Education & Workforce Development and Environment and Real Estate & Retail

'Find your niche ':

June 25, 2007

His goal was to provide the proverbial one-stop shop, a

place where "honey do" lists got done. Before long, he realized he may not have been aiming high enough.

It seemed homeowners with not-so-handy honeys weren't the only customers interested in what Schneller was selling. He also got calls from real estate agents who needed some last-minute home repairs completed before a sale could close.

"They came to us with a laundry list of items," Schneller said, ticking off an array of activities that included everything from drywall repair to electrical work. "They were tired of having to be the general contractor for their clients ... They saw value in the service we were offering."

And he saw potential in catering to so-called "inspection sheet issues," considering the 40,000-50,000 homes that sell in the metropolitan area each year. Most of the jobs-which carry an average price tag of about $1,800-are too small to pique the interest of large general contractors and too big for small handyman firms.

So Schneller let his property-management contracts expire and devoted more of his time and attention to filling the niche he had uncovered. He focused Crew Property Improvement Specialists' efforts on helping real estate agents close their deals, offering short turnaround times for the one-stop service.

It has paid off. Revenue reached almost $2 million last year, Schneller said, continuing a trend of impressive yearto-year growth. And as much as 70 percent of the Carmelbased company's jobs comes from the real estate market.

"This is our bread and butter," Schneller said. "There's a huge amount of business out there-for us to get even a small piece of that should keep us happy and healthy forever."

Still, he's not content to nurse that small piece forever. Ultimately, he wants to see his company dominate the inspection-sheet market in central Indiana and beyond. And eventually, he'd like to start selling franchises. But first things first. Schneller has worked hard to spread the word about Crew, sending a monthly e-mail to local real estate agents and teaching a continuing-education course at the Real Estate Career Institute. Since about 20 percent of real estate agents leave the field every year, marketing is a constant battle. To that end, Crew has just "adopted" its first real estate office, offering special response-time guarantees and personal discounts for anyone who wants to testdrive the service. Other such partnerships are planned. "We're trying to foster a team environment," Schneller said. Crew also does some traditional remodeling work for residential and commercial customers, but he said the real estate niche has the most potential. Indeed, growth seems almost inevitable if the company can keep clients happy. Consider a $30,000 basement overhaul, which could tie up members of Crew's crew for weeks. Even if the customer is thrilled with the result, he's probably not going to be tackling another project right away. "In the end, we really only impressed that one person," Schneller said. "In real estate, if we do a good job we've got four happy people-the buyer, the buyer's agent, the seller and the seller's agent." This is one niche Schneller doesn't want to outgrow. "We do everything we can to earn Realtors as our clients," he said. "They continue to feed us again and again."
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