01 May John Hourihan discusses custom homes, fine craftsmanship and social media
Drive, passion, desire to learn, and willingness to take a leap of faith can take you a long way in the building industry. Few people know this better than Johnny Hourihan, who has spent the last 22 years in various roles, from construction laborer and architecture student, to project manager and director of operations. He “navigates the special details that go into every home” at Riverstone Custom Builders these days, in addition to running a podcast titled “The Modern Craftsman.”
“There’s a lot of kids on social media who think they can wake up one day after reading a couple magazines or watching an HGTV show and get investors throwing all their money into a house,” Hourihan says, adding: “It’s not that easy.” In this podcast, he details his long, winding path to directing the construction of multi-million-dollar homes in the Boston area, and discusses what it means to be a “modern craftsman” in this day and age.
The path to becoming a master craftsman can take several decades…
- Johnny has loved building for as long as he can remember – from his teenage years, building furniture from hockey sticks.
- For years, he worked as a laborer, ripping roofs off houses, remodeling bathrooms and kitchens, working on additions.
- He studied architecture and graduated with a degree in Construction Management from the Wentworth Institute.
- Running your own company may not be worth your time if you don’t know how to price your projects.
- Shadowing contractors and putting in extra hours to have your hand in everything gives you valuable experience, though.
- After some Project Management work, he was recruited by Riverstone Custom Builders, which does $3-5 million projects.
The Modern Craftsman Is a True Professional
Johnny Hourihan explains his notion of what he calls, “the Modern Craftsman,” by saying, “It’s not how the trades are depicted in movies, where the plumber’s pants are falling down, the construction worker’s a drunk, or the guy in the flannel shirt pulls up in the beaten-down van. I’m not offended by it, but it’s just this kind of running joke media portrayal.”
Sometimes people look down on our modern tradesman, Johnny has noticed, but college isn’t for everyone and you can make a phenomenal living if you’re great at what you do, whether it’s carpentry, plumbing, or whatever. “You can have a great quality of life without going to school for finance. If you work 10-2 every day, you’ll make a 10-2 salary, but if you’re willing to bust your ass, going 7 to 7, if you work Saturdays and you use your drive to develop a company with great craftsmanship and branding, you can have a great retirement fund and drive that Tesla.”
In his podcast, “The Modern Craftsman,” Johnny Hourihan and two of his fellow industry friends answer commonly asked business questions about making a living as a tradesman. The Modern Craftsman podcast can be found on iTunes or at www.themoderncraftsman.org. For more information, you can reach Johnny Hourihan by text at 617-943-3805 or on Instagram @JohnnyRCB.
“Here’s Johnny RCB” Podcast Transcript:
Jason: So, good morning, guys. I’m here with “Here’s Johnny RCB” joining me on the podcast today and I couldn’t be more excited to have this guy. He’s got great energy, building some unbelievable houses, I gain a ton of inspiration from his builds and just his personality and character. Welcome Johnny…
Johnny: Well, thank you for having me, Jason. I mean, we’ve talked for years through social media and I thought it was… I was thoroughly impressed with you when I met you in Florida and then again at the Cambria thing, so this is absolute pleasure for me to chat more with you.
Jason: It’s so cool that all this came about through Instagram, and so many times we see guys on Instagram. You may direct message and converse but you and I have had the unique opportunity to meet twice. We’re talking about another meet up again in the future. I feel like you’re a long-lost brother or something!
Johnny: It’s crazy how social media and the internet in general, has made that. If you asked me to go internet dating I would be, like, “This is crazy”, this is very, very similar. The fact that I meet you and I feel like I’ve known you for years, I think that’s the same thing as, you know, Okay Cupid.
Jason: Well and we both share such similar passions and that’s building beautiful custom, a lot of spec homes, a lot of custom homes…
Johnny: I think we both blur that gray area. I’ll rarely use the word “spec” and a lot of people question if either one of our houses are actually for sale or if they’re for a client. They’re assuming it’s for a client, and I think that’s what’s great about what both of us do is that it’s that higher level of construction and details, even though it is for sale.
Jason: Yeah I get it all the time, they’re, like, “Well this can’t be a spec home. No builder puts this level of detail in a spec.”
Johnny: Or this thought and this much effort into something that’s a spec.
Jason: Yeah. No, absolutely. So, why don’t you give my listeners… let’s just start from the beginning. What I love to do is create a story and let people know, because you can’t start immediately building multi-million dollar homes and get in this business.
Johnny: But there’s a lot of kids on social media who think they can. They wake up one day, and they’ve read a couple magazines or This Old House, or watched a HGTV show and boom, they get investors throwing all their money into a house. It’s not that easy.
Jason: So how many years have you been in the business?
Johnny: I’m rolling on 22, actually. 22 years.
Jason: Holy Cow. So where does your passion, where does your interest, how did you even get into this crazy business?
Johnny: It goes way back. I mean, I was, back in high school I was mowing lawns, but my buddy, he would drive me, and I just couldn’t find myself really wanting to continue to mow lawns and do landscaping. I mean, it was manual labor, I could do it, but there’s only so many straight lines you can cut with a lawnmower.
So, I was building hockey stick furniture, because I played hockey my whole life, still do. But I would grab broken sticks back when they were wood, they’re not wood anymore, and collect them all, because I would also work at the rink, at the pro-shop. I was a guy that always had multiple jobs. I was always hustling because that’s all I ever knew. My mom hustled, I’m an only child so I really didn’t have… I didn’t do a lot of playing around. It was either sports or work.
I was cool with that, but I’d collect all those sticks and then I would go to Grossman’s Bargain Outlet and I’d go to some local woodworkers, I’m from New England, and they’d have a scrap pile of wood every time you walked by their lumber yard fences. And I would always… my mom would be walking and I would grab a whole handful and take it home and I’d be doing it all the time. So, I made hockey stick furniture out of crappy tools from Grossman’s Bargain Outlet, that would be Harbor Freight now, and just doing what I had to do.
I would do that and I was, like, “You know what, I really like this. I could build this,” and then watching This Old House, you know, and falling in love with those guys and the trades, building stuff, that’s all I ever knew. So, I was, like, “You know what? I’m not going to go back to landscaping this summer. I’m going to get a job.”
My first interview was on a tailgate and they loved… I think I had, the effort was there so they could understand I don’t know if it was passion back then because I didn’t know what I was getting into. I was working on a crew that was two guys, a foreman, and lead carpenter, and I was, kind of, labor. We were tearing the roof off capes, which is like a single story house with a bedroom with vaulted ceilings in it, or clipped ceilings. We ripped off those, our specialty was ripping those off and putting on a second story, making it a colonial.
Everything, I mean you get a crash course in construction right there. You know, you go from demo, ripping a roof off, dealing with a client so the water doesn’t get in through New England, and then you’re framing right away. So you get, you run the gambit, it’s not like we specialized in trim work or just roofing. You got to dabble in everything and I just soaked it up. It wasn’t like anything I didn’t like. If it was digging a hole, I was cool with whatever it took to do and the crew really accepted that.
Jason: You weren’t afraid to get in there and get your hands dirty.
Johnny: No, I expected it. And I think nowadays it’s kind of the opposite, they expect it to be given a higher-end job or management, but no I loved it. Every time I could get as much money as I could I would buy a tool and then try and do what they weren’t letting me do. You getting me? Like, I had a threshold where I could only do so much because of what I knew but I would always just watch. I was always a big fan of This Old House. Watching what they did and trying to manipulate what I was going to do, but same thing there. Whatever they were doing.
I remember the day I was on the roof, doing… we got the roof in that place, and I decided I was going to… oh they told me I had to bring all the shingles up to the guys. So I was lumping two bundles and a piece, whatever it took, and I’m trying to do it in a record, like I can do it two at a time, I can get this much done, just having an effort.
I did that, and then once they got far enough up the roof I didn’t realize that I couldn’t just keep throwing them over the ladder onto the first plank. I had to get them to the second plank. And, I had never been on a roof before. You know, I helped frame it but I never got up there. The other guys sheaved it, I was just cutting plywood, and I got to the point where I got the bundles, put them up there and then went onto the first plank, and was on all fours. The guys looked down at me and were, like, “What are you doing?”
I’m, like, “How do I do this?” And they’re, like-
Jason: Don’t fall.
Johnny: Like, old school. I figured it out, you know? I remember sitting there on all fours going, “If this is going to be the rest of my life, I need to step up and be the best at walking the roofs that I possibly can. If I’m 15, and I’m on a roof right now, and I plan on having a career in this, if I want to be like Tom Silva, he’s not affected by anything, I’ve got to really kick it into gear and just get over my fear, and not think about being 22 feet up.”
And I did that from that day on. And then you take that… honestly, that mentality is all the way through, whether nowadays it’s like doing bookkeeping. I don’t want to reconcile that job. It’s the same as getting on all fours on that roof and getting over it, and just doing the worst things that you have to do in a business, same mentality. Get over it and be the best at what things that suck are in this business.
Jason: So, you started, you were saying, like 15, 16, you were deep in the trenches there.
Johnny: Yeah, starting off as a laborer, you know? With the old crappy tool belt, tool bag, and just a hammer and a utility knife. That was it, you know? But I kept going, and that guy actually retired. He was 64, and the next summer I came back and went for a different crew and I stayed with that guy for seven years. All the way through college. So whenever I could… I went to school, I wasn’t even going to go to school, funny, I’ll go back to this. I haven’t told this story where…
I was in high school, I played hockey, and I wasn’t really thinking about going to college, to be completely honest with you. I was thinking about going to the military or being a firefighter, or both, however it shook out. I think back then you needed to have military experience to be a firefighter, it’s how it…
Johnny: You wouldn’t make the list. If you did you’d be low because veterans got in first. So, it was my mentality. I had to think about being a firefighter, studying it, and the colleges came along, I had a really good buddy of mine that was a really good player. He was probably the best player in our league and he played for what I played, defense, and colleges came looking at him and I think they came across me. I don’t think I was anything special, I just think it was a two-for-one.
And then colleges started saying, “Hey, do you want to go to school?” And I was, like, “For what? I don’t belong there.” They were, like, “What do you like?” I’m, like, “Architecture.” They’re, like, Wentworth came along, Rhode Island Institute of Technology came along, Roger Williams, a lot of these good tech schools, college schools came along, they’re like, “We’ll give you financial aid and you get to play hockey.”
I’m, like, “I can do that. I can do that all day.”
So, that’s kind of how college came about for me, but honestly I didn’t think I needed it. That’s become more of a topic now, but…
Jason: So where did you end up majoring… where did you go to college?
Johnny: I went to Wentworth Institute, which is right in the city, so it’s probably 40 minutes from my hometown. I went there for architecture to start with.
Jason: And, what city is that?
Johnny: That’s in Boston.
Jason: Boston, okay.
Johnny: Yeah, right in Boston. I did that. My first year was a struggle because college hockey was way more of a commitment than I’d ever imagined. And furthermore, I studied architecture in high school. That was not like going to school that specialized in architecture, like a lot of kids did. So, I was behind the eight ball and didn’t even know it.
I took the effort where… I took the mentality where if I just hustled, I would make it. That’s what’s worked for me forever. I was 19, 18, whatever it was. But, the truth of it was that I’d learned about, you know, Frank Lloyd Wright from my own studies. Kids that I was in class with had already gone to Falling Water.
We were talking two different levels. So, I took all night to do my projects, these kids were excelling at what they did. So I wasn’t going to get into a four year, or five year program. Five year is when you actually got your license to be an architect at the school. I knew I wasn’t going to fall in that so I had to reconsider what am I really going to approach in this and do it, and what am I going to be able to put 100% into and still also play college hockey?
So, I went to the admin, they were, like, “You could do construction management”, plus I couldn’t see myself behind a desk.
Jason: Right, right.
Johnny: I really enjoyed being out there, and so, construction management actually fell in a lot of the same beginner classes for the college, you know, the first couple years your semester’s easy transition and I absolutely loved it. I think that was the real click. I never really studied at all, to be honest with you, all the way up to my freshman year. It was more, just anything, talent and effort would take you there. But, when I was in college and I was also working, if I had a seven to ten class, I would then leave for ten to two and go pour a concrete slab, or frame a roof, or do whatever was on the scope of work after the crew that we had.
That was a big difference because I was actually able to see what I was learning at college and immediately implement it into my day-to-day on a site, where a lot of these kids were just going to school and then just going to play video games or whatever it was in between classes. I was coming back to my four o’clock class covered in concrete from a pump truck incident earlier that day, you know?
I think I got to see it in real time so it made me really focus a little bit more on what I was learning. So, it was great to do that and I think it’s really given me the ability and the construction management degree of, like I said before, military trains you to be in situations so when you’re shocked in the situation you’ve been taught all this stuff. So, it’s ingrained, so it’s muscle memory. College was able to do that for me for management. Like, seeing the skills that certain guys had in there, good qualities and they’re poor ones, and how to manipulate that situation putting guys where you need to, that helped me tremendously so I could really focus on the cool stuff of the builds.
Jason: Well, it sounds like you got a little taste of the architecture, because I know in some of your builds you’ve definitely got a keen eye for design. It’s cool. That’s one of the things I love about these podcasts, you learn a little bit more about somebody and go to a deeper level. I always thought I should’ve been an architect, or at least have an architecture degree, just because of my passion for architecture, but I would never want to sit and do drawings all day. But, I love that foundation you have of architecture.
Johnny: Well, there’s something about taking it from concept to reality, and we get to do the icing on the cake. We get to take… I mean, again it comes with it’s own conflicts when you have something that’s drawn, it doesn’t always get built the same way.
Jason: Right, right.
Johnny: I think the beauty of what we do is it turns into reality, it’s physical, it’s tangible, where an architect may not ever even see his finished product.
Jason: Right. Well, and sometimes their reality is not our reality, you know? It’s, like, maybe sometimes they should see reality.
Johnny: “Verify in field” isn’t always the easiest thing.
Jason: That’s right, you can’t have a set of blue prints that every page is verified in the field. Come on, man.
Johnny: I like that, and I get it because a lot of our architects is a lead architect and they delegate down to these kids that are associates, they just don’t know what they’re doing.
Jason: Got it.
Johnny: I have a lot of kids, in my last company we had interns, and they would be architect interns and they wanted to… I loved the fact that kids wanted to see how things got built, because they need to.
So, it’s huge to be able to have that, and I think it’s a great learning experience. We have interns that come in, in an architecture degree to see how it gets built day-to-day, because it changes their thought process on what they draw. So, in any level it’s huge. That’s dynamite.
Jason: So, you get your construction management degree, graduate college, where do you go from there?
Johnny: So, I basically continued what I was doing with my crew out of Norwood, Mass., at that point I was running six or seven guys, and the way we did it for that company was we spread out, we probably had six active projects at any given time. But it wasn’t like you had crews on every project, it was old school where your crew would kind of hop from job to job. So, as things, you’re waiting for an inspection, or insulation was happening there, you would be on a different site framing, or you might split off one or two at some point.
But we did everything from roofing, everything was self-performed so when I say I had seven guys below me it meant below me meaning I was sheathing the roofs, someone else was cutting for me, someone else was stacking plywood for me. That kind of mentality. But, it was my thing and that’s where I think I fired my first guy, or let him go, because you can’t fire anybody in New England because you’ll get sued.
We went a different direction, and I remember I fired my first guy. He was a semi-pro football player. He was, like, 6’7″, I’m 5’7″, so it was, like, no one every told me that I wanted to do it because I needed to get it under my belt, and he needed to move on. But, it could’ve been my boss who could’ve done it. He pays the cheques and writes them, but I wanted to get one under my belt because I wanted, again, to do the hard things.
If I’m going to be the guy on the 40′ ladder doing the sheathing, or roofing the cap, I can also do this. And no one told me that people can ask questions, because I’d never been fired in my life. So, he was, like, “Why?”
And I’m, like, “What?” I go, “I have your cheque right here. You’re good.” And, he was, like, “Why?”
And then, it was funny. It just snapped like your muscle memory, and I was, like, “These are the issues I’m having. If we’re going to sheathe the roof I need you up there, you can’t ‘okay, I’m going to be down at the next level’, you’ve got to cut the plywood, you can’t then say ‘I don’t cut straight lines’. Well, then I need you to lump the plywood up to the second floor. ‘Well, I have a bad back.’ You have to have a purpose here.”
So it just came out with me because I was… he asked a question that immediate shock and awe, but then I thought about it and was, like, “No, you have legit reasons for moving on from this employee”, and I rattled them all off. Not in, like, you know a… being rude, but it was, like, “If you’re going further for another company you need to have something you bring to the table. Get better at cutting straight lines so you can do sheathing, whatever it is.”
So, he got it. He was more shocked on the other end of receiving that information but it was a good experience for me. I got better at that going forward.
Jason: Well, that, I was listening to our old friend Gary Vanerchuck this morning and he was saying that, “Anybody can hire anybody at any time, but it’s really when you fire somebody you gotta know when to let go.”
Johnny: That’s huge, because you get personal, and that’s a huge issues to deal with because you have personal connections with people. I mean, I take having employees, even though I don’t own this company Riverstone, but, like, Ben and Mike, I value how much I affect their life. Meaning, if we don’t have work lined up that changes their livelihood, so I accept the repercussions that come along with that. It can be fun but you have to know that if the company’s not making money you have to either turn it around, know the numbers, or you need to be real and go, “Hey, I can’t afford so-and-so.”
We’ve had to let guys go here whether they don’t perform or they just aren’t the right fit for the culture we have for this company. And you have to pull that plug otherwise, personally, you’re losing money. And it is a tough thing. I made it sound super easy but I’m sure you and I both know-
Jason: No, well you’ve got 23 years in you to get to this point. So before we get into Riverstone, I guess, give me… so you’re self-performing a lot of the work, you fired your first guy, and you’re out there…
Johnny: That was into the management end of the business, you know? I didn’t know anything about how we priced things, I remember I used to walk through with my boss, and he would walk through a house, he’d bring me along for estimates. We’d walk… because I’m a sucker for walking through houses.
Jason: Me too.
Johnny: And he would walk a house, and walk it for an hour, and he’d turn to the client and say, “That’s $270,000. That’s what we’re thinking of for a number.”
And I’d turn to myself internally, and go, “I’m never going to be a GC. I’m never going to have my own company because I just walked the same thing he walked. I wasn’t thinking of any numbers, like I didn’t see any of those details that he saw.”
That was my big take away, and honestly, that was the one item through my career that I was, like, “I’m not going to have my own company” because of that one instance where I’m not going to know everything.
Here’s the thing, here’s a newsflash. We’re not going to… this industry is different, every house you look at, every house you build, renovate, whatever, add onto. Different situations you’re never going to learn everything. So take the approach that you’re always learning. But that stumbled me for a very long time.
Jason: It is tough because you feel like you want to be the expert and everything, and I’m a couple hundred houses in and I learn stuff every day. It’s, like, how have I never come across that situation before? It’s the school of hard knocks, really.
Johnny: It is. And when you have your own business the school of hard knocks comes with not having time being at home with your family, working Saturdays and Sundays, or not being paid for your final payment because… or you get your final payment but all that profit’s gone because you’ve wasted it learning something along the way that you just didn’t know. But next time you’ll make that money and make that correction.
But yeah, it’s insane. I love this.
Jason: I know, I know. I’ve got… I should have a plaque or a wall board of all my costly mistakes I’ve encountered over the years, so I might be retired by now.
Johnny: They’re all internal, man. You never put those out for display, it’s like your wall of shame.
Jason: That’s right, that’s right. Okay, so how did you make the transition from working in the jobs and on the jobs to actually, you know, managing business? How did that transition happen?
Johnny: Yeah, so, it was a bit of time, there, where I ended up… so funny part of that, let me just pick up where I left off, where I worked for that guy for seven years. And then one day, right before Christmas, I was chatting, figuring out what my Christmas bonus would be, because I always put my cheques in my visor when I was a carpenter. Like, I always just worked. And when I didn’t work for him on weekends I was doing roofing. So, my college buddies would do roofing on the side because it saved people money, and do that.
So I had my JMH Construction, which is my initials, and I had a letter head, I had raised-ink business cards. So, I was doing stuff on my own, you know, while working for somebody. Bought all my own equipment, so all my own tools of mine on the sites. My boss was gonna give Christmas bonuses one year, he was about 63, he decided to shut it down.
I was, like, “What do you mean? What happens on Monday?” I just didn’t get it. I was just a dumb kid, naïve.
He said, “You don’t come in on Monday.” And I was, like, “I don’t get it.”
So, I went to every job site and went to pick up all my tools because they were spread out amongst all different things, like my chop saw, tile saw, whatever it was. Every single client let my old boss, or my former boss at that point, go, and said, “Hey, finish the jobs.”
So, my company, I never really went out and had my own company. I always thought about getting JMH going, but at that moment every client knew who was running the job so they all let him go and they hired me on the spot. Some of those clients said, “Hey, stay here. Work on my Victorian, do my laundry room. Do the attic,” you know, “to a library.”
They basically parked me at their houses until I could get on my feet and pay for insurance and all that stuff, and that was huge. And that’s really when it transitioned into wearing a tool belt to actually pricing jobs, doing estimates, doing multiple tasks not really involved with the day to day wearing badge and performing the work. You’d do more back end office stuff where you’re doing Quick Books, you’re doing payroll, you’re dealing with insurance, audits, all that stuff. And then you found, all my trades that I had for doing electrical and all that stuff were guys I’d used over the years. So that entire time of being a carpenter I’d collect business cards.
It was funny, I was going through stuff the other day in my basement and I found my… not my Rolodex, I used to have a leather, kind of, folder, and you’d open it up and have all… like almost all-
Jason: Oh, portfolio. Yeah, I got-
Johnny: …all my business cards, but I remember for years it used to be sitting on my dashboard. If I ever needed anything it would be, like, it wasn’t an iPhone at the time, it was next of the flip phones, and that’s how it worked.
That’s really when it transitioned into more management because I didn’t really start off with doing the small projects, I was finishing off kitchens and bathrooms and stuff that I picked up. And then that just kept going. A lot of those clients I had that I’d been with for years, I’d been on one house for five years. They ended up being an architect, and he ended up buying properties that we developed.
So, it went from taking a Victorian that had vinyl on it, ripping it all off, and then turning it into an original Victorian with all the… take all the details that someone had ripped off the front, put them on, and stage them and put them on the front. Did all that and then they actually bought property, and I bid my first $1.4 million job where I would self-perform everything.
I had to make those transitions slowly because I was still doing kitchens and baths, like an idiot. I was saying yes to everybody, so on weekends I’d be doing that and then I got this big job which is a huge house, it was actually a duplex, 9000 square feet, and I really had to look and go, “Hey, they need it done in 14 months. Here’s the great part of it. How am I going to do this in 14 months? Work backwards. I can’t self-perform everything,” but at the time my answer was I’m going to be a GC, I wasn’t going to sit in my truck as I do now, I’m going to be a guy that if we’re pouring foundations I’m stripping forms with them in the morning. I’ve already made all my phone calls so everyone’s set up. I literally had a storage unit there, day one, once we demoed the house, and all my windows from Marvin were sitting in it.
So, I checked my RO’s, I wanted to be so ahead of the game. I didn’t even have a foundation yet. They dropped off windows, and the guys were, like, “Why am I dropping off windows?”
And I’m, like, “Because I don’t want any… all my lead items I want them all going if I’m going to hit 14 months.”
So there was framers, if we had 11, I made 12, so being a young kid at 22, 23, owning my own company, doing this size of project, guys will walk right past you like you’re invisible. Or, they’re going to prove something that they know more than you because you’re a young kid who’s got this project.
So, instead of fighting that I then turn around and did more. So, I would work weekends on HVAC, with an HVAC contractor. I’d work weekends and nights with a plumber. I didn’t want to be hosed being a young guy not knowing it all. You can only learn so much from This Old House.
I had to do it and understand that hey, it’s a six inch duct work that goes to the bathroom, it was whatever. So I didn’t have to learn on the ground and lose money or time, so I did all that. But, it worked for me.
And, then, I did that for seven years, owned my own company and I just didn’t say no, and my numbers were too cheap because I didn’t know enough. I didn’t have the sounding board of RG, and no other guys with their spending-
Jason: I think it’s tough sometimes, and I still struggle with this, is we create a ton of value for the work we do and we’re always afraid to command the price that we truly deserve for the work we do. It’s, you know, you’ve got to ask for it or you’re never going to get it. They’re only going to pay you what you ask for it.
Johnny: And the thing is I was asking for numbers that I thought were good numbers. I was naïve, like I said, I only walked through them, my boss taught me great things and mentored me for construction knowledge, but the business end was all in his head, for good or bad.
But, I went about my business and I didn’t make enough money. I didn’t charge enough and I should’ve put the bags down earlier because it was following a passion in making sawdust but it wasn’t putting enough money in my pocket, or I wasn’t building my company long term. So I was doing everything I thought I could, like a lot of guys have, instead of getting a book keeper. I did do payroll pay checks so that came through that way, so I wouldn’t get audited, that was what my book keeper said. Not my book keeper, my accountant, for my taxes. I did those little things but I didn’t hire anyone on the back end, I never chased any money that was owed to me. I just assumed those clients would pay me at some point.
That’s added up over seven years where I could’ve bought my own house. I bought my house when I was in college but I could’ve renovated it sooner. But I didn’t look at it that way because I was young.
Then, when I had my first child that all changed, where I was running everything, I was doing… I mean, I was doing tile, still only tile, I’ve got back to back houses, I was booked for almost a year. And, I would do kitchen cabinets on the weekends. I’d bring my trailer with everything in it so I wouldn’t have to go to Home Depot. Everything would be in there, so I could show up to somewhere and everything would be there, say, “Hey, I want to do gutters, I’ve got these gutters dropped off.” Everything would be in my trailer to do gutters that day.
It just took a huge toll on me, and my wife just turned to me and said, when she walked through one of the houses, and I was washing windows like an idiot, she goes, “You got to do something else. You’ve got to really make a career out of this and not have a labor of love.”
And, like you probably know, when the boss says something it’s probably right, and it’s probably from a different vantage point.
Jason: Yeah, she’s definitely got your best interest at heart.
Johnny: Yeah, you’re in the forest and you can’t see through the trees, and she’s looking from a helicopter going, “You’re an idiot. Can you smarten up?”
And I was, like, “You know what, she stuck with me for seven years building that company and having great experience that got built and great projects, but what’s the takeaway? What have I really gotten?”
So, I had to listen to her. I shut it down probably within, I want to say, four months of her saying it. Once I finished my last house and got my… here’s the thing, another point is don’t ever walk away from a project, whatever the client says or whatever. Even if you’re changing your company to something else. I finished the project I was on even though I knew I wasn’t going to be in business going forward. I finished it so I got to see it all, I got all that information, I got everything I needed to get done so they were set.
And I still warranteed it so my phone still rang, I’d still go back there. I still do it. That’s my big thing is if the phone rings, whatever company you’re with, whatever you do it’s still your project. It’s still your stamp on this Earth.
So, I did all that and I decided to go out and become a PM. That’s what I went to school for. I was, like, “Let’s try that, you have the experience after, I don’t know, how many years of doing it.”
Jason: …all right, so we’re back recording, we’ll kind of pick up where we left off. There you are…
Johnny: You still there?
Jason: Yeah. Okay. There you go. So, you want to pick up just kind of talking… we’ll piece it back together.
Johnny: Exactly. So, where the hell was I? Yeah, so after 41 companies, and my first interview, it didn’t really hit me until I was sitting in front of the glass conference room, and the guy who was walking out was interviewing for the same position, was, like 41 years old. I was, like, 20 something. It shocked me right then and there. I was, like, “I don’t belong here.”
I almost ran out, I was, like… so I was still, I was, like, “I don’t have the experience, whatever.” I only knew my systems that I had created through Excel spreadsheets and tracking everything, and doing my bids. So, I got definitely antsy, but it was actually a great interview. It was the three owners of the company, and it was… they actually told me to go back to my business.
They’re, like, “Go do what you’re doing”, and then my wife told me my biggest mistake I’d made at that interview, I still had three additional interviews after that with them, so it got real close closing it but I didn’t.
They said, “Who else are you interviewing with?” And I’m, like, “Oh, several companies. You know, like…” “Who?”
And I pulled out my spreadsheet, again still the naïve kid, and it was, like, every company I talked to, when, who my contact person was, what their numbers were, who I have to hit back and when, slid it across the table and all three of them huddled over it. They turned to me, looked up, and go, “Why are we number 13?” And I said it wasn’t in any particular order.
Jason: Oh ho ho no!
Johnny: It was just how it worked, and they were very impressed. But they had a great interview process where that was your first interview. Then the following week you went and met with your lead operations guy at, like, a Four Seasons penthouse they were doing all over. You met with him, he then fed back to the owners. You went to another one the following week and you met at, like, five a.m., it was probably six but I got there at five, and you then left their main office and went and hit every single one of their PMs, they had six of them, throughout the day. And then their PMs fed back to them, the owners. And then if you made it past them then they meet with you again.
I made it to their final meeting with their whole company, three year management meeting, it was good, it just didn’t shake out. I ended up… I had two other offers at the time already and so I really wanted to work for them, but I waited, then I accepted another offer. And that’s when I just did straight up management. That was it.
Jason: And what year, how long ago was that?
Johnny: I want to say, maybe, 10 years ago?
Jason: Okay. So 10 years. So you’ve-
Johnny: But, yeah, so I did that and I actually worked for them for a year and I started running… I would run four or five of their products at once, kitchens and baths, to additions, remodels, and that’s when the reality stepped in that what value I brought to the table when I was banging nails was my energy, my attitude, and the number I was given.
So, I went and worked for this company and the first one of the additions I did was a two car garage with a family room, and kitchen renovation with master above. I did the exact same addition on my project. For myself, sorry, for my company. Years before that I’d charge, like, 275. Guess what they were charging for me as a PM on a project where I got to see the whole budget?
It was, like, 575. So, I was on a different planet. That’s why people’d love me and they didn’t really give me any flack, and I was booked forever, because I never had the right price point.
Johnny: I was super cheap.
Jason: Well, and I think that’s advice for anybody in the business out there, is, you can build a beautiful house, you can do everything right, but if you don’t know your numbers you are wasting your time.
Johnny: Wasting it. The only thing you get out of it is experience. Don’t get me wrong, it’s valuable, but it has to be a solid mix, like an 80/20. Get experience, make sure you’re paying the bills for the 80%. And it’s always the opposite. I guarantee you anyone that listens to this has three to five years in the business, I bet you they can think of that ratio as the opposite. They’re thinking about tools, thinking about what they can buy next with their trailer pump staging, and not…
They’re just spending money, they think they’re putting it into their company but they need to receive it so they can do investments on their own or buy income property. Because, let’s be honest, a lot of these guys, including myself, through those years never saved up in a 401K, never put money in a Roth IRA, never had any money put away for retirement. So, you’re going to bang nails until you’re 90.
Jason: Well, and that’s advice that I think is valuable is you’ve got to take… you can invest in the business but you’ve got to take money off the table and diversify, because if something ever happens to that business, you’re shot. So, diversify, take money off the table, maybe buy some investment properties like you talked about that maybe produce some money for you while you’re sleeping.
Johnny: That’s the goal, I mean that’s my long term goal is to make enough money where, yeah, you can start buying two families and stuff like that, in the city, where we grew up. It’s the way to go. Because I know I have people I can call. I don’t need to be afraid of that scenario because it’s in my blood, but that’s long term.
I ended up working for that company for a year. I wanted to be longer, I told the owner when I sat down with him, “I’m giving you my livelihood, it’s a big deal.” I always knew where my work was coming from, whether it was peanuts or not, it’s what I knew. And then they hired two PM’s at the same time, we ran their office up here in Metro West area of Massachusetts. The other PM they hired, within two months, broke his leg. I think it was a skateboarding accident or something ridiculous.
But he was probably, like, 30. And I took over every products. So, I took over nine products for that company, and I just went from product to product, and I killed all of them. Every single one of them I multi tasked, executed, did change orders, did all back office work. To me, going from being your own business owner in self-performing stuff, and doing the estimating and running all the subs, answering all the questions, meeting with clients, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, then just doing the role of a PM seemed like I just knocked off 17 roles that I was doing before.
So, I should be able to take on more work, and that’s what I did. Plus, I was always used to working seven to midnight. So, the hours didn’t scare me either, you know? I was definitely, again, hard work has always got me, whether it was college hockey, not being the best player but still being a captain my senior year through hard work, it’s worked all the way through my entire career.
So I did that but then, I think, the economy tanked. So then they didn’t evolve as well, where they didn’t change their pricing structures, so they lost a lot of work or they didn’t have work coming in, so they had to tail back the entire division that we had. So, I went and worked for another company. That was the only time I ever was a PM. Just to be straight in my career, because my next job I took on was Boston Green Building, and I was the director of operations there.
I could then, I could facilitate everything I wanted in a project, whether it’s, you know, a lot of guys do it with, I do it now, what I say to my trades is the details I want. I could do it where I sell the product to a client and then I bring it right through into from pre-construction, to construction, so I can manage my PM. So, every PM we had, I think we had four, each one would have a minimum of three jobs. That’s kind of just a rule of thumb, how we rolled with it, meaning if they’re working eight hours a days and they’re billing out three hours a day on each project, until we did the estimates the companies making an hour a day, but they’re on salary so they’re really working 10, so it’s profitable that way.
We did that, so I did a lot of jobs, me and the owner there, I did all that stuff with him, we bid all the products and then we made binders, as we did them, that were, I would show you one even though we’re on Skype, but you won’t see it in the podcast. But, it shows every division of construction, and as we did the bidding we’d get the bids in for plumbing, electrical, HVAC, slide them into these binders, so when we turned it over to construction, you handed a binder to the PM and say, “Hey, this job’s entirely bid out, you can use whoever you want, but here’s your baseline for everybody.”
And that’s how we rolled from pre-con into construction. I would only, I’d be at the job maybe I’d stop at each job once a week. That’s what we told PM’s. If they were doing their jobs you’d see me once a week. If you saw me more often then we’re having issues that we need…
But, it was a good rule of thumb for them to see as well, I mean, if you didn’t see me then we’d have our operations meeting once a week, we’d get pizza and we’d all just talk through the scope. If anyone had any problems, go over what change orders need to be written up that weren’t. So, I really went from, swinging a hammer and wearing a tool belt, to being a PM for a year, running a ton of projects at once to go right into a pre-cons… a director of operations phase where you’re able to change the culture of a company and everyone went for it. Meaning, from the owner to me, right down from PM’s down to laborers, to everyone on site, had the same mentality, and that was huge. I loved that end of the business.
Jason: So, how long were you with, was it, Boston…?
Johnny: Boston Green Building. Yeah, I was in it for four years.
Johnny: That was great, and I would’ve stayed there longer. Literally I didn’t get a raise, I didn’t take a raise at all because I wanted to make sure that the group of guys… we’re talking about this all the time on social media. I’m nothing without my subs. Same difference as a pre-construction director of operations guy, you’re nothing without your PM’s. Your company job doesn’t make money, you don’t make money, the details don’t get hit, so I want to take care of those core guys.
I had one guy walk into my office, and he was with me for two years, and he left. That was a shock and awe to me. It was honestly the underlying reason was because we didn’t have the best health insurance. He had kids and it shocked me. So I was, like, all right. I’m going to focus on making sure that everyone gets what they want for insurance, make sure that they have vacations, all that stuff, and it was huge to me. So, I didn’t take a raise for the whole time I was there.
Jason: Wow. Wow. So, you said you wish you… or you thought you could’ve stayed there longer? Or where did you go after that?
Johnny: I would’ve stayed there, and then Pete, my current boss, kind of stole me. Again the only reason why he knew about me was I did a project in Wellesley, it was around the corner, he used to walk by me every day. I would be there from, like, six a.m. to whatever, shoot to a different job, come back, finish my day, neighbors thought I never left because my truck was always there, they thought, like…
And he would walk by at, like, 10 with a coffee and his black lab, and I’m, like, “Dude, I want…”, and he was developing houses, and he’d walk from his house to one house he was developing, similar to what you have in your area, and I’m, like, “I want your life”, after a month of watching that.
I was, like, “I want your life.” I said it to him, and it’s just how I left it, just kind of smirking and being envious of it, but I then moved on. The client I worked for for that house he was walking by was good friends with him, and I kept in contact with my clients, had lunch with them every six months. Just how I always network. Like you, always stay in touch with good people, no matter what it takes because you never know when you might need a sounding board.
Business was good where I was but, talking to the other guys, and then I was posting on Linkedin a lot, like what we were doing, I was running a blog from my last company, while I was doing everything else because blogs are kind of the easier thing before social media hit. He ended up reaching out to me. I thought I was going to put a PM, from my company, on one of his builds. That’s what my thought was when I drove out there.
Then, at the end of it, he was, like, “Well, this could be, you know, a good option for you.”
And I’m, like, “Pfft, I’m good where I am.” Actually, I didn’t even return phone calls. I was more, like, “No, I’m good where I am, I don’t need to move on. I don’t… if I’m not putting a PM there it’s not for me, it’s not what I’m going for.”
Then he kept going and gave me an offer that I couldn’t refuse. It was a really tough situation, I still almost gave up because I love the culture, and again, same mistake I made when I had my company, really enjoyed wearing a tool belt, really enjoyed the culture and the atmosphere that I created at my old company, but now it’s a business. It’s how you grow as a family.
I had two kids at that point, what am I going to do? Is my life really where it needs to be, or should I take this opportunity, build houses straight up and have a blast? So I took that opportunity. I think three guys, or four guys, gave their notice the day I said I was leaving, because, you know people work for people that hustle.
Johnny: And then other guys, later on, stayed and went off on their own. But I’m happy where I’m at, it’s a good business, and we’re a lean company. There’s only two other guys that work with me in the field. Pete does all the business development, buys the properties for spec, and then kind of puts a foundation in the ground that we can’t change, meaning it fits best on that lot.
So, once the foundation’s in, it’s maxed out that lot. Then we get to go to town and figure it out. And that’s kind of where I’m at now, so, not really bidding a lot of stuff but being able to design more and catering towards what, not so much trends but, you’ve kind of got in Cambria. We want to be before the trends, ahead of curve, and that’s what we get to do now is sculpt with really cool stuff.
Jason: It definitely looks like you guys are having fun and so your current company is Riverstone Custom Builders, so how many… I think this is what a lot of people find hard to believe is you guys are building, I’m going to call it spec homes because it’s a custom spec home, and they’re, what? Three, four, five million dollar projects that you guys are working on right now?
Johnny: Exactly right, yep.
Jason: And you’re doing concept to completion on these things. If you guys are following, I mean I’m sure everybody’s following Here’s Johnny RCP on Instagram, I mean, it just adds another layer to the building process, and getting to watch what you guys are doing.
It’s funny, I was talking to my wife, Gretchen, the other night, and you do a thing on Fridays where you showcase nine or twelve people that give you inspiration. I was, like, “Hey, Gretchen, do you know when he does that I really want to do that and give a shout out to some folks.”
She said, “You know, I follow Johnny and I watch him a lot, but sometimes I don’t watch it all because I don’t feel like I’m doing enough after I watch him.”
And… oh man, did we freeze up again?
Johnny: I’m still here.
Jason: Oh, all right. Good, good. So, you know, it’s, like the amount of work and energy you produce is probably more than most, but I think that’s why you guys are able to build these houses in what, eight, nine months?
Johnny: Yeah, I mean, it depends. Right now we’re doing one that’s 8200 square feet, we’ll be topping out at eight months. That’s from foundation all the way to finish.
Jason: Wow. And what’s the name of that project?
Johnny: That’s Lathrop Custom Two.
Jason: Okay. And is that one that has the awesome, cool staircase in it with the x pattern?
Johnny: Yes. You should see it right now. This morning they actually, the x has to… we put all the aluminum dowels in, and then we had to put the criss-cross in, and then they split the criss-cross in half and they route it out where the dowels will go, and then they put them back together. They just did one when I was over there looking at the Cambria stuff, mint. Literally, when they glue it up, it’s going to look like it… you don’t… it’s going to look like magic, and that’s what I said to all the guys.
How do you make it, whether it’s a painter, or anybody, I want people to look at the trim and go, “How do you think they installed that?” People who don’t know construction, because you can’t see any of the nails, everything’s filled, you’re not going to know how the rods got into the wood.
Jason: Well, you know, I’ve been following along with that project and I thought, “Is he going to put the x on the outside of those aluminum dowels?”
Johnny: That’d be the easy way. And that’s part of the business. You can do it easy and simple, or you can do it the right way, where it takes a little bit of effort and the craftsmanship comes back where, yeah, this was done with craftsmen. These guys thought it out, a group of us tried to figure out what the most economical and efficient way. You could say cheap and fast, but it sounds classier this way. How everyone saves money, where it is a spec custom, how do you do it on a budget? So that’s what we’ve got to do is how do you get… instead of doing the amount of newel posts and ballasts and everything there, how do you do it where it’s the same amount of cost but a way cooler design on a budget? And that’s what we have to do day to day.
Jason: So, that kind of brings up the current status with you, but one of the things you just touched on and I think I want to hit a little bit on is today’s modern craftsmen. How do you encourage guys that… you know, because carpentry, and some of these guys, it’s a dying art and I know in our market, in Louisville, we’re having a shortage of laborers and tradesmen to do these detailed tasks. It’s almost, like, you’ve got a couple folks you’re working with that’s creating a campaign, basically, to keep the craft alive. So, maybe give us a little background on what you’re trying to achieve there.
Johnny: Yes, so, correct. I’m an ambassador for Fine Home Building Magazine and they approached us a couple years ago, I want to say maybe a year and a half ago, to write a blog for them, give them content for guys on the ground, boots on the ground, whether it’s carpenters, whatever. That’s really kind of… when we first did it we used to be a brand ambassador and be featured on their magazine, because I’d do articles here and there, how to get showcased and also how would they be able to get on our social media feeds. So, there’s a group of us that you can call them influencers or whatever, but guys that are really trying to pull this community together. Nick from NS Builders, Tyler from CRG Home Concepts, and myself. We really try and do a lot.
And then, that morphed into Fine Home Building launched a Keep Craft Alive campaign, which, it’s really awesome where, you know there is a shortage, like you’re saying. Part of that is having people for these trades, but having skilled tradesmen to do the work. Like we said, Gary V before, we can hire anybody, it’s how do you get someone that’s actually going to improve the quality, efficiency of your projects and the craftsmanship going into it?
So, Keep Craft Alive is a campaign where Fine Home Building’s selling these shirts, that Keep Craft Alive partnered with, I think, Skill USA, I should have written it down. They create… any money that’s raised for that goes to this Skills USA, and it gives a scholarship to kids that if they’re in a voc school, vocational school, or regular school that want to learn more in the trades end of it, they have almost like a trades scholarship instead of going to college.
They can have financial aid to help them make that step into that realm to learn more about cabinetry, or refine their skills, maybe they don’t know they need to do yet, which is great.
I know This Old House is also doing a very similar campaign called Next Generation. So, it is a hot topic where they teamed with Mike Rowe and it’s called Next Generation. They have just a huge pool of funds, where they’re taking, I think, in Florida they announced that they put $500,000 into this piggy bank for scholarships for kids, or whoever. Whether you’re going to drop out of finance and be a skilled tradesman, maybe you want to be a builder, maybe you want to be a craftsman. Again, you’ve missed your calling, you can now go and do that. You can get a scholarship, do that and go to the North Bennett school in the city, and learn how to do these refined things, how to do roofing, how to do roof framing. All that stuff.
Jason: Yeah, because, you know college is great but it’s not for everybody. I think sometimes people look down on our tradesmen, but you can make a phenomenal living if you’re a great tradesman. Great carpenter, great plumber, you know, anything. You can create your own business and if you work at it, put the work in, I mean, you can have a great quality of life.
Johnny: But no one knows that. Mike Rowe puts up a video on Facebook and says how the trades are depicted in movies. It’s always, like, a plumber’s crack, it’s always the drunk, it’s always that… and he’s right, he pulls clips from movies and I’ve never been offended by it. It’s just kind of been a running joke.
But, when you get into the nitty gritty of college, now it’s like the norm. Like, you have to. My mom never went, our parents never did that, but it’s the norm. And the debt that comes along with that investment of college and that education is huge. I know a lot of my friends, and my wife’s friends, that have done that, they can’t dig out. And, it actually stumbles their growth as a family and whatever else to buy houses, to give their kids what they need to do for education.
I think part of this is I always knock HGTV because everything looks good from 30 feet away and the camera, and what you and I both do, Jason, looks good from three inches away. But, part of this whole spin on the trades being, kind of, brought back to life, I think has to do with HGTV.
You know, This Old House has been around forever but it’s always hard to… it’s hit or miss when you see that show, but now being able to see other people and what they can create, and people are DIY doing it, I think it’s expanded what you can accomplish on your own and people see that. Maybe you don’t need to go into finance and you can actually make money. And, again, in this trade you can make as much and as little, like you said, as you want. It depends on how much drive you have. If you decide you want to go ten to two every day, yeah. You’re going to make a ten to two salary. Okay?
But, if you go seven to seven, and you bust your ass, and you work Saturdays, you know you can have a retirement fund. You can have… it may not be as much as a hedge fund guy, but you know, you can have your Tesla. You can have what you want if you put the drive into it and develop a company, and have good craftsmanship, and have amazing branding behind you.
Jason: I think probably one of my favorite terms that, I don’t know if you coined it, or patented it or what, but it is the “modern craftsman.” Because that’s what builders are these days. We are a builder but we are the modern craftsman version of This Old House, and you know, it’s not the guy with the sloppy flannel shirt and a beat up pickup truck. You’re professionals, and-
Johnny: Nice, manicured vehicle that’s detailed, that has a nice branding logo. No, I mean, we haven’t coined it, we do own the URL and a lot of other things to it, and we are doing a lot more with it. Part of this is my colleague, Benny, is also with us. We’re creating a podcast of our own and it’s not like we’re competing. Here’s the thing, we’re not competing against This Old House, or even your podcast or anything. It’s we’re joining everyone together. We’re not competing.
Whether if I’m on your podcast developing this, it’s another way for people to hear a story, and if you and I have the same story and they hear it twice from the two of us, it’s going sink in a lot deeper than them reading it in a magazine.
So we’re having a podcast where, between Nick, Tyler, and myself, as I mentioned earlier, we get a lot of direct messages on social media. I get a lot of guys that text me, I do a phone call every Tuesday night when I go to hockey for an hour. It’s, like Gary V says, how can you maximize the minutes in your day? If I’m driving for an hour and I don’t want to listen to a podcast or a book, audio book, I’m going to answer questions for guys that have bigger questions that can be answered in a hundred and forty character text message back.
So, take all that stuff that’s happened, and you then combine it where Nick, Tyler, and myself have 104,000 followers combined, how do we get answers to people that can’t always get them through text messages and DM’s? So we created a podcast and we’ve documented all these questions over the months on what they are, and we do these live talks with people at the meetups. You get a lot of similar questions and a lot of the similar issues, and how you grow, and some new ones.
So, we want to take that onto a platform where guys can drive and listen to it, and then, more importantly, it can get transcribed like you taught me, transcribed from a podcast onto a blog where, then, they don’t have to listen to it if they want. “I’m having this problem, I remember hearing it on their podcast. I’m going to go there and go through the directory of what they have for topics.”
So where I go with the podcasts is we kind of cover one topic at a time, meaning… like the first one we did that’s up but the audio’s not the best because we had one mic on a Home Depot bucket. But that’s how things start. But, it was a dialogue about how a carpenter asked us, “What do you do if a client comes to you, while you have… you’ve already bid the job, you already have the job, you’re in the job, and how do you… if they want to go with a crappy, or kind of a cheap cabinet, and you’re already in the mix?” Nick will say walk away from the job. But the carpenter in me thinks, “Hey, that’s the next three months of your life. This is your salary, your income for the next three months. You can’t walk away.”
And, how do you then influence that client to make a different decision? We talked about that, because that’s a topic that comes up is that guys, three months in or three years in, they don’t have the confidence to talk about it. We’re going to back you up, okay? Between this community, we’ll back you up and give you the right information you need to know.
That’s what the podcast is going to do, is give you that information, then if you want to have, you know, look at it later, you can go to the blog and catch all that information, and research it later.
So, it’s kind of a database for you as we gain content, and gain more influence and talk with different guys throughout social media, gives you a good platform for you to answer questions, so you don’t lose money or time in your own business.
Jason: Yeah, I’m really looking forward to more episodes coming out, and watching some sneak peeks of what you guys are posting on Instagram has got me pretty stoked. You know, you can follow people and you can learn a lot, but when you get that in-depth podcast and you get that behind the scenes knowledge, it’s invaluable. And, it’s almost, like, should I charge for all this expertise I’m putting out there? You know?
Johnny: I’ve actually been asked that. I’ve actually been approached by people who say, “Hey, I want to hire you on a weekly basis.”
I’m not in this business for that. I’m in this business to have a conversation with somebody, get them riled up to do more, to do better, and clean up the things here and there. And if they follow along… I mean, part of this is, you can go hire guys on the social media circuit that can help you develop certain programs and stuff like that, but honestly, get a book. Or go to school. Honestly, part of this modern craftsman thing, the website’s going to be a huge database for that information, whether it’s…
You have great branding with Artisan, you know, the Signature Homes, that’s unbelievable. How does a guy who just got started do that? So, we’re going to bring that to you. We’re going to bring you… this platform will not only have the information from the podcast, but also, “Hey, how do you do your branding?” The three of us have had decent branding, it’s fairly good on social media, we’re going to show you how to do that. How to work with social media, how to use the hashtags, how to use your story, how to be more comfortable with it so you’re not burning time, which is very important.
And then, how do you brand your vehicles? What’s the most important things? The phone number? Did I make the phone number too small? We’ve all seen those trucks.
Johnny: We’re going to show you all the information. How to go to graphic designers. How you don’t get, you know, you don’t go to graphic designers that say it’s going to be ten grand. You know, we’ll give you a list of our partnerships that we have through graphic designers, whether it’s T-shirts, sticker peels. We talked about stickers earlier before the podcast. All that will be there for you as a resource.
Yes, so you could charge for it, but we’re not going to. We’re going to, basically our approach is that if we put all our information and put it in a spot where you can find it, it’s not piggy-backed to Fine Home Building, or This Old House, it’s from the guys on the ground, and you do it. You’re going to build up. The entire industry will grow as a whole. And it will be better across the board.
Jason: I love it. I love your philosophy with that. So, I don’t want to get in and steal all your thunder from your podcast on Instagram, and whatnot, but if you could give the listeners maybe, give them a tip on Instagram, if they’re just getting started or they’ve been in it for awhile but maybe they’re having trouble getting traction. What advice would you give somebody to get some traction or get involved with Instagram?
Johnny: Social media’s free. All’s it takes is time. And look at it as an investment, where you’re going to write, like, whatever. You draft up a post. A story takes about 15 seconds to do. A post can take a little bit longer depending on what you want to do. This is marketing for your company, and it’s free marketing. It might change in the years, so use the free platform while you have it.
For posts, post your vision, your view, that people can see inside, behind the scenes of what you do. You know, from my end of it, it goes towards carpenters, it goes towards clients. If you’re showing passion, you’re showing craftsmanship but no one else can see you except for the trades on your job site, dude, you have the opportunity to show everybody, and showcase it on a free platform. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that? You’re not putting an ad in the paper.
The biggest thing with social media is, in general, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, any of those, is consistently posting. If you only do it once a day, do it once a day, same time. People will look forward to that post. Even if you don’t think you get a lot of likes, I did it for four years and I may have gotten two likes for the first eight months. Do it for yourself where you can document your growth as you grow in this business, and this industry. You post something of the same house a year ago, and you get to look back at it, you did it for yourself. You don’t get to see how you grow every day, so do that as your own little story. But, more importantly, you can show clients, they can get a better feel for you, how you do what you do, why you do it, the thought process that goes into it.
You couldn’t show that before. I did a guest speaking gig the other day. I brought my own portfolio up. It had, you know, the 8×10 photos, and I told them, “Hey, I used to go to a job, you know you’d stand there after a phone call, you didn’t really vet them because websites weren’t big…”
Jason: So, I think the Skype might be stealing the bandwidth, so, we’re learning. This is my first over-the-bandwidth podcast. So, let me pick up real quick. I think we’ll probably try to wrap up, I think, to keep this at about an hour, and then we can talk about another one.
So, you were talking about just the consistency, I think, of posting.
Johnny: Yeah, I mean, the key with Instagram and any social media feeds is that you have to post consistently. If you can only post once a day, you know, to get started, do that. But, do it every day, whether it’s seven a.m., five p.m., nine p.m., think about when you know you’re on social media, other people will be at the same time.
So it’s nothing crazy, but do that and give people a perspective behind the scenes of what you’re doing. Think of it from the craftsman point of view or a client who’s potentially thinking of doing a kitchen. What would they want to hear that makes you different from everybody else, and it makes it simple for you to do it on social media.
Jason: Well, and I think that’s one thing you taught me when we met down in Orlando. It’s, like, “Jason, why are you not doing stories yet? People want to see behind the scenes.”
I was always afraid, because it’s not a perfect… you know, you’re trying to put this perfect persona out there on Instagram, and it was at the time I realized, well, I’m not perfect, and it’s not a perfect process. People have really embraced the stories, and it’s gotten to a point where it’s a pretty big part of my routine now, is, letting folks see a little bit behind the scenes or what goes into these houses. And, they really enjoy it.
Johnny: The beauty is you can show it, but it takes work. It takes effort. It’s not just the pretty pictures, you know? And that’s huge. And, more importantly, you can see a lot of guys will do it where they show their families. You guys do. Where a lot of times it doesn’t happen where you work ten hours at someone’s house and they don’t appreciate it, they can now follow your story and go, “God, they kept working at my house for an extra two hours to get my job done, and then they walk in the door and their daughters just jumped on them.”
It shows the value of what we do as an industry, which you could never see before. So, take advantage of it while it’s still free. It may change.
Jason: Right, I know it’s, man, Instagram just over the last year has just exploded. My mom’s on it, everybody’s on it now, and it seems to be the platform of choice. I think it’s just so easy for people to really see what we’re doing.
Johnny: It takes seconds in a day and it has everyone’s attention right now which you’re right. I mean, Facebook was hot for awhile, Snapchat, but Instagram is definitely the way to go. And then you can do… plus, you’ve got the analytics. If you’re a business account you can click on that, see what posts are more valuable. It’s the same as a website. You’ll actually cater your posts more towards that. Yeah, like finished photos don’t do well on my account, my Here’s Johnny account, but finished photos on my Riverstone account kill it.
So, people want to see a different view. I had the ability to show the ins and outs of my daily stuff with Ben, my PM’s, how we do things, how we tackle the project, but then on a different platform for design as architects and clients, they get to see all the pretty pictures that inspire them, like Houzz. So, I run both accounts and it’s good. I also run the Modern Craftsman account where we post more about people who got in the business, and that stuff. So, if I can run three accounts and do these houses, you can run one account and post once a day.
Jason: Yeah, no doubt. So, I think I’m a wrap it up, I don’t want to wrap it up, there’s so much more I want to talk about. Give folks an idea about how to contact you, how can they follow you, talk about Riverstone, talk about Johnny, and then maybe even the Modern Craftsman, so people can keep tune of what you’re doing.
Johnny: Exactly. So, you can find me, easiest way is Instagram, Here’s Johnny RCB is my handle. You can hit me up there, whether you see the photos, like a photo, make a comment, or you can direct message me. I try to respond to all of them. It’s getting tougher. And I also do the Riverstone Custom Builders account. That one will have a link to our website, so if you want to see more, if you’re local to us, you can then contact us through that social media account, and then our website you can also get Houzz links, where you can see all the finished photos there.
Then, themoderncraftsman.org is the website. It’s just starting to get launched. It’s more of a landing pad so people can get to know where to find it, and we’re building off of that. We should have it launched by the middle of next month. So, we have Here’s Johnny RCB, Riverstone Custom Builders, and themoderncraftsman.org.
Jason: So, your Modern Craftsman podcast, is that going to be… because the time we push this out it may be a few weeks, so I think you’ll probably have a couple episodes out. How can somebody look that up?
Johnny: So, that will be on iTunes, and any way you can hear a podcast, but also we’re going to try and link it to… right now we’re trying to link it to… we have video of all the podcasts, you’ll be able to see us chatting with whoever it is.
Jason: Oh, wow.
Johnny: Yeah, so we’ll have a YouTube page for that and we’ll also have everything on the website.
Jason: Okay. Awesome. Awesome. Throw us a phone number out there, too, just in case somebody wants to… or do you want to give your phone number out?
Johnny: I give it out all the time when people want to text me. So, it’s 617-943-3805.
Jason: Perfect, man. Well Here’s Johnny, dude, I’ve loved chatting with you. I’ve loved learning a little bit about your story, and I can’t wait to continue following along.
Johnny: Absolute pleasure, man. I love chatting with you, man. It’s like, best friends, you know?
Jason: Fantastic, man.
…and there you have it. Another episode of the custom home builder podcast series with Jason Black and Artisan Signature Homes. For more episodes like this one, and to find out more about our company and process, please visit our website at artisansignaturehomes.com, and for all sorts of updates and pictures of our newest projects you should be following us on Instagram at Artisan Signature Homes. Please make sure to introduce yourself and let us know that you’ve been listening to our podcast. If you have an idea for an upcoming episode let us know.
Goodbye for now, and we’ll see you on our next episode.