Surpassing Expectations

Kaufman Construction receives Big50 and GuildQuality Big50 Service Excellence awards.

Remodeling magazine has announced the annual recipients of its 2017 Big50 Award, which is presented to “companies who exemplify the best of the industry that year and who have something to offer other remodelers in proven practices.” Once again, an Iowa remodeler has made the list.

Kaufman Construction, founded by Devan and Tracy Kaufman in 1999, is a design/build firm that has earned the right to be on the Big50 by virtue of its reputation for surpassing expectations in both design and service, a goal the Kaufmans have had from the start.

“We’ve never applied for the Big50 before,” Devan says, “but we just felt it was the right time.”

Their clients clearly agreed with them. Kaufman Construction also received the GuildQuality Big50 Service Excellence Award this year, which recognizes Big50 remodelers who deliver exceptional customer service to their clients.

“It’s an honor to be included in this group of professionals, to be recognized for the work we do. I especially value it for the team of people who work here,” Devan says. “It’s really a recognition of everyone’s hard work, not just mine or Tracy’s.”

As with most others in the construction trades, Kaufman Construction has seen ups and downs and has weathered some rough patches since its first project nearly 20 years ago. But recent years have seen a number of changes that Kaufman is especially proud of. One of those is the emphasis on company culture.

“Like everyone in this industry, we’ve struggled to find and keep good help. We have some very long-term employees, but it’s been hard,” Tracy says.

Devan says, “I don’t think we really understood the importance of company culture before. And I know I didn’t understand how to develop it. Over the years, we lost some good people because of that, and we probably kept some people longer than we should have. The last few years, we’ve focused on hiring for culture rather than just skills. And that’s made a huge difference.”

Devan explains that skills can be learned, but supporting the company’s vision and work ethic almost has to be ingrained. It’s the philosophy Devan and Tracy have had from the beginning, and they’re nurturing that philosophy among their team now.

“I always sort of joke that I fell into this business, and there’s some truth to that,” Devan says. But that was just the beginning.

After working too many hours for someone else over too much of a Christmas holiday when they were expecting their first daughter, Devan came home and told Tracy he wasn’t going to live that way any longer. He quit the next day. And on January 1 he started his own business.

“At the time, I just needed a job,” he says. “But it blossomed from there. Starting my own business was always one of my goals, the design has always come naturally to me, and I’ve always been interested in construction. So we’ve always been design/build.”

Tracy says, “You can’t really be a remodeler and ignore the design aspect. Design/build is not something you ‘become’ to bring in more business. It’s who you are—it’s who Devan is.”

Unlike some builders or remodelers, Kaufman Construction prides itself on not having a
signature look.

“It’s never about enforcing my vision on a homeowner,” Devan says. “It’s about making their vision a reality. That’s why we’ve always been design-focused. And having a dedicated design team allows more accurate communication with our clients. We want this to be a rewarding experience. Clients need to be able to visualize what we’re talking about when we present a design and not stress about whether we really understand each other.”

Kaufman Construction has been so successful at this that customers frequently hire the company for additional projects. More than half of new customers are the result of referrals or repeat business. Others have read about Kaufman projects in Welcome Home magazine or on the company’s website and blog or have seen the company at local trade shows or on the web.

The GuildQuality Big50 award honors that dedication. GuildQuality surveys each candidate’s 50 most recent customers, seeking ratings on everything from construction quality to problem resolution. Of the Big50 firms recognized in 2017, only five received GuildQuality Big50 Service Excellence recognition as well.

Devan and Tracy Kaufman say that may be an even greater honor than the Big50 designation.

“To be in the Big50 is quite an honor,” Tracy says. “That puts us in the top 2% of remodelers in the entire country, and that’s pretty amazing. But to know our clients have given us such great feedback really says that we’re listening to them and doing our job right.”

Kaufman Construction currently has 17 employees between its construction business and its KC Handyman business. The company typically completes about 20 design/build projects each year and nearly 500 handyman projects. Devan says none of that would be possible without the entire team at Kaufman Construction.

“Sometimes when we talk about the business, the focus ends up on me,” Devan says. “But I’m not the reason we’ve survived and come through those rough patches.”

He says Tracy’s customer service and marketing skills—her ability to wear any hat necessary to oversee the day-to-day business—is what allows him to focus on the design/build side.

There may be some truth to Devan’s story that he just fell into this business, but the path since then has been more intentional. Kaufman Construction’s success is no accident. Just ask the clients.