Very Humbled by a Recommendation from Tim Meyer

A prospective client of ours asked Tim Meyer for a reference on Jim Hicks. Tim was kind enough to copy us on his response. Its quite humbling but too good not to post:

Dear Kim,

Thank you for inquiring about Jim Hicks.  What can I say but “top notch”.  I have known Jim for 15 years and his integrity is very important to him and his team.  You see Jim went to the US Air Force Academy and is a very focused as well as bright individual and has brought those core values to his business and his team.

I have referred business to him over the past 15 years and all my clients have raved about Jim and his team.  Jim will tell you the truth and not sell you anything that you don’t need.  My clients have felt value and genuine comfort working with Jim.

Jim has done work me personally and has always made sure the job was done right and on time. Construction jobs always have issues and Jim and his team meet those head on in a very professional manner.  I have watched Jim start his business and grow it over these years and I will put my name to him everytime.

If you need anymore information please feel free to call me anytime.  757-342-4357.


Timothy J. Meyer
Long and Foster Realtors
U.S. Air Force Retired
Timothy J Meyer

Finished Kitchen Remodel in Newport News, Virginia

Freedom From The Tyranny of the “One Butt” Kitchen

This was one of our favorite kitchens we’ve ever done!  It wasn’t the most expensive or the most glamorous but it made such a big impact on the lives of the Jones family from what they had been working with before.  They were patient and kind and a joy to work with!   We were truly blessed to have them as clients!

Mrs. Jones wrote on Angie’s List:

The price was great, we did purchase a lot of stuff ourselves (appliances, faucet etc)  so the price was more for their labor and coordination between all the different folks that need to work on the house.  We removed most of the plaster on the wall that was being removed, and painted ourselves.
Jim and Justin turned our tiny  one person kitchen into a space that many people can enjoy at one time.  There were snags along the way, it is an old house, that caused some  delays, like the ceiling coming down on the carpenters, but Justin did everything he possibly could to ensure the job  stayed on track and as close to what we budgeted as possible.  Their office coordinator Sharon made it easy to  contact and set up appointments with the cabinet makers and flooring  folks.
The only thing we marked down was punctuality, and that was because some of the subcontractors weren’t always on time.  The project was slated to take 3-5 weeks, and it took a little over 3 months. This was also due to unexpected add ons, such a new ceiling had to go up and more plaster had to be removed from sections of wall.

She also wrote us:

I want to thank you guys all again for helping us through this and I can’t express how much the space has already changed things around here.  No more arguments about trying to come in the back door while someone is cooking or in the fridge!!

Mrs. Jones posted some great pictures of the kitchen as it looks after the remodel (Click on Any Picture for Full Size):

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When we first met the Jones family, this is how their kitchen looked (see below).  Mrs. Jones called it a “One Butt” kitchen because only one person at a time could fit in it width-wise.2012-01-11_14-00-15_9852013-08-05 16.58.282012-01-11_14-00-22_869Before Pictures of Kitchen Remodel in Newport News, VirginiaWhat did it take to get from there to here?  The following pictures tell the tale:

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Is Your Brand Low Price or High Value?

There comes a time in the life of a business where it has to decide what it will represent to it’s clients, or what it’s brand will mean. You might call it a “moment of truth.”
In a contacting business, a point where the “roads diverge in a yellow wood” is when the business must choose if it will be “the contractor with the cheapest price” or if they will be known as the contractor that delivers the best value when the job absolutely, positively must be done right.
The problem with choosing to be the contractor with the cheapest price is that very quickly quality must be sacrificed upon the altar of lowering the cost.


The trap that ensnares, however, is that conversation that is had between the client and their friends is never honest. You will never hear an unsatisfied client who knowingly chose lower price over higher quality say to their friends “Despite my contractor’s warnings I choose to go with the cheapest solution I could find to gamble with and sure enough it failed, I wasted my money, I had to pay more money to have it fixed properly and the whole time I was thinking ‘Sure Enough, that contractor told me so!’ I wish I had listened to his wisdom in the first place!”. Rather, it is much more likely that the conversation will sound like a condemnation of that contractor’s work.  Eventually, as this pattern repeats itself, the contractor will develop a poor reputation.
The truth is, to develop a good reputation, where people happily refer their trusted friends and family to you, you must be willing to lose some jobs to contractors who would cut corners to do the jobs cheaper. This is the only way that your list of clients over time becomes a mob of raving fans who are evangelical about your company and it’s work.
In fact, to be awarded more of the types of jobs that you will be proud of doing and that clients will refer you for, you must lose more bids than you are awarded.
Do not mistake this as an excuse to charge high prices for the same work as your competitors or become lazy about doing your due diligence on each proposal in an attempt to deliver the proper solution at the lowest cost to your clients.  Make your focus be helping your clients find the appropriate balance between product and cost – which would be “value.”  Value is what the wise client wants, not the lowest price. 
Possibly the best quote on the subject is by John Ruskin in the Common Law of Business Balance:
“There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price alone are that person’s lawful prey.
It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money — that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot — it can’t be done.
If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.”

We Were Humbled By Some of The Great Things Michelle Pollock Said About Us on Houzz

I have had the pleasure of knowing Jim Hicks for the last year, and he has proven over and over again to be reliable and very knowledgeable regarding his industry.In a day where skepticism and second opinions are all too common, Jim’s ethical nature definitely stands out!If you are looking for honesty instead of a sales pitch, this is the guy to call!

As a Realtor, I have recommended Jim Hicks Home Improvement to my clients for various kinds of work. No matter how small or how large, they have never let me down. When I refer someone to my clients, it is a reflection of me. My clients are always pleased with the quality of their work. For this reason I will continue to send business to Jim Hicks. – Michelle Pollock,  Keller Williams


Things I Learn On the Job: Hampton Architecture and Big Virginia Trees

I was recently referred by JoNika Yarborough of Old Point National Bank to look at the roof of the parsonage of the Bethany United Methodist Church in Hampton Virginia and give an estimate to replace it.
The gentleman that met me there was very proud of the age of the building as well as the size of the tree behind it.
He told me the house was built in the 1800’s.

That sounded a bit too old to me. Its not uncommon for church stories to get “skewed” a bit when passed along from member to member, not unlike the “Telephone Game” we used to all play in grade school.  Although its no definitive authority,  I checked the age on It was listed as built in 1928, which seems more reasonable to me.
Then there was a tree. A big tree. The church representative told me that five of the members tried to hold hands and reach around the base of the trunk and couldn’t clasp hands. He also told me it was the third largest tree in Virginia.

It was a big tree that’s for sure. I was impressed. However when I checked on Virginia Tech’s site Virginia Big Tree Database it didn’t make the list. Oh well, its still a really big tree.

Rescuing a Kingsmill, Williamsburg Homeowner from a Bad Contractor

Mr. Schaefer wanted a Wooden Multi-Level Deck for entertaining and enjoying his newly purchased home in Kingsmill, Williamsburg Virginia. Sadly, the first contractor he selected did not perform to his expectations and left the job unfinished.
This is how the unfinished deck appeared when we were first introduced to it. (Click on each picture to enlarge to full size)








Our teammates, Greg and Pat Crawford took on the job of finishing off the deck Mr. Schaefer had dreamed of. When we were finished, it looked like this!









Social Media and building relationships with remodeling clients

OK, people ask me this a lot so I’m throwing this one out for free: it seems to me that if you want to be fruitful in social media, you have to do it yourself. People connect with people. Back in the day, when I paid some folks who were much smarter than me to do my social media for me, it didn’t work half as well. That is no slight to them, its a dig on ME. My theory is because social media is about relationships and you just CAN’T hire someone to build relationships for you.
I may be wrong, but at the end of the day its my opinion that you’ve got to get your head out of the idea that Facebook or any other social media is different than any other method of meeting people and developing friendships: people are people.
If someone asked me for the best book to be successful in social media I would tell them that in my opinion it is Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”: it was published in1936 (those that don’t “get it” don’t get that they don’t get it). 
I don’t think anything can replace face to face time. To earn trust and confidence we must be effective with people, not efficient. But efficiency has its place in keeping touch, I think, and social media seems to be more efficient than the phone… Which was more efficient than the telegraph… Which was more efficient than handwritten letters…but isn’t it wonderful to receive an inefficient hand written letter these days? 🙂
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Negative repels, positive attracts. Want respect? Show it to others first. Want more friends? Go be a friend to more people first.

Thoughts on Leadership

Recently, I was very flattered to receive questions on leadership from a Cadet Commander of the local Civil Air Patrol for a speech he had to give.

Below is my response:


Thank you for your email, it was well received.  I will attempt to answer your two queries as best I can.

 Question #1.

You wrote: “The main question is to write about how executive level leaders lead by articulating a vision and directing a staff. How conveying your vision for the end goal is or is not important to your leadership style”.

Several quotes come to mind:

“To grasp and hold a vision, that is the very essence of successful leadership—not only on the movie set where I learned it, but everywhere.”— Ronald Reagan

 (this loftiness should be tempered with the wonderful utilitarianism of Mr. Edison)

 “Vision without execution is hallucination.”— Thomas Edison

I believe at the executive level it is important to understand the difference between leadership and management and learn how to balance the two.  My Academy roomate, Colonel Andrew Dembosky wrote that the effective combination of both is a concept that is most often described in the military as “command”.  As General George Patton said “Always do everything you ask of those you command

It seems that the civilian world would like to permanently separate the two disciplines of leadership and management.  In reality they are inseparable.  I appears to me that understanding the difference between the two is key to a leader’s effectiveness.

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen Covey uses an extremely apt jungle metaphor to unite these concepts of leadership and management. Many people are fantastic managers. They are able to push forward on whatever projects are thrown their way. In a jungle, if given the task to slash through the brush and clear a path, these amazing managers would wield their machetes valiantly. They would cut through the flora no matter what problems came up to face them. These managers don’t care about the big picture; they just accomplish the task at hand.

Meanwhile, the leaders are doing something quite different. Leadership is all about making sure that the direction the solution is going in is the right one for the future. The leaders are up high in the sky surveying the jungle. They are the ones who are willing to say, “This is the wrong jungle! Let’s move on.”

A manager might respond to the leader by saying, “But we’re making great time and doing so well!”  The manager doesn’t care about the bigger picture. He’ll chop whatever jungle is put in front of him.

Therefore, to your question, conveying the vision for the end goal is key to my leadership style, but it seems to me it is merely one part of what my responsibility is to lead the organization. I believe, as the leader I must set the pace and tone of the organization. It’s great to paint a great picture, but the speed of the group is determined by the speed of the leader, my team must see me setting the pace for organization in work pace,  passion for the goal, and commitment to the team.   I want my team to see by my actions, and know that I am willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that vision or I won’t be able to expect them to commit to it.  I must be a leader and a manager and must accept and execute the responsibilities of command.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel (from World War 2, The “Desert Fox”):

“Be an example to your men, in your duty and in private life. Never spare yourself, and let the troops see that you don’t in your endurance of fatigue and privation. Always be tactful and well-mannered and teach your subordinates to do the same. Avoid excessive sharpness or harshness of voice, which usually indicates the man who has shortcomings of his own to hide.” 

― Erwin Rommel

Question #2:

You wrote: “The second is why character is or is not vital to a leaders success. I see this as being about things you wish you had know about leadership when you were my age. But feel free to respond in anyway you would like.”

 Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

 “We will not lie, steal or cheat or tolerate among us those who do.”  – United States Air Force Academy Cadet Honor Code.

 Looking back now, there are a few things on character that they didn’t teach me at The Air Force Academy which became large hurdles that I had to learn to overcome in life.  At USAFA, it seemed that character was taught as a lofty idealism that superseded all other values in life.  And whereas this was a noble ideal, it was taught in an incomplete manner by an institution that purports to teach leadership and lacked a certain practicality.  “In theory there is no differerence between theory and practice.  In practice, there is.” -Jan L. A. van de Snepscheut

 In my opinion, what was lost in the lessons on character at USAFA was people.  The number one requirement for a leader is to have people that are willing to follow him.  People are flawed. We are flawed by design, it cannot be changed.  How then, does one effectively lead an imperfect organization of flawed people while we are deeply flawed ourselves?  How are consistently outstanding results achieved by teams of morally compromised (by definition) individuals?

As my friend (and now neighbor) General Dick Abel says, “Leadership is all about people.”     One thing about people is they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.  People will follow you if they know you truly care about them, care about the organization that you are leading and care about what you are asking them to care about.  In my experience, no one has ever followed anyone because the leader was “technically competent” at their profession.

It seems to me that the role that character plays in leadership is that you have to believe in it and aspire to it, your people have to see that you hold it up as the standard that the organization is committed to…and then you have to love your people and support them when they fail and hold yourself and them accountable if their lack of character threatens the organization.

As a leader, it is not easy to discipline yourself to set the example for the orgainization character-wise. It’s even more brutal to have to let someone go, whom you deeply care about, because their conduct threatens the effectiveness of the organization that you are a steward of.  But the organization an as entity itself has it’s own character that must be upheld by the individuals that comprise it.  It is the leaders charge to develop a moral organization, out of a collection of flawed parts (to include himself), that operates with integrity. This is why many refer to leadership as an “art” rather than a “science”.

I have learned the hard way that the two qualities that I chiefly look for in an employee are character and work ethic, because these are the two qualities I’ve learned I cannot teach to those that do not possess them already.

Dan, words may fail me in that the hard-learned lessons that I am trying to communicate are very heartfelt and not easily articulated.

Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn. 

-C. S. Lewis

 I believe, that at the end of the day a leader’s effectiveness is the result of how well his people perform and how well those that he is leading achieve high levels of performance.  People don’t achieve high levels of performance because they “should” or they “need to” or even because they “must”.   People only achieve high levels of performance because they want to.

“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people. – Mohandas Gandhi

 Best of luck to you in your future endeavors.

Fly, fight and win!




The Most Extreme Christmas House is in Hampton, Virginia

Yesterday, I was invited to a party at a window replacement and kitchen remodel client’s house who lives across the street from the most extreme Christmas house I have ever seen.  He tells me that the neighbor starts decorating in October and switches on the lights the day after Thanksgiving