Thursday, December 18, 2014

Kitchen Workbook: Planning Your Remodel's Scope of Work

Help prevent budget overruns and other unwanted surprises by realistically determining the extent of your kitchen remodel. Here's how...

Planning a kitchen remodel includes finding your style, searching for a professional and determining the scope of work and your budget. This ideabook focuses on that last element.

Scope of work is the term used to describe the basic parameters of a project. Are you planning an addition or do you want to move the kitchen entirely, for example? Will you need new electrical, plumbing and flooring in the process? Start with your wish list and budget, then decide the scope of work.

Contemporary Kitchen by San Francisco Architects & Building Designers Mark English Architects, AIA

A designer, architect or contractor you like and trust can help you develop your scope of work and be realistic about what your budget can achieve. 

Keep in mind there's usually not one right answer, so getting a few opinions is a good idea.

Some kitchen remodel considerations:
  • Are you remodeling your kitchen within the existing footprint?
  • Do you want to relocate the sink or range, which would mean moving the plumbing or gas lines?
  • Are you planning on opening up to another room and you aren't sure if you have a load-bearing wall? This might require structural work and unforeseen costs.
  • With new construction, you might have already heard prices referred to as the cost per square foot, but this formula rarely works with remodeling. Every home has unique conditions due to age, construction type (masonry versus frame, for example) and layout.
  • Detailed pricing information up front will help you meet your budget. Where to start? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Come up with a rough budget of what you want to spend on the overall project. Consider if it will involve related projects like new windows or painting the whole house.

2. Come up with a wish list of everything you want. That means new appliances, cabinets, countertops, tile, flooring, lighting and so on. The more detailed you are, the better off you'll be when talking to professionals. Do you want professional-grade appliances or is the next level down OK? If you have a $30,000 budget and you want a built-in refrigerator and a 36-inch professional-grade range, any professional will tell you that your budget is going to be tough to meet. 

3. Pull tear sheets and create ideabooks of your vision. This can help a professional get an idea of the level of expectation and finish detail required in your project. It's tough to communicate needs clearly, especially about visual things like finishes. Showing professionals photos of kitchen designs you like can help them see your taste level and prompt them to ask the right questions.

4. Get referrals for designers, architects and contractors. Ask friends and relatives for referrals and look at professional portfolios on Houzz to see if their aesthetic matches your own. Call pros to set up phone interviews and see if they'll come meet you in person. Ask if you can visit some of their job sites or other projects. This really helps you see the quality of their work. 

5. Check references and ask about fees. Some homeowners start by hiring a contractor, and others start with a designer or architect and use contractors referred by him or her. Others hire design-build firms that do it all. Remember, you aren't comparing apples to apples here, so it will take some time to figure out who is the right fit. 

6. Meet the pros at your home and start seeing who you like, who asks the right questions, who is willing to give you some rough numbers, and what he or she needs to do so. Some firms don't work this way; they might have showrooms and you have to meet them on their turf. Many contractors want a full drawing set before they'll bid on a job. Others will be willing to do a walk-through and give you some rough numbers, nothing line-itemed or detailed. 

I recommend doing this with an experienced contractor; a novice may underestimate or overshoot the budget by a wide range. Ideally, having some basic space, electrical, mechanical and lighting plans will help a contractor get you a more accurate estimate. 

This is only the first phase of pricing. You'll want to re-estimate based on detailed, finished plans before signing a contract. Otherwise you run the risk of getting those dreaded changed orders down the road.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rebuild NY Now Pushes For Infrastructure Upgrades

Rochester Business Journal
December 4, 2014

Rebuild NY Now made a stop in Rochester Thursday to tout the importance of an improved transportation infrastructure.

The organization is a partnership of supporters seeking to raise public awareness of the issues affecting the state’s infrastructure, including public policies that promote safe roads, bridges, schools and hospitals.

“A strong and capable transportation infrastructure is one of the most important contributors to any community’s quality of life,” Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks said in a statement. “I am proud to join our strong public- and private-sector partners in Rebuild NY Now to push for vital investments in the infrastructure that will drive our local economy of the future.”

Rebuild NY Now noted that for every billion dollars spent on infrastructure repair and development, more than 28,000 jobs are created. The group also pointed to studies that show 50 percent of New York’s paved roads will be in fair or worse condition by the end of the year, costing each driver more than $1,500 annually.

“There is widespread agreement that New York needs to invest in its infrastructure if we’re going to remain competitive and create jobs,” Rebuild NY Now President and CEO Mike Elmendorf said in a statement. “This is especially true in Western New York, which has been hard hit economically.”

Rochester Business Alliance Inc. President Sandra Parker call infrastructure the “critical backbone of commerce.”

“Employers rely on safe and well-maintained roads and bridges to deliver goods and services to their customers,” she added. “Rochester Business Alliance is pleased to support the Rebuild NY Now campaign to call for an increased emphasis on public investment in the state’s infrastructure in order to boost the economy and create jobs.”

(c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Contractor Tips: How to Shop for Your Remodel

Small mistakes in buying remodeling materials can add up to huge cost overruns. Here's how to get things right the first time...

Roughly half the costs of a remodel are for materials, so it pays to be mindful of potential pitfalls. If you're a DIYer, avoiding some minor and major mistakes can help you make the most of this significant investment. You probably already know it's best to buy well-tested quality materials from trusted local vendors and to install classic, long-lasting materials that will be around for generations. Here are more tips I've learned over the years that can help you pick out the best materials and products for your home.

1. Know the pitfalls of buying off the shelf. Check the box. Does it look like it has been opened or returned? Don't buy it. Returned items may have damage and missing parts.

You can get some great deals on good products at your local home store, but you have to know what you're looking for. For instance, plumbing fixtures should be made of brass, not metallic-looking plastic. And cheaper paint often requires more coats and fades more quickly.

2. Get recommendations for showrooms and lumberyards. A good builder should have established relationships with reps he or she trusts, so use the recommended suppliers if you can. If you're a DIYer, try asking around for some good suggestions. When all else fails, add 30 percent to any delivery time frame you're told and build a healthy contingency fund into your budget, just in case.

Before Photos by Philadelphia General Contractors Buckminster Green LLC

3. Just because it looks like a duck ... A lot of houses are still piped with copper, so repairs and remodeling will generally be done in copper as well. Half-inch copper pipe is 5/8 inch in diameter, but the thickness of the copper depends on the type. Many stores sell type M and L. Type M is cheaper because it's thinner — but saving money in materials now could mean tearing open walls later to find a pinhole leak that has sprung. 

Whether you are paying someone else or doing work yourself, labor is expensive. Buy quality materials so you don't have to do the work twice.

Before Photos by Philadelphia General Contractors Buckminster Green LLC

4. Sometimes you don't get what you thought you were paying for. In my experience, some brands spend more on advertising than on making quality products. Do your research and make sure the product you're buying is current. The situation is always changing, but make sure you know what you're getting and who you'll call if it turns out to be a dud.

Eclectic Floors by Tampa Interior Designers & Decorators Paul Anater

5. Let someone else be the guinea pig. I have tested materials and products on my own house over the years so I can vouch for them in my work. If you are not in the business, you should be buying products that have been well regarded for many years. Even if you are trying to remodel your home using environmentally friendly materials, you don't have to use products that haven't stood the test of time. True linoleum flooring (not vinyl, which people often call linoleum), like in this photo, has been around for more than a century and is a hypoallergenic natural material, for example.

Modern Wallpaper

6. Buy local. There are many reasons to buy local and support your region's economy, but two big ones have to do with shipping. Make sure to factor in the cost of shipping when pricing out materials. A local vendor will usually not charge extra for shipping, and you can schedule the delivery. Shipments of online purchases can result in headaches if no one is around when a big, heavy delivery shows up. If you are concerned about the environment, the distance a product ships should always be a concern. Bamboo flooring is made from grasses that are rapidly renewable, but if it's coming to you from across the world, a flooring product made close to home might be a greener choice.

Industrial Kitchen by Burlington Interior Designers & Decorators Joanne Palmisano, Salvage Secrets

7. Buy salvaged. You can often get better-quality building materials with more character for less money by buying salvaged. You will pay more in labor, but once again, this is an opportunity to support your community. 

Sinks and tubs are good if the finish isn't damaged, but avoid faucets unless the seller can show you they work without leaks. 

Doors, hardware and masonry are all great items, and stone, wood and glass are great materials, to buy salvaged. With light fixtures, keep in mind that they may need to be rewired, but this is a way to keep a great period fixture out of the Dumpster.


8. Buy extra. "Waste" is the term we use for extra materials ordered, because the cutoffs usually end up as just that (unless they're recycled). The best way to figure out how much waste to order is by following a manufacturer's or installer's recommendations. 

In the absence of those, use these tips. If you are confident about your measurements and the method of installation, you could get away with ordering 10 percent more of items like flooring or wall coverings, but 15 percent waste is a safer bet. If the item is special order, 15 percent is the minimum, and 20 percent may make sense depending on the situation. 

Store leftovers of items, like tile and grout, in labeled containers in the basement in case repairs are ever needed.

Before Photos by Philadelphia General Contractors Buckminster Green LLC

10. Buy early. Stopping work to wait for materials to arrive is costly. Double the lead time you were told and you'll usually be safe. Delays happen all the time. 

If the materials are onsite, the contractor can check measurements and answer questions that the spec sheet doesn't address. 

If you don't want to expose items to theft, store the materials offsite where your general contractor can get to them, but don't try to time material deliveries for the moment they're needed.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

What to Consider Before Starting Construction

So you and your designer have settled on a plan for your remodel or your custom new-build home. You can already envision gathering with family and friends to cook delicious meals in your new chef’s kitchen. Or even feel the warmth of your new steam shower. But before all that can come to fruition, you must embark on what many homeowners say is the most stressful, undesirable process of a major home project: construction. 

As with most things, the more prepared you are, the better you’ll be able to manage problems when they occur. (And they will occur.) Here are a few things to think about.

Modern Kitchen by Duvall Kitchen & Bath Remodelers DL Rees Contracting, LLC

Selecting a Contractor

There is no foolproof process for selecting a contractor. Trust is a good starting point for the decision-making process. If you trust the people you’re working with, you’ll likely cut down on hassles and cost overruns. Of course, some people can be too trusting and therefore be taken advantage of, so don’t bet all your chips on trust. 

Value for money, experience and referrals are all elements to factor into the sometimes complicated calculations when you’re selecting someone to take your project from design to reality. This is someone with whom you will likely be interacting closely for an extended period of time, so choose someone who fits with how you and your team like to work. 

You can read reviews on Houzz to get a sense of a general contractor’s work and personality before arranging to meet in person, which is highly recommended. If it sounds like dating, it is in effect, with one big difference: This person will be responsible for taking a large sum of your money and converting it into a finished product that you will hopefully enjoy for years to come. 

Contemporary Entry by Toronto Architects & Building Designers Incite Design

Get the names of the contractor’s last three to five clients and ask all of them these questions. 
  • Did the contractor seem knowledgeable and resourceful?
  • Was he on budget?
  • Was he on time?
  • If there were delays or cost overruns, was it the contractor who caused them? If so, how did he deal with them?
  • Did the client feel the contractor worked collaboratively to come up with mutually satisfactory resolutions to problems, or was the tone combative?
  • Were the clients happy with the workmanship and the contractor’s subcontractors’ work?
  • Did he keep a clean site?
  • How was he with follow-up after completion?
  • Did he come back in a timely fashion to deal with inevitable drywall cracking and nail pops?

You want to confirm that no red flags pop up as you go through this part of the process. Generally you are looking for contractors who deliver a consistent level of client-first service. Those contractors that do are almost never the cheapest to hire, but sometimes the extra 2 to 10 percent in cost can be worth it.

Modern Dining Room by Los Angeles Architects & Building Designers NEW THEME Inc.

A Bid Is Not the Whole Picture

Although on paper competitive bidding seems to be a foolproof way to get what you want at the lowest price, there are challenges with that approach in real life. If contractors were bidding on something they understood 100 percent, and there were no differences on how they delivered the finished product, then competitive bidding could be a good solution. 

But just as the same meal turns out different when prepared by three different chefs, the same set of drawings is interpreted differently by different contractors. We have had clients insist on choosing the lowest bid on a job without considering other critical factors, such as experience, reputation and trustworthiness. 

On a recent custom house, we actually had to fire the contractor from a jobsite when it became apparent the contractor was not building what was actually in the drawings. We had to find and bring in another crew to finish. This is not what you want as a client when you are trying to finish your house. Worst of all, that client now has to pay the second contractor extra to fix up all the mistakes caused by the first one, to the tune of more than $30,000. Not to mention, there’s the time and hassle of having to find and fix all the problems. All of this basically wiped out any savings over a more expensive contractor. 

Choosing a contractor should never be based on bid prices alone, but a whole host of other factors that your design team will help you with to pick the best contractor for your specific job.

Modern Home Theater by New York Interior Designers & Decorators West Chin Architects & Interior Designers

Fixed Bids or Time and Materials?

A fixed price implies that the contractor will charge you X dollars at the end of the job — end of story. But most contracts have provisions stipulating that latent conditions (for example, things that are unseen, such as termites in existing walls or large underground impediments to excavation) will add to the price. 

Another potential issue with a fixed-price contract is that it tends to put homeowners across the table from their team member (the contractor), as quality decisions are often dictated not by the scope of the project but by the budget. This means that compromises are made in how certain elements are delivered, due to cost implications (such as removing wall finishes like tile) or deleting elements altogether. I just had a meeting with a landscape contractor, who said it best: “By the time we get to the jobsite, most of the money has been spent, and we have to make do with what’s left over.”

A time and materials (or cost-plus) contract is sometimes more favorable to a homeowner, as it can be viewed as more transparent. Simply put, your contractor buys materials and charges you an hourly rate to install them. But in the hands of an unethical contractor, you might find yourself on the wrong end of a hefty bill, as latent conditions also tend not to be covered.

In reality, most contractors will break up their bid into a part that is fixed (for the parts they have a good handle on) and a part that is not fixed. This makes your contingency even more critical. (As we mentioned previously, you should set your budget and then subtract 20 percent to arrive at your real construction budget.) The contingency is not for “splurges,” but accommodates the usual price variations on a construction project.

Modern Bedroom by Cincinnati Architects & Building Designers Jose Garcia Design

Bids: What’s in Them and How to Compare

Your team should help you confirm that what is in the drawings correlates to the bid, so the contractor doesn’t miss anything. It is sometimes hard to do this without experience, because one thing on the drawing may imply several steps in construction or a different way to do things than the contractor might be used to. 

As part of the bidding process, what we like to do is go over areas that contractors should spend a bit more time on right off the bat in a meeting, so they cover all the items that are required. Remember, we all want the contractor to give an accurate bid, so he doesn’t get frustrated during construction by having to go back and redo elements of the building. As much as we advocate for our clients, contractors are running a business too and have bills to pay. 

And the good ones are in high demand, not just because they do great work, but also because they have a reliable method for assessing the work and the cost to the owners. And having a good contractor that can deliver your project far outweighs the apparent cost savings of a cheap bid up front.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Federal Funding to Help Enhance East Main Street

Federal funding of $1.55 million will help the city of Rochester pay for new parking spaces, sidewalks and other improvements along East Main Street, officials announced.

Another $811,580 is earmarked for the village of Webster for bike lanes, sidewalks and an extension of the median on North Avenue, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., announced Monday.

The city’s funding will be used to add 50 on-street parking spaces on East Main from its intersection with East Avenue to the Genesee River. New sidewalks, lighting, landscaping, bike racks, and pedestrian signs and kiosks also are part of the $2.4 million project.

The funding comes from the Federal Highway Administration’s Transportation Alternatives Program as the Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority prepares to open its new downtown transit center Nov. 28.

“Clearing idling buses off of Main Street has given us a real opportunity to transform this thoroughfare into one that is more pedestrian-friendly and more hospitable to retail,” Schumer said in a statement.

“This funding will go a long way in remaking East Main Street so it is a place where new stores and restaurants will want to locate and where residents and tourists will want to visit. This funding is just the beginning in helping Main Street go from a bus-transfer mall to a gorgeous place to shop, open a business and explore.”

Final designs are scheduled to be completed in 2015, with construction to begin in 2016, officials said.

The funding for Webster will attract shoppers, residents, visitors and new retail to the village center, Schumer said.

Construction is scheduled to begin next summer, officials said.

Some $70 million was awarded for projects statewide, including several in the Finger Lakes region. They include:
  • $256,500 to Monroe County to install pedestrian signal devices;
  • $1.46 million to Farmington, Ontario County, for its Auburn Trail Connector;
  • $1.13 million to Ontario County for sidewalk improvements at Lakeshore Drive and Moran Road;
  • $247,493 to the town of Victor, Ontario County, for its community connectivity project; and
  • $720,657 to the city of Batavia for its healthy schools corridor.

(c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal 


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Contractor Tips: What to Know About Budgeting for Your Home Remodel

The budget conversation — it’s sometimes awkward, often slightly uncomfortable and usually comes with a bit of anxiety. Because of the nature of construction, things often cost more than what homeowners think. There are endless debates on why that is, but the result is that we designers often have conversations with clients that end with an awkward silence. The silence usually means that certain aspects of their project might be out of their reach. And truth be told, we really don’t like being the messenger in these conversations. We want our clients to be satisfied with the process and get what they really want. 

But the flip side of that conversation is that budget constraints can make a project better. Just hear me out. What we find is that financial considerations make our team and clients focus on what’s really important. That pressure helps edit down the myriad choices and allows a more coherent story to emerge. And it all comes back to sticking to that budget. Here’s how.

Modern Exterior by Baltimore Architects & Building Designers Ziger/Snead Architects

Establish Your Budget Early

We have been in situations where clients have not told us their budget until we have completed some of the initial phases of work. This, no surprise, can slow down the process. It’s like going to a personal trainer but not telling them how much weight you can lift, and so you spend time trying a few exercises to figure out what the proper weights are. 

There are situations where homeowners generally don’t know what a new custom home or addition will cost, but a key part of the process is considering how much you would be comfortable spending on the project. Obviously spending $50,000 will produce a dramatically different result than if you spent $500,000. And what you spend will be influenced by a wide variety of factors, including neighborhood, type of project and level of finishes.

Modern Kitchen by Cincinnati Photographers RVP Photography

Without knowing a budget range, we could get through the first few meetings with clients and then give them a rough ballpark figure, which is sometimes double or triple what they thought it would be.

Don’t try to second-guess your design team by holding your cards close to your chest. Help us work with you to get the most value for your hard-earned dollars. Most designers don’t look for opportunities to waste money just for the sake of it. Sure we all want a great project at the end of the process, but we also want to make sure our clients are happy. So establishing your budget early in the process will be helpful to your team, as it will give them one of the key ingredients that will go into making a design you can live with.

Contemporary Exterior by Toronto Architects & Building Designers Incite Design

Ensure Your Budget Is Realistic

It’s easy to look at TV shows and get the wrong idea about what things cost. In most cases those budgets are not realistic for a bunch of reasons, most of which revolve around how suppliers and trades price their services to be included on the show. There is an old project management saying that goes, “Price, speed, quality — pick any two.” 

It’s not totally untrue, and it underscores that there are no easy trade-offs in a construction project. It would be problematic for me to suggest pricing in this article, as it varies substantially based on a number of factors, including location, number of trades in the area, level of finish, complexity of construction etc. 

The budget number that most clients care about is the “all-in” number. That includes everything they will write a check for including moving expenses, fees and construction. (More about that later.) 

Your design team can help you get a sense of what a realistic budget might be for your project; you can also ask friends who have done projects in the recent past, or check the Houzz Real Cost Finder

Pricing tip: Pricing can change substantially in certain areas over as little as a few years, so be sure that the projects were completed recently for the best idea of pricing.

Modern Bathroom by Burlington Architects & Building Designers TruexCullins Architecture + Interior Design

After you create your budget, subtract 20 percent. Construction being what it is, there are always situations that arise that will increase the cost, and those are hard to foresee at the beginning of construction. It’s a very complicated process involving many people and a lot of communication, so there usually are things that happen that will eat into that 20 percent contingency. The contingency should not be used for upgrades to counters or splashy fixtures. 

On a recent project, our clients had to spend thousands of dollars to get their utilities hooked up again, as the electrical feed from the street was torn up by mistake. On top of that, since the utility’s own drawings said that the feed still existed, there was a three-month delay on top of the reconnection order so that the utility could update its drawings. Even though this these will never be seen, they were absolutely critical and had to be completed before construction could be completed. 

Keeping a 20 percent contingency allows our clients to end up spending what they thought they would spend initially, and they can sleep at night.

Modern Dining Room by Vancouver Architects & Building Designers splyce design

Understand What You’re Paying For

Hard costs, fees, furniture — what is in the contract? Your design team will also help you understand what is in those budget numbers. Hard costs include the costs of the construction materials and fixtures required to actually build the structure. Soft costs generally include fees for permits, consultants and designers.

It’s important to establish what your team is referring to in conversation to make sure everyone is on the same page about budget numbers. For example, construction is often expressed in dollars per square foot to give a rough guide during planning. Generally this does not include appliances or soft costs. So it’s important to know that if your contractor says your new house can be built for $750,000, there are soft costs likely not covered in that estimate. Work with your design team to understand the costs and how they relate to a schedule, and how there are items you might not have thought about, to get an overall sense of what is required.

Modern Living Room by San Francisco Architects & Building Designers Swatt | Miers Architects

What if You Run Out of Money?

We have had this conversation with clients on more than one occasion, and truly it’s not easy for either the clients or us. It’s frustrating to hear how something that you’ve been planning for is out of your reach. 

There may be opportunities to reduce costs by changing the scope of the project. For example, instead of fully constructing a basement bathroom in a new house, you might just rough in the plumbing so it could be finished at a later date. Or it could be possible to reduce the cost of fixtures and finishes such as flooring or faucets.

During a recent conversation with clients, we recommended that they wait before starting the project so they could gather more resources before proceeding. In the discussion we realized that it wouldn’t be possible to “de-scope” or redesign the project to fit their needs, so the best course of action was to delay. Was this difficult for all involved? Absolutely, but we felt strongly that starting a project that didn’t address their needs wouldn’t serve their overall best interests.

Whenever you are dealing with money, there is the potential for some uncomfortable conversations. But if you understand what you are dealing with early in the process, those conversations will be less stressful than if you’re standing in the middle of a half-completed project in the middle of winter wondering where all your hard-earned money has gone.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Outlook for Small Businesses is 'Positive'

Rochester Business Journal
September 26, 2014
As a CPA, Kimberly Gangi often hears clients’ complaints about taxes and gridlock in government. But Gangi, president of the Small Business Council of Rochester, says there are “great opportunities” for small firms to help the local economy grow.

A graduate of SUNY College at Geneseo, Gangi has two decades’ experience in accounting and today is a partner at Insero & Co., where she heads the small-business and outsource accounting services group.

Gangi recently took part in an interview with RBJ editor Paul Ericson.

ROCHESTER BUSINESS JOURNAL: How do you see the state of small business in Rochester now?

KIMBERLY GANGI: In general, as far as the state of small businesses in Rochester now, I see it overall as positive. We have seen a definite increase in activity amongst the small-business sector, both in new companies starting up and existing organizations gaining some growth and seeing new opportunities. While we are cautiously optimistic, we firmly believe that small businesses will continue to fuel growth in the Rochester region and the surrounding areas.

RBJ: The picture in the overall local economy has been mixed. Private-sector jobs continue to grow, but at a slower pace than nationally. And the labor pool has been shrinking. What are some of the challenges frequently voiced by SBC members?

GANGI: Challenges faced by SBC members—and honestly, most small-business owners—continue to be finding and retaining talent, staying competitive and the ever-increasing demand on time. Being able to hire and retain quality individuals and being able to keep those individuals can be very challenging, especially for those just starting up. The cost of benefits, particularly health care, can make this difficult. With the downsizing of some of the larger companies in the area and reduction of the periphery services those companies needed, business owners need to be more strategic than ever to stay competitive.

I also see that owners have more of a demand now on their time than ever. With the age of technology comes full-time access, and I think that owners find that they are busier than they ever have been and need to do more with less. That all being said, I am very confident that our local small-business entrepreneurs will continue to create new opportunities for our community.

RBJ: How long have you been a member of the Small Business Council, and how has your own membership helped you as a partner in your business?

GANGI: I have been a current board member of the Small Business Council since 2012, and I also served on the board from 2004 to 2007 and co-chaired the Business Person of the Year Gala in 2004 and 2005. My firm has been involved with the Small Business Council for much of the last decade in some capacity, either at the board level or as a supporter of events and committee participation.

My membership in this organization has helped me as a partner at Insero & Co., as my primary role at my firm is to lead the small-business and outsource department. This role is a natural fit for me, as my interaction with the membership at events and fellow board members has provided me insight that has helped me to grow professionally and to better serve my own clients. My role on this board and involvement with this organization have allowed me the opportunity to meet with business owners throughout the community and develop relationships with my fellow board members that extend beyond time spent in meetings and has truly been an invaluable experience.

RBJ: As SBC president, what have been some of your primary goals?

GANGI: My primary goal first and foremost for the Small Business Council this year was to ensure we were delivering to the membership programs and events that they found value in. In addition, we decided some time ago that we’d like to embark on a mini strategic planning process to reaffirm and define what and who the Small Business Council stands for. One of my goals this year was to lead that committee and go through that process, which we did in January. The outcome of those sessions was very positive, and we as a board have been working to implement and reinforce the results of those efforts this year. Finally, a key goal of mine is to position the SBC organizationally for the future.

RBJ: Are there any new initiatives or programs in the works?

GANGI: The board and committee chairs are continually evaluating the programs that we put forth to the membership. Many of our events and programs are very well-attended, and the response from attendees is positive. We are always striving for improvement and have made some modifications to existing events as well as reflecting on what worked and what didn’t in our post-event wrap-up meetings.

This year we are starting to gain some traction with our Decision Makers Forum, which is an evening event that focuses and does a “deeper dive” on a particular topic. These events include a panel of professionals from the field of focus and a moderator. We are looking to add more of these in 2015, and the feedback we are receiving is positive. We also are considering modification of our calendar of events to provide a more consistent and even delivery of programming to the membership throughout the year.

RBJ: Three years ago, the SBC started naming finalists and handing out awards in two Business Person of the Year categories: businesses with more than 50 employees and those with fewer than 50 employees. Has there been any discussion about other changes to the award program in the future?

GANGI: The change in the program three years ago had purpose and a goal which we feel was accomplished. The intent was to encourage owners across the spectrum of small business to be a part of this celebration, and by stratifying those awards between the over-50 and under-50 employees, we accomplished that and created a more diverse program that is really representative of what we wanted it to be. So while at this time we don’t have any plans to change the program, as far as the overall structure of it, a new idea may emerge in the future that may pique our interest.

RBJ: In terms of helping run a business, what do you personally find most challenging?

GANGI: Honestly, in terms of running my firm, some of the most challenging aspects of it have also been the most rewarding; it is the people side of the business. When I started practicing some 20 years ago, the sole focus was on the clients, and as a staff accountant, you put your head down and you cranked out work for as many hours as it took. Today, the environment is totally changed. Of course, you always focus on your clients and client service, but the individuals coming out of the colleges today are very bright, and they want to work in organizations that recognize them for who they are as a person as well as what they can do technically. So there has been this amazing shift in public accounting, and the focus is not only on our clients but on our people. The adage that you are only as good as the people that work for you is really quite true. It has been an adjustment for us old-timers and a challenge, but it has been worth it 110 percent.
In terms of helping my clients run their business, while the challenges can vary in degree, depending on the stage of the organization, they are quite often the same, whether the business is 2 months old or 20 years old. People, cash flow, growth and succession challenges impact organizations every day. My challenges are often with owners of these businesses and helping them to focus on where they are today and where they want to be and staying on that path. The path can often be winding and it can make a calculated change, of course, but we work as a team, and the successes along the way, however small or big, are well worth it.

RBJ: As a CPA, what issues and concerns do you hear about most frequently from business clients?

GANGI: The most frequent concerns we hear from our clients really revolve around taxes and gridlock in government. Business owners (don’t) feel that our governing bodies truly understand the impact their decisions make on organizations and what the cost of the delays of some of those decisions have.

RBJ: What are SBC members’ top concerns in Albany right now?

GANGI: The focus currently is on the upcoming November elections and what impact those will have on the upstate region and progress on business reforms. Concerns continue to surround the regulatory issues faced by businesses, such as the costly enforcement of the Wage Theft Prevention Act, minimum wage, rising health care costs and taxes. While significant progress has been made on the Wage Theft Prevention Act, compliance is still required, pending the signature of the governor.

RBJ: In general, do SBC members think government does enough to support small business? Or to reframe the question, would members prefer that government—especially in Albany—simply do less in terms of regulation and taxation?

GANGI: I believe that the regulatory environment that we live in today can make it very challenging at times for SBC members and small-business owners. While progress has been made in certain areas, necessary compliance with regulations and mandates can be daunting and costly for members and owners. Continued advocacy in Albany for the upstate region is critical.
New York is an expensive state to do business in, and again, while there certainly have been some strides made, other states and other countries, honestly, are aggressively courting our businesses. There needs to be balance.

RBJ: Circling back to where we began, are SBC members generally optimistic or pessimistic about the prospects for small businesses—and the broader local economy—over the next few years?

GANGI: It is interesting, because as entrepreneurs, we are optimists by nature, and when you think about it, when you start a business, you are fighting the odds by virtue of the very challenges that you will face every day. It requires resilience and tenacity to start and grow a small business. So in spite of the gridlock at the state and federal levels of government and the decline of some of the largest employers in the area, we see great opportunities for local businesses to pick up the slack and help grow this area. Rochester has always been innovative and ahead of the curve. We see no reason to think we won’t continue that pattern.

Source: Rochester Business Journal