Allyson Case, Integro Rehab
1. Set the scene – how did you start Integro?
After a successful corporate career, I decided that I wanted more freedom and went back to real estate. I embarked on a short-term real estate investment and, long story short, it was a disaster. From that project, I learned how broken the residential construction industry is and thought I could do it better. Survival had a lot to do with it too – it’s a great incentiviser.
2. What is your philosophy/values around what you do?
Integro is about the experience. We’re focused on transformation. In residential construction, many of our clients are spending their life savings and/or are building a residence that they’ve been dreaming about for years. Our role is to bring their visions to life and protect them from the process. These projects are expensive and the process should not be difficult. Our goal is to execute professionally with superior craftsmanship, allowing our clients to watch their transformation with awe and excitement.
3. What made you want to start your own business?
Freedom. I felt the corporate environment was suffocating, bureaucratic, and restrictive. I was working with great people and for an incredible boss yet I couldn’t appreciate my benefits. It never felt like enough and I always wanted to contribute more than my position allowed. I thought starting my own business would challenge me and allow me more freedom in my life – for travel, family, and personal needs. Silly girl!
4. What do you like most about what you do?
The tangibility of my work. Everyday, something happens. On my worst days, something still became more beautiful than it was before. We work hard, and we can actually see the fruits of our labor. Every year, we can look back and show ourselves what we’ve done. Our work is incredibly rewarding. It’s immediate gratification (almost).
5. Has technology been a challenge as you’ve grown Integro? If so, how?
Technology is a challenge in my business because many of our sub-contractors are “old school”. They don’t email, many don’t text either. So, when contracts require paperwork or e-signatures, or online applications from our crews, it can be a real challenge. As we grow and our clientele becomes more and more sophisticated, it will be incumbent upon me to bring a small population into the 21st century of documentation.
6. Has using modern tech tools help you become more more efficient than your old school competition?
We would be nowhere without Dropbox. The ability to pull up files and photos and drawings from our devices during meetings is incredibly helpful. Also, our entire team works remotely – from our home offices and from our job sites. So, a cloud intranet is invaluable. Also, electronic signatures and electronic checks eliminate so many steps and gain us so much time. Need a change order? Docusign! Sub-contractor needs a payment? Email it immediately! No running around, driving to locations, waiting on payments.
In our business, social media is a huge advantage also. When I’m trying to describe an idea to a client or architect, I can just pull up Pinterest and show them what I mean rather than trying to describe it. In an industry that is so visual, it’s great to have readily available tools, literally, on hand.
7. Have you done any marketing experiments since starting Integro? If so tell us about your successes and failures.
Marketing is a core value of Integro, equal to licensing and insurance. It is everything to us. We started with the blog. Then, HGTV decided to film one of our projects so we hired a great PR Firm who built our original website and grew our SEO. This was a huge success. Once one of our projects was released on HGTV, we blew up on the internet locally, dominating major google search terms. Then, the PR Firm got us a 2-page spread in the Sunday Chicago Tribune – there’s nothing like a high resolution photo of your face taking up a quarter of a newspaper page to make you feel that this all may just work out, after all. From there, we began contributing editorial content for the industry. Then, as our company became more established, I was invited to sit on councils and boards, was asked to contribute to radio shows, podcasts, and presentations. We also advertise in targeted magazine publications.
8. How did you get started using social media as a marketing tool?
I started with my blog which was actually just an outlet to “let off steam.” Then, I started getting a following and colleagues in the industry quoted me back to myself at various events. Once I hired the PR firm, they got me into all the things…except twitter, I don’t do twitter as a rule.
9. Why no twitter?
Twitter is really self-gratifying. It seems to me that it serves to either express half of a serious thought or deliver a punch line. While I can always appreciate a good joke, my focus is to project a more professional image.
10. Has social media marketing helped grow Integro? If yes, how so?
Absolutely. Marketing is insidious. I do not post to social media, or invest in my website, or write blog posts expecting someone to email me and say “I saw your post, I want you to do my project!”. Marketing is more subtle: Clients have to see us consistently in multiple different places over a period of time. The strength of social media for us is credibility. At our level of work, we are often competing against other general contractors who have more than 30 years of experience or are even 1st, 2nd, or 3rd generation – that is A LOT of experience to measure up against. What we have that our competition doesn’t is social media. We capitalize on “old school” Chicago contractors. Our clients can research us and they’ll see us everywhere – we have a beautiful website showcasing our approach and our portfolio, they will find us representing industry organizations, contributing to major publications, and they can go on facebook or instagram and see years of snapshots into our daily life. All of these things together make our pitch for us: We are thought leaders. We are innovators. We are awesome. It’s there for them to see, I don’t have to explain. That’s the power of social media.
11. You feature your team on your social media pretty frequently – what made you start using them in your posts? What impact has it had?
Residential construction in Chicago is a shady industry. There’s no need to sugar coat that reality. Clients are nervous to hire a contractor because, for every positive recommendation, there are several horror stories. We are in peoples’ homes, spending personal finances – this work is emotional. I include my team to help show our clients who we are and what they can expect. The point is to make them feel like they know us before we start.
12. How do you talk to your clients about scope? Any scope related lessons you could pass onto other small rehab businesses?
I talk honestly and directly about scope. Bad news first. Better to have a hard conversation before the project than during the project. When there is bad news, I always have alternative options to suggest.
13. You do a great job with brand consistency – how do you do it?
Our brand is our identity and our identity is defined by our business goals. We are hyper-focused on our goals and our branding is a primary driver for obtaining those goals. If our brand consistency ever started slipping, we’d know that our business plan needs some help.
14. Is keeping your brand consistent difficult? What challenges have you experienced?
I don’t think maintaining our brand has been difficult because it’s so synonymous with our business objectives. We have no pretense, we are who we are and we’re doing what we want to be doing. We’re not trying to be something we’re not. That makes it a lot easier.
15. Any quantifiable benefits of keeping your brand consistent?
Credibility is built with a clear message. When clients and colleagues get confused, they check out. Our goal at Integro is to have our name precede itself – we want to be the most sought-after residential contractor. We want clients to say “I have an awesome project and I want Integro to do it.” We cannot hope to achieve that goal if we reinvent ourselves every year. Consistency is paramount. We are who we are, we do what we do. We say it again, and again, and again…until the world starts listening.
16. Has brand consistency proven any measurable ROI?
As I mentioned before, marketing is insidious. I will never be able to precisely say “this objective made us X dollars.” What I can say is that we’re winning projects. We’re winning projects against stiff competition. We’re winning projects over large quantities of competitors on any given project. I can count on one hand how many projects we have not won in a competitive situation – and it’s not my entire hand. We’re only 5 years old. Something else is convincing our clients that we’re qualified. I believe that something is brand consistency.
17. What would you tell entrepreneurs in the home reno or construction field who are reluctant to join the “community” through councils and board?
I would tell them they’re idiots. It is not a waste of time. There is absolutely nothing to lose by joining organizations. These organizations open up opportunities that we would never have otherwise. These opportunities not only include being referred to for projects, they also contribute to building that insidious credibility. Organizations are a 3rd party backing you up and showing the world that your company has merit.