2020 Hindsight

An unexpected twist in the road opened a new path for Brenden and Erin Hannah.

Looking back on life before COVID, some changes are obvious. Masks may be less common, but they’re still evident in some public environments. A much higher percentage of employees is working remotely than before 2020. And you can get almost anything delivered right to your door, from groceries to tacos.

Some pandemic effects are a little harder to trace. But Brenden and Erin Hannah can look back on the spring of 2020 as the moment when their professional lives took an unanticipated turn.

The couple had been operating Hannah Homes out of their own home for nearly a decade when they made two big decisions to invest in the company’s future. Erin quit her previous job to dedicate herself to Hannah Homes, and the couple decided it was time to find new office space.

“Shortly after starting Notch & Nail, we knew that to grow Hannah Homes further, the next step was a showroom,” says Erin. “We found this property in Valley Junction with an old gas station that had been vacant for quite a while, so we tore that down and built this building as a three-bay commercial space.”

About a year earlier, the Hannahs had started a sister company with the idea that they could more easily build their own cabinetry and custom trim products and offer that service to clients so that their business, Notch & Nail, could pay for itself.

“We thought we had a perfect plan—use one bay of the new building for the Hannah Homes showroom, one bay for our new Notch & Nail shop, and then rent out the remaining third bay,” Erin says.

By the end of February 2020, the showroom was complete, and the Hannah Homes offices had officially relocated.

A grand opening was scheduled for mid-April. Erin still has the invitations to prove it. “We officially pulled the plug on the grand opening the first week of April with the intention of rescheduling it for that fall,” she says.

But on top of the unexpected effects of the pandemic, the couple’s side business took an unanticipated turn also—for the better.

“Notch & Nail had been growing steadily, but in a different direction than we originally anticipated” says Brenden. “We began to get more and more opportunities in the commercial sector to build commercial cabinetry and architectural millwork. We very quickly started to get away from the residential market with our Notch & Nail projects. And during COVID, commercial projects didn’t slow down at all. We started to realize there was a real need for our services and a real opportunity for us to grow in the commercial space.”

To take Notch & Nail to the next level, Brenden couldn’t continue splitting his time between two companies. And if he took Notch & Nail to the next level, it would mean investing in larger equipment.

Fortunately, they just happened to have a brand-new showroom that remained closed to the public.

“That was a tough call,” Erin says. “Do we wait out the pandemic restrictions and reopen the showroom later? Or do we take the leap on this new opportunity?”

“We had always loved building homes, and we hadn’t planned to put that aside,” says Brenden. “But Notch & Nail was growing so fast, we knew we couldn’t do both.”

Looking back now, the choice seems obvious. But at the time, it felt like a blind leap.

Hannah Homes had always been just the two of them. By its very nature, Notch & Nail would require staff. Hannah Homes had been rooted in personal interaction and the relationships developed with clients and subs. Notch & Nail would be more project-based.

Once again, hindsight is 2020.

“We found our first employees through existing connections, but we also really lucked out with the guys we found through employment websites,” says Erin. “We have a great team.”

With four additional staff members and a growing work area with more than half a dozen pieces of large equipment, Notch & Nail has already outgrown its West Des Moines address. “We’re certainly glad we never got around to renting out that third office bay,” Brenden says with a laugh.

“We kept adding equipment, and Brenden’s office area kept shrinking,” Erin adds.

Larger equipment and bigger projects also drove a need for more materials and more storage, so Notch & Nail has been forced to find off-site solutions to meet all those needs. But that will come to a close by the end of the year.

Like déjà vu all over again, the Hannahs found themselves in the same dilemma they faced before the pandemic. “To continue growing, we needed more dedicated space,” says Brenden.

The company broke ground on a brand-new facility in Johnston that will be five times their current space. “This building has 4,500 square feet, and the new facility is about 23,000,” Brenden says. “We went into that project with growth in mind. It will have enough finished space for the office staff to work comfortably. But we’ll have plenty of open work floor to add equipment or to complete larger projects as well.”

Brenden is excited about the possibilities the larger space will provide, enabling them to take on even bigger cabinetry casework and architectural millwork projects. But he and Erin are just as excited about the smaller projects that continue to come their way.

“We’re finishing up a custom project replicating an 8-foot vintage winged clock for an airport hangar,” Erin says. “And a company that had originally looked into renting our third space ended up locating in Grimes. They hired us to create the casework and some custom pieces for their Lightbrite Coffee Roasters shop. That was one of our first tenant-improvement projects. Brenden also has a tour scheduled with a 13-year-old inventor who wondered if we could engrave his logo in a prototype he built,” Erin says.

“He asked if that was something we could do, and I thought, ‘A 13-year-old kid who’s come up with his own prototype? Yeah. We can definitely do that,’” Brenden says.

Three years ago the Hannahs wouldn’t have anticipated such a turn of events. Hannah Homes is closed. That lovely showroom doesn’t exist anymore. And the company offices they designed never did serve the purpose for which they were planned.

But each of those twists brought them to today. And things are looking pretty good.