Building is bliss for this Colchester woman
by Heleigh Bostwick
In business for herself since 2002, Laurie Goldsmith decided three years ago to add her first name to that of her Colchester company, making it Laurie’s Certified Construction Inc. It gives customers one more reason to remember her and her work, she says.
Laurie Goldsmith, the owner of Laurie’s Certified Construction in Colchester, has a new business card that most people won’t easily forget: It’s a miniature metal backsaw, complete with her company name, website, contact details, and Facebook logo.
In business for herself since 2002, Goldsmith says that the new card is part of an ongoing marketing and branding effort that began in 2009. That’s when she added “Laurie’s” to the company name, which had, until then, been simply Certified Construction. “People remember me, because I’ve been doing this for over 20 years as a woman,” she explains.
Although being a woman in a male-dominated business helps people remember her, Goldsmith recalls that when she started out in the construction business, a woman was a real novelty.
“When I knocked on someone’s door they would peer around me and ask where my husband was,” she says with a chuckle. “The atmosphere has definitely changed over the years, but I still encounter the odd person who doesn’t want to deal with a woman.”
Like many successful business owners, Goldsmith didn’t follow a traditional career path. After her family moved from Burlington, Conn., to Huntington, Goldsmith attended Mount Mansfield High School, but dropped out in her senior year to enroll in the CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) job-training program.
“While everyone else was graduating, I was already working,” says Goldsmith. “My first job was at UVM transcribing medical reports for medical students.” Soon after, she met her now ex-husband, got married, and moved back to Connecticut for several years.
After her father died, she returned to Vermont and began working for a doctor in Stowe as a bookkeeper and secretary. It was while working at this job that she met the man who would change the course of her life: Bruce “Red” Elmore.
“Red owned a company called Redi-Bilt Construction that sold and installed vinyl siding, roofing, and replacement windows. My husband applied for a job, but Red was so impressed with me that he hired both of us,” recalls Goldsmith with a smile. “At the time I was part of the installation crew, but Red told me that I should be in sales. I said no.”
A short time later, the crew went to Lyon Mountain, N.Y., to do three siding jobs. “While we were there, one of the neighbors asked for an estimate. I panicked and called Red. He walked me through the sale and I sold the job.”
As she gained confidence, Goldsmith started selling jobs for Elmore as a subcontractor, essentially running her own business. It wasn’t until Elmore died in 2002, however, that she went out on her own.
In the meantime she had divorced, then remarried — to Eric Kurtz. She recalls how they met, “I was playing pool one day when Eric walked in. It was instant romance,” she says, laughing. Kurtz, a welder from out of state who just happened to be in Vermont for a one-week job, ended up staying and working for Elmore at Redi-Bilt.
“He’s the sweetest man,” says Goldsmith. “I’m so lucky to have him. Every morning he brings me my coffee and a heating pad for my back pain.” Goldsmith had severe scoliosis as a child, and metal rods placed in her back when she was 12 have caused degenerative disk and other back problems in recent years.
She works out of her home in Colchester, which she bought in 2006 and completely renovated. “When I bought the house it was abandoned and in bad shape. It had always been a business and residence, which was zoned perfectly for me,” she says. “We gutted it, jacked it up, and remodeled it. We used insulated concrete forms, new siding, roof, wiring … everything is new.”
In the off season, Goldsmith employs seven people, one of whom is her husband. During the construction season — spring, summer, and fall — that number rises to between 20 and 25.
“It depends on the season and what work we have. Different employees are matched with their expertise — Sheetrock, painter, and so on,” Goldsmith says. “Eric does estimates and physical labor and handles the 3-D design drawings. He’s also the site supervisor.” Most of her time, Goldsmith says, is spent on advertising, writing contracts, doing payroll, paying bills, and hiring and firing.
Although she is back on track for another $1 million sales year in 2012, Goldsmith says that the economic downturn had a huge effect on business. “Four years ago, sales were over $1 million, but in 2008 when things were bad, we went six months without a phone call. We had to diversify into additions and remodels, and we now have a 3-D design service. People have a hard time visualizing and it really helps.”
Goldsmith and Kurtz spend a lot of time on the road. “We work evenings and Saturdays to meet with customers, and we do estimates all over Vermont and parts of New Hampshire and New York state. We’re lucky if we’re home by 7 or 7:30 at night, and even then, Eric often stays up working on drawings until 11 p.m.”
They also attend two home shows every spring — the Burlington Home Show at the Sheraton in South Burlington and the Home Builders Home Show at the Champlain Valley Fairground in Essex. “Home shows are one of the best ways to market ourselves,” says Goldsmith, who recently completed work on a huge addition to a home in Plattsburgh.
“I met this customer a few years ago at one of the home shows we do,” she continues. “At the time she wasn’t interested in having any work done, but we met up with her again a few years later at the same home show and she told us she was ready. She still remembered us.”
Goldsmith estimates that about 25 percent of the company’s jobs are commercial, citing projects such as KeyBank in Milton, Oak Terrace Apartments in Colchester (owned by Equitable Housing), and the Colchester Senior Center, built in the 1950s and in dire need of updating.
Glen Cuttita, director of parks and recreation for the town of Colchester, headed up the $22,000 project. “We wanted to use a Colchester contractor so we sent it out for quotes,” he says. “Laurie’s came in with the low quote. They did a fantastic job and took a lot of pride in their work. They were flexible and worked with us to make sure the project was something the town and they could be proud of. If other opportunities come up, we’d love to work with them again.”
Lending a hand in the community is something Goldsmith is proud of. “One of the organizations that we have gotten involved with is the Colchester Community Food Shelf,” says Goldsmith. “They needed a bigger space and ended up moving into the old village firehouse. It needed a lot of work — shelving, doors, and so on. We helped them get it ready.”
Goldsmith and Kurtz are also active with Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity, having installed a roof on the Charlotte house the group built last year. “Eric and I have been attending the meetings and want to be more involved in the process,” says Goldsmith, adding that another project is coming up in Winooski this year. “They’ve torn down the old building already and we want to be as involved as possible.”
She and Kurtz head to the marina when they need a break. “We have a big old boat,” she says. “It’s a 25-year-old, 33-foot Chris-Craft cabin cruiser. We’ll cruise out into the lake and drop the anchor.”
There are days when she calls Eric and says, “‘Meet me on the boat; let’s have lunch.’ It just gets so crazy during the summer when we’re juggling five to seven projects plus estimates and payroll and everything else. That’s how we de-stress.”
Kurtz’s 16-year-old daughter, Jaid, lives with them and attends Colchester High School. Goldsmith’s children are grown, but she enjoys hanging out with her grandchildren who live nearby. She says the 8-year-old has already decided she’s going to take over the business.
“I don’t see myself retiring, although I would love for my kids to take over so I could slow down a bit. Even if we won the lottery, I might relax more, but I would probably put money back into the business,” she confesses.
“I’ve had thoughts of doing other things over the years, but I can’t. I love what I do. I’ve done it for so many years and can’t do anything else. I just don’t want to.” •