Integro Rehab is a five-year-old general contracting company in the Chicago area headed by Allyson Case Anderson. The business is focused on high-end major remodel and renovation projects led by architects and interior designers. Anderson started in the industry as an executive assistant and is now the CEO and founder of Integro Rehab, a business she’s grown to transform the Chicago residential construction space.
Why did you start the business?
I kind of started the business on accident, to be truthful. I started working for an interior architecture firm as an executive assistant to the partners. Then, I worked for an architectural engineering firm. I worked for other firms for about 10 years. Then, I decided that I wanted more freedom. I had worked myself through college as a real estate appraiser, so I thought I wanted to flip houses. I decided to go back to real estate appraisal first, just to get my finger back on the pulse of the market.
I got a business partner investor and did my first flip. I had a terrible experience with the general contractor. So, I decided to get my general contractor’s license just to do my own projects. Then, I had a friend who said, “No one trusts a contractor in the city. You should do our projects.” I did her project and it went really well. The rest is history. I did other projects and had a blog running. HGTV found the blog and came to me. We ended up doing a show on “House Hunters Renovation.” From there, we got a ton of publicity. We evolved into a design-led firm. I really found a passion for trying to transform what construction is in Chicago, because it’s a shady business. For every good story, there are about seven bad stories. We’re really focused on making the residential construction market more appealing to homeowners, because I really feel like if people are afraid of remodeling their home because they’re afraid of getting hosed by a contractor, then people are going to start tearing down historic architecture!
How did you finance the business at the start?
When I was starting out, I had a personal investor who was more of a backer. I borrowed $5,000 for upstart costs like insurance, licensing, and permits. I paid him back in the first 7 months. Since then, we’ve been able to survive on cash flow.
Managing the Company
How do you manage cash flow in the business?
Last year, we took on a line of credit because we took on more employees, so we had more overhead to cover. We wanted to be sure we could always cover payroll, particularly in the winter months. Now, we’re considering scaling up and looking into investors or a bigger line of credit to bring on more employees or to invest in something like a development to hedge our cash flow.
What’s the biggest challenge of running the company?
For me, it’s the isolation. It’s very lonely at the top when you own a small business. There’s a constant need to provide leadership, focus, and an austere presence when things are happening. There’s no opportunity for me to freak out when I want to freak out! Being CEO and having to see the big picture while managing in the trenches is very difficult.
Also, in construction, we are always talking about money. Emotions run high with clients because the work is very personal. I have four employees and 35 crews, so I’m dealing with a lot of personalities. With the money and the coordination, I’m always managing how everyone else feels while having to also manage how I feel. It’s by far the hardest part.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running the company?
The most rewarding part of the work we do is that it’s extremely tangible. There are big reveals at the end of our projects. In our work, something is improving every day in a way that we can see and touch and smell. Something that wasn’t yesterday is today. The other rewarding part is seeing the employees and the crews grow.
What I’ve Learned
What’s the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting out?
The biggest mistake I made was in our second year when we ended up in the clutch on a project. I jumped into the project and started managing it personally on-site and I stopped doing business development. We had a multi-million-dollar project lined up that was supposed to start in a couple months, which is why we absolutely had to finish this job. Then, the other project cancelled two weeks before it was supposed to start. I had absolutely no backlog of work because I had stopped doing business development. That was a brutal lesson to learn. I didn’t take pay for three months after that. After that, I always knew that my place isn’t in the trenches – My place is getting more work.
What’s the smartest thing you did when you were first starting out?
I invested in a PR company that worked diligently on my Internet rankings and social media presence. When one of our projects aired on HGTV, we were set up for success and our online presence solidified. I also invested in legal counsel to draft formal contracts. It may sound counter-intuitive; however, drafting a formal contract that allows potential clients to review and engage in conversation is a process that creates a positive working relationship. This is because contract review creates an opportunity for us to work in a business capacity before hammers are thrown, so we can show each other our working styles and, quite literally, get on the same page.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
Take the leap. Jump. Mentally breaking from a stable position to the unknown of small business is the hardest part. Once you start, it’s all reaction. Survival is a powerful incentive to succeed.
What’s next for Integro Rehab?
We are looking to bring on one more employee within the next year and to begin working on projects for prestigious architects. These first five years have served to build our portfolio and client references so we can have a seat at the table with these architects. Now, we’re at the table and ready to show our hand. I’m excited to see the projects we execute over the next five years.
Image Provided by Allyson Case Anderson