Paper: Houston Chronicle
Date: Sun 05/25/2008
Edition: 3 STAR
SMALL BUSINESS / REPAIRS / Transplanted drywaller found a local need for his skills, despite a large number of area installers / Patching up is his specialty
By SANDRA BRETTING
For The Chronicle
WHEN a water heater exploded in the third-story attic of a Houston home during Hurricane Rita, it sent torrents of water rushing through the home.
For Justin Tracy, owner of Tracy Drywall, a specialty business that repairs damaged ceilings and walls, the result was a month spent putting back together what had been destroyed.
"It's really an art," Tracy said. "It takes a special skill to match existing walls. In that instance, I had to work on the center of the house to go with the outer parts that weren't touched."
Although Tracy is only 27, he's logged a dozen years in the drywall business. He learned the craft at age 15 from his father, a drywall installer in Denver.
When Tracy relocated to Houston in 2003, he contemplated opening a business that installed drywall but soon realized there were plenty of people offering that service.
"To be honest, I couldn't compete with some of these crews that would come in and slap up drywall in tract homes," Tracy said.
"That's when I realized that quality could be a real problem here. Because the houses were going up so fast, a lot of people weren't doing a good job installing it. And sometimes they were even worse at fixing it if there was a problem."
Meeting a specific need
Siddharth Singh, an assistant professor of manage-
ment at Rice University, said Tracy has found himself a good niche market.
"Smart business owners figure out what they're good at, then identify consumers who will value that the most," he said. "While a lot of people were meeting one need - new drywall - this whole other need wasn't being met."
According to Tracy, about half of his business is generated by referrals from other companies, and half are private clients who discover his firm on the Internet.
Revenue totals about $200,000 annually.
Often, Tracy is called in by air-conditioning and electrical companies whose workers have fallen through the ceilings of their clients' attics.
"In other parts of the country, the pipes and water heater are in the basement, but here they're up in the attic," Tracy said. "It's easy to step in between the beams, especially when it gets so hot up there, and put your foot through the ceiling."
Estimates by phone
The company provides estimates over the phone using a system that Tracy developed. On average, he said, his firm provides fixes that cost less than $2,000 and take a day to finish.
"We have a lot of customers, and it's not fair to them if we're tied up with a really big job," said Jennifer Tracy, his wife and business partner.
"If it's a business client, they're not going to get paid until the repair is made, so they usually need us right away."
She said one of the most difficult aspects is finishing the project with the right paint or texture.
"It's a cosmetic fix, and you have to please the homeowner," Tracy said. "Not everyone's going to be happy the first time, but usually they are."
According to Justin Tracy, sometimes homeowners are too involved and attempt to repair their own drywall.
"I've spent 12 years in this business, but some people think they can watch one television show and do a repair," Tracy said.
"It's better for me if they don't try it, because then I don't have to spend time taking down what they've `fixed.' "
And Tracy said more and more homeowners are taking down wallpaper and opting for a textured wall instead.
"But that's where you have another problem," Tracy said. "A lot of home builders here don't prime their walls before they install wallpaper. So, it's easy to damage walls when you go to take it off."