 within 10 years and that also includes plans for expansion into other markets (geographic area).
We still operate in our core market, which is our original market. We have, however, had the opportunity (from a customer referral) to perform work at the North Carolina Coast.
Our "team" has grown from 2 (original founders) to 12 full-time employees.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Take care of people - do what’s right...that goes for your employees, customers, suppliers, trade partners, etc. We will NEVER sacrifice service for doing a cheaper job. I’ve learned to coach people up, stay positive, learn from every experience, good or bad!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- CRM tool / secure client portal: Buildertrend
- Capture critical measurements: Hover Software
- Design / Project Visualization software: Hover
- Newsletter: MailChimp
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
- The Wealthy Contractor Podcast
- Level 10 Contractor Podcast
- How I Built This Podcast
- Think & Grow Rich - Napoleon Hill
- Entreleadership Podcast
- No B.S. Ruthless Management - Dan Kennedy
All these provide insight into challenges and building businesses, helping tips to set us apart in our industry.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Being strategic - plan, plan, plan. We don’t “spend” without first discussing and analyzing.
Surround yourself with POSITIVE people.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes, Sales Team.
We can be reached on the Website, Facebook, Email, GuildQuality.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Carolina Exteriors has provided an update on their business!
Over 1 year ago, we followed up with Carolina Exteriors to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
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