By Susie Feia
Owning Feia Construction, LLC, a design-build-remodeling firm, in partnership with my husband Duane, has been a fun, interesting and challenging journey for me as a woman in a male-dominated industry. Married for 31 years to my husband, we have enjoyed working together as a team for 28 years. While my role and responsibilities have evolved over the years, I am still passionate and enthusiastic about the transformation a home renovation brings to our client’s lives.
My husband Duane has been doing carpentry work since high school in the mid-70’s, when he helped restore an old Victorian mansion to its former glory. He started his own carpentry business right out of high school, which he ran for few years.
After we met while I was in college, he returned to school, too. I graduated with a degree in retailing, with most of my electives in interior design-related classes. After a few years of working in retail, and the birth of my first son, we decided to relocate back to WI to be close to family and soon after formed our company Feia Construction, LLC.
When we started out in our business, our main focus was historic restoration, and that will always be a special love of ours. We both enjoy the custom work and creative problem solving that comes with renovating an older home, and have been commended by the city for our work on one of their historic landmarks.
Gradually over the years Feia Construction has evolved into the design-build residential remodeling firm we are today. Handling the project from design concept through completion allows us to provide our clients with the most value for their investment. Our specialty is whole-house renovations, additions, and the occasional custom home, as well as any type or size of remodeling project. Whatever our clients can dream, we can accomplish.
We have remained a small company by choice, which allows us to provide highly personalized service and build lasting relationships with our clients. We always considered our role to be that of a trusted advisor to our clients, looking out for their best interest. Our goal is to provide them with the best possible remodeling experience and results. We accomplish this with our extremely strong organizational skills and the business systems we have developed for our company to be efficient and effective. Having great relationships with our subcontractors and suppliers is also key to our success.
Early on, Duane was the primary “face” of Feia Construction. I worked behind the scenes, utilizing my business training, doing the accounting and payroll, putting together proposals and handling the marketing. As a mother with small children (we had three within 5 years), it was the ideal work arrangement. I had the flexibility to be involved with my children’s activities and accommodate the busy schedules of a growing family. During this time, I also took many continuing education classes, both business and industry-related. As a partner in our company, it was important for me to learn and know the remodeling industry inside and out to earn the respect of both my peers (predominantly men twenty plus years ago) and clients. My husband was also an invaluable mentor.
Once our children were old enough to be at home by themselves, I was excited to be much more directly involved with the clients. Then, Feia Construction was able to start doing something that is still a bit different, even today. We work together as a husband and wife team, starting with the first meeting with our clients, and continuing through the entire remodeling process. This unique advantage sets us apart from other companies. Women make over 80% of the decisions in a home remodeling project. Our clients benefit by having both a male and female perspective. We get feedback that we listen very well, and pick up on details that other companies don’t. With both of us working jointly on a project, we are able to offer many creative design solutions that really function for our client’s lifestyle. Our company also incorporates many universal design features as standard in our designs, so the home can adapt through the client’s life stages.
Creating a successful business was a whole different ballgame in our early days prior to the internet. While on-line testimonials are commonplace now, early in our career word-of-mouth referrals were vital to a company’s success. By working hard to provide high standards of excellence in service and craftsmanship, we’ve been blessed that the majority of our projects have always been obtained through personal referrals and repeat business. Because of this, we were able to weather the challenging years of the recession much better than many companies – even having one of our best years at that point in time. One way we maintain so much repeat business is because in addition to our primary remodeling focus, we also do all types of home improvements, so we can oversee anything that needs to be done to a home.
Our involvement with our local NARI chapter is beneficial to Feia Construction in so many ways and we view them as a valued partner. Obviously, NARI membership means a level of professionalism and ethics that our clients trust. But NARI also provides us with business resources by providing a wide variety of educational seminars, and keeps us updated on current laws and regulations. We also have access to marketing opportunities, and have built great relationships with other industry professionals.
NARI also provides many options for professional growth. I am proud to serve (currently as the only female) on Milwaukee/NARI’s Board of Directors, and am happy to share my time and talents in guiding our industry forward. Volunteering for your industry organizations is also great way to gain visibility and make valuable connections if you’re a woman in any profession that is predominantly male. As a woman, it can be challenging to find ways to bond with the guys, because you are limited in the social activities outside of work. However, you can benefit by volunteering alongside them to develop those relationships.
I am also actively working on increasing the visibility of other women members in our NARI chapter. I founded our Women in NARI Networking (WINN) group in 2013. In NARI National’s recent Membership profile, they found that females are the majority of employees in 14% of NARI member companies. Our WINN group provides additional educational and professional development for all our women members, and encourages them to network and get more involved with Milwaukee/NARI.
Feia Construction is very active in social media and it is now an important part of our business marketing. We take advantage of many different avenues to connect with our clients such as on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, to name a few. For us, active involvement in social media has also resulted in relationships with other industry experts and brands from around the world. This means Feia Construction is able to stay on the cutting–edge of trends and products so we can offer our clients the most up-to-date information and resources.
Right now, there is so much innovation in technology, design and product development. It’s inspiring to imagine how these advances and new tools will continue to elevate our company and what we can offer our clients. I look forward to the possibilities! But in the end, it’s the relationships we have that we value most, and the satisfaction we get from improving people’s quality of life, one home at a time.
Feia Construction, LLC is an award-winning design-build remodeling firm located in Waukesha, Wisc. Visit her at www.feiaconstruction.com.