Home improvement firm learned to adapt

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Print this page by Veronica Garabelli
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Chuck Vailes (left) and his brother Robert, guided the company to its most profitable year in 2013.
Photo by Vailes Brothers

After being in business for more than 25 years, Chuck and Robert Vailes had been through a number of economic slumps, but the Great Recession of 2007-09 was different.

“We’d never seen a downturn like this, ever,” says Chuck Vailes, who with his brother owns Vailes Brothers Inc. in Fishersville. The home improvement company offers remodeling, heating and air conditioning, plumbing, pools, spas and sauna services. 

When the recession caused a drop-off in customers, the brothers turned to Plan B. One of their strategies was to cross-train employees.  A remodeler, for example, now could perform more in-demand services like heating and air conditioning. Although that strategy resulted in a loss of some employees, it also allowed Vailes Brothers Inc. to recruit with a new criterion. 

“Here in the last six months, as we are hiring to build the company back, it’s on the front end. You have to be willing to do anything in this company that needs to be done,” Chuck Vailes says.  Workers must be willing to learn at least one additional trade to one they already have, he says, and move between divisions as needed.

The company’s ability to adapt during tough economic times earned it a spot as one of 13 finalists at the Tayloe Murphy Resilience Awards, which honor Virginia businesses that have overcome adversity. The program is sponsored by the Institute for Business in Society at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

Vailes Brothers’ employees dwindled from 42 full-time workers during the recession to 17  today.

“I think moving forward now, the biggest challenge we have is finding people that are versed in the trades, people that have the skill and the talent,” Chuck says.

The performance-based model that the brothers began during the recession helped make 2013 the company’s most profitable year ever. Workers are now paid a flat fee for selling specific products. The company’s goals are to keep recruiting employees, continue to implement the new cross-training programs and grow in revenue and profitability. 

“It feels like we are starting a new business, but we’re starting it with a lot more knowledge than we did 26 years ago,” Chuck says.

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