People are priority in this Home Improvement business

Russ Christensen believes the key ingredient to a successful home improvement company is the ultimate respect and repeat business of the customers who live in the homes.

Christensen launched 4 Season Home Crafters three years ago. After two decades with a Muskegon firm, Christensen said he witnessed more than a need for home improvement – he saw customer service, workmanship, and material quality that needed improving.

“I was with a good company but I thought I could treat my customers better,” said Christensen, who specializes in siding and windows. “I went off on my own because I wanted to be a little bit different than the other home improvement companies around. We’re the only company I know of in the state of Michigan that offers a lifetime labor warranty. We use the best products and workmanship that I think West Michigan has ever seen.”

Christensen operates 4 Season Home Crafters from his Dalton Township home to cut down on his overhead and offer lower prices than many storefront competitors.

“A lot of companies are using cheap stuff trying to be the cheapest bid,” he said. “We’d rather go the other way and do the job right the first time rather than see how cheap we can get it done. We’re not the cheapest, we’re not the most expensive, but I know we’re the best. I’d put my products and my workers up against anybody around here for sure.”

Bill Gregori, one of Christensen’s 21 employees, says the morale of Home Crafters employees is high because they believe in their boss, and his commitment to quality and the community.

“I think we have the best reputation in West Michigan,” said Gregori, as he hung window trim on a Roosevelt Park home on a recent sunny afternoon. “Everywhere we’ve went people send positive letters: We like our customers to be happy..”

Gregori has worked for 4 Season Home Crafters since its inception. He’s worked with Christensen for about 20 years. He praised his boss for sponsoring community events such as the Unity Christian concert series and Muskegon’s Summer Celebration and Fury hockey team.

“I don’t think anyone could say a bad word about him,” said Gregori, nailing a white piece of trim. “He makes the morale so great. Everyone here takes pride in what they do. Everyone is together. We’re the best company and we’re going to stay the best. We’re all experienced and have worked together at least 15 years. We’ve actually had guys try to steal us away but that’s never going to happen.”

Although 4 Seasons Home Crafters specializes in replacement windows and siding, the firm handles a wide array of other projects – decks, garages, bathroom and kitchen remodeling, three season rooms, decks, roofing, and additions.

“There’s no doubt in my mind we’re the best and I’m not just saying that because I own the company,” Christensen said. “I know what everyone else is using and what their guys are doing. I pay more for siding and windows and more in labor but we try to keep our overhead to a minimum.”

The product line is top notch – Thermo Craft energy efficient windows with high performance glass. The windows are custom-made to fit into existing openings so there’s no need to tear down drywall or siding. The windows tilt in for easy cleaning and feature a lifetime labor and material warranty.

The ultra premium grade siding also carries lifetime labor assurance and is warranted to withstand winds up to 198 mph. The 16-foot panels allow for 30 percent fewer seams than industry standard 12-foot panels used by most companies.

“Our siding is a lot thicker than most and is less likely to be damaged than some of the tin stuff floating around in discount stores,” Christensen said. “The thickness is good to prevent damage from rocks thrown from lawnmowers or kids throwing baseballs. It has the best fade warranty in the industry, too.”

There’s more to 4 Season Home Crafters than thick siding and high performance glass – high performance employees put the company over the edge, with more than 300 years of combined experience.

“Everyone I have that’s with me feels that honesty, personality, and great workmanship, along with the products we carry, make us the trendsetters in the 2000s,” Christensen said. “I really want to emphasize the teamwork. It’s not just one guy. We have a crew that works real hard and we’re real happy with where the company is today and the reputation.”

The owner considers his crew family, and hosts annual summer and Christmas parties. He’s also known to take his employees to lunch, to keep close ties. Employees recently presented Christensen a “Boss of the Year” plaque.

“He’s one of the nicest bosses you could ever hope for,” said 4 Seasons employee Dustin Robeck. “He treats us so good.”

Christensen considers his employees the footings and foundation of the company’s success.

“We’re very good friends, “ the 4 Season owner said. “It’s a family but it’s not a relation family. It’s a family of friends. My siding crews have been doing this for 37 years. It’s a specialized industry, it’s not a jack-of-all-trades. They do siding all day long. It’s the same with the window people. They know the window inside and out.”

The true test of the industry, though, is recognizing the client’s needs, inside and out. Christensen said customer communications is the focus of 4 Season Home Crafters.

“I believe that along with the product and workmanship you have to be able to communicate with your customers,” he said. “If they’ve got any questions on the job, my guys are forthcoming with the information to let them know. No question is a dumb question. We want our customers to know what they’re getting. We let them know up front what’s happening and load them up with as much information as possible.”

The company thrives on repeat business, and offers a 10 percent discount to senior citizens and repeat customers. Clients who refer other homeowners pocket a $200 check.

“If they recommend us to a friend or coworker that cuts down on our advertising expenses,” Christensen said. “Why give the money to advertisers when we can give it back to our customers? Dozens and dozens of letters come in monthly from our customers saying we kept our word, the work was done in a timely manner and we kept our price. We’re probably the most recommended program in town.”

In the squeeze of a tight economy, when many companies are struggling for business, the owner says the tried and true ways of 4 Seasons Home Crafters set the benchmark.

“Most home improvement companies right now are in a slow down with the economy and the election going on,” Christensen said. “We’re still very busy and doing more work than any other home improvement company around. In the last 18 months we’ve become the largest home improvement company in West Michigan, in terms of the work we do.”

Originally published by the Grand Haven Tribune 10/23/2004

By Maria Havenga, Writer