If you’ve ever worked with a contractor to update your home, you know how trying the process can be. For every successful project, there are a dozen other horror stories: contractors that go MIA, projects where costs balloon infinitely, mistakes that plague the homeowner for years into the future.
As a real estate investor in Chicago, Allyson Case Anderson was no stranger to contractor nightmares.
“I had a terrible time managing the construction process and, when I complained to friends and colleagues, they responded with their own horror stories about home remodeling,” Anderson says.
Rather than wander into yet another uncertain relationship with a builder, Anderson decided to take matters into her own hands in an audacious way: in 2013, Anderson started her own luxury renovation and restoration firm, Integro Rehab.
Reimagining The Built Environment
Anderson’s passion for Chicago architecture was a major driver of her leap into entrepreneurship.
“[I saw that] homeowners were heavily incentivized to purchase new construction rather than deal with the unknowns of a major renovation,” she says. “That meant that supply and demand would eventually tear our city’s architecture down. There needed to be a better way of doing business.”
She decided to put her efforts toward preserving the Windy City skyline, one home at a time.
Anderson drew upon her extensive knowledge of real estate to guide her design decisions and the trust of a few good friends in need of renovation work to get her fledgling business off the ground.
“Since no one trusts a contractor, they decided to give me a shot. The rest is history.”
Integro Rehab specializes in major renovation, remodeling, and historical restoration. Executing on four to six carefully selected projects a year, Anderson and her team focus on high-quality craftsmanship and high-touch relationships with clients.
All of Integro Rehab’s projects are design-led, meaning an architect and/or an interior designer has also been hired by the client to lead the project.
“Our goal is to be the general contractor for high end luxury projects,” Anderson says. “We want architects to say, ‘this is an extremely important project, so Integro has to do it.’”
A Balancing Act
Integro saw tremendous growth right out of the gate, doubling its annual revenue each year for the first two years in business.
Anderson soon found herself in the middle of a teetering see-saw: on one side, expansion, hiring and scaling the business quickly. On the other side, the personal, hands-on, boutique level of service that clients loved. It’s hard to be the point person holding the client’s hand while simultaneously focusing on big-picture growth, Anderson explains.
“There is an immense amount of coordination and emotions can run high because our work is so personal to our clients,” she says. “It’s difficult for me to be the project manager ‘in the trenches’ with the team and clients every day and still be able to maintain a healthy perspective on our priorities.”
She also faced another balancing act most entrepreneurs are familiar with: growing the team while staying affordable to clients.
“We want to be competitively priced. I cannot afford a lot of overhead costs if we’re going to be profitable while delivering the complete package.”
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To keep things in balance, Anderson has developed an outlook she describes as ‘the stretch’: taking her team’s expertise and carefully qualifying the prospective projects that come their way. The goal, or the stretch part, is all about working to obtain more complicated projects with higher stakes and more demanding clients—which in turn, are more profitable.
Despite Integro’s current ability to hand-pick meaningful projects, there’s one lingering worry in the back of Anderson’s mind that’s shared by many in her field.
“While there was never a moment that I’ve thought we were going to fail, I am always hedging against another recession.”
Lonely At The Top
Recessions and demanding clients aside, Anderson says the biggest challenge of being the CEO of her own small business is the isolation.
It’s a feeling most entrepreneurs grapple with at one point or another, faced with the unique position of being the primary decision-maker, check-signer and fall-taker for an entire organization. And it’s not just a mental struggle; studies show loneliness can "vastly elevate" a person's risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.
“There is a constant demand to present a professional, calm, and motivating front to our employees and crews while simultaneously calming my own fears and continuing to push forward into unknown territories,” Anderson says.
Experts say entrepreneurs—and anyone else—can combat the adverse effects of isolation by actively seeking out opportunities to collaborate and talk shop with like-minded peers. It’s something that has become a habit for Anderson.
“I’m constantly reaching out to colleagues and professional organizations to gauge my experiences compared to others.”
Onward And Upward
Anderson continues to push onward and upward, both in growing Integro Rehab and pioneering for women in the construction and design fields. She and her company have been featured by the likes of Forbes, HGTV and The Chicago Tribune.
For the past three years Integro has seen year-over-year growth of between 10 and 20 percent, currently netting $1.4 million annually. Anderson’s team now totals four employees, two sub-contractors for every trade and about 35 sub-contractor crews, which allows for consistent project delivery.
But perhaps her best kept secret for success? Adding one very important person to the payroll. Anderson’s mom serves as Integro Rehab’s office manager.
“No one is more passionate about accounts receivable than your mother!”
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