The Finishing Touch
Qualified Interiors Inc. completes construction projects with a family-first approach
After almost 30 years of running Westlake, Ohio-based Qualified Interiors Inc. and completing interior finish projects—from the Goodyear Theater in Akron to the Residence Inn Akron Fairlawn—Bill Pfeiffer faced his toughest test in the fall of 2016 when his wife, Joan (who is also company Vice President) was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
As hands-on leaders, Bill and Joan struggled to step away from the business to deal with treatment and recovery.
“Our business philosophy has always focused on a family-first approach,” Bill says. “We’ve always told our employees if there is an illness or death in the family that we want them to go take care of their family and call me when they’re ready to come back; it was a turnabout when Joan got sick and I needed my employees to do that for us.”
“At first, we were devastated by the diagnosis,” Joan says. “Our team of doctors explained that I had what appeared to be the most deadly form of leukemia. So, we put our life on hold and focused first on surviving and then on attaining a cure. I had a hard time giving up my daily routine at work, but I didn’t have a choice. It was rough on Bill, because he had to take over everything I did in addition to his own job. The employees helped a lot; but it was rough for all of us.”
The employees stepped up considerably, Bill says, especially the duo’s right-hand staffer, lead estimator and project manager Michelle Lummus, “Our great team of employees kept the company operating while we took the time off to heal Joan. We owe our team more thanks than they could ever know. She worked 10- and 12-hour days doing her own job and both of ours.”
Despite battling a deadly disease, Joan was only away from the job for five months. She was fortunate to receive a bone marrow transplant from her sister, Sue. Now, Joan has been cancer free for more than 18 months. “My priorities are different now; it was a difficult time, but I feel like the experience made me stronger,” Joan recalls.
Beyond the health scare, Bill says the company’s diversity is part of what sets it apart within the construction industry. “We are able to survive in the worst of times…because of our diverse portfolio of services,” he says.
Founded in 1991, Qualified Interiors has grown to provide virtually all the commercial finishes a typical project needs—from start to finish. The company’s work includes a variety of facility types—retirement and skilled nursing, health care, retail, dining, corporate, industrial, hospitality, schools and tenant improvements. Its specialties are commercial interior finishes, including floorcovering removal services; installation of carpet, ceramic, vinyl, wood, laminate and epoxy floors; painting, vinyl wall covering (VWC), staining and specialty coatings; wallpaper; light construction and finish carpentry; as well as new construction, repairs and restoration. The company’s projects come from relationships with general contractors and from working directly with a variety of companies. “My first client—a general contractor—is still working with us today,” Bill says.
“It is important to us to provide this broad base of services to keep the bottom line healthy,” Bill continues. “Even with cyclical sales periods, we can still survive downturns in some areas. For instance, assisted living-style retirement homes are on the upswing because the Baby Boomers need a place to go after the kids are gone and they don’t want a big house any longer.”
Among the new projects Qualified Interiors has added to its project list are some charter schools. The most current client, Constellation Schools in Cleveland, has 15 locations. “These projects are similar to working with parochial schools,” Bill says. “They have a limited budget for construction, which usually involves taking over a public or church school that has been closed.”
“We’ve also done a lot of work with the Strang Corporation, which owns Don’s Lighthouse Grille and Don’s Pomeroy House,” Bill says. ”We’ve remodeled the Pomeroy House four or five times.”
The firm also works directly for multiple institutional clients, including First Industrial Realty Trust and IRG Realty Advisors, LLC, on large commercial projects. For example, two years ago Qualified Interiors completed the Goodyear Theater at the East End project in Akron for IRG Realty Advisors. This was a 1.4 million-square-foot mixed-use redevelopment complex with a community-like environment.
“The theater was dated and underutilized,” Bill says. “Now it has an exciting contemporary flair with a fresh paint job, including gold leaf paint on the 60-foot proscenium arch, new carpet, a sound system and lighting, and concession services. There are events scheduled at the theater on a weekly basis.”
One of the most comprehensive projects the firm has done is the Residence Inn by Marriott Akron Fairlawn, in Fairlawn, Ohio. The assignment for this ground-up 130-guestroom facility included furnishings and the installation of carpet, ceramic tile, resilient flooring, paint and VWC. There was also the challenge of having to clean up some messes left by a previous contractor.
“Qualified Interiors was hired to do all the flooring, painting and wall vinyl for the Residence Inn Akron Fairlawn,” says Radius Hospitality President Scott Yaeger.< “Bill and his team worked through a difficult time constraint, and he and his team did a remarkable job. Not only did they adjust to the ever-changing timeline, but they had to deal with deficiencies from other trades to complete their work. The quality of work that was ultimately produced was exceptional. I have worked with Bill and his team on several projects and have never been disappointed with the results.”
The firm’s expertise has been used in many local as well as out-of-state projects for companies such as CVS, Taco Bell, Merrill Lynch and Holiday Inn, among others. Some of the current projects include a private auto museum, a ground-up shopping center, two 130,000-square-foot commercial warehouses and a brewery.
“We also did the first branch office for Atlanta-based Randstad, and they were so pleased that we did an additional $500,000 worth of remodels for them across the country,” Bill says. “They paid us a premium to do the traveling because they knew the quality was there and they knew the job would be done right. There were times when they brought us in to clean up another contractor’s mess.”
Performing to the highest level possible is Bill and Joan’s top work goal every day. To that end, Bill says he tries to maintain a positive attitude and set reasonable expectations with his staff. His management style is to try and grow his employees to the maximum of their abilities. Integrity is another critical skill his team must have. “Mistakes are OK,” he says, “but be honest about them.”
In addition to staff development, Bill says he loves “taking something that is unfinished and turning it into something beautiful.” He says this is especially satisfying on a bigger job. “Often, the owners are getting anxious because the place looks unfinished, but we come in with paint and flooring, and now they can see it all coming together.”
One project the company is wrapping up is the rehab of a 1980s-era manufacturing and office building. The owner gave Qualified Interiors some latitude to be innovative in the floorplan as well as with the ceiling tiles, flooring and a new reception desk.
Carry Through at Crunch Time
IRG Realty Advisors, LLC senior project manager Michael Gordon has worked with Qualified Interiors since the company started.
“Since being with IRG, I’ve worked with Bill and his team on a few projects, including the Goodyear Theater,” Gordon says. “Bill and his team have always been able to help with scheduling at crunch time. Manpower has never been an issue. [They are] willing to work with us with scheduling, making sure to meet a date even if the holdups arise earlier on in a project…. Time line seems to always be a driving factor and I’ve always been very happy and impressed with Qualified’s ability to take on the challenge. They always seem to meet our goals.”
Truckloads of Donations
Helping others comes naturally to the Pfeiffers. For more than 20 years, the company has donated to the local Habitat for Humanity.
“When we have extra materials after the jobs accumulating in the warehouse, we donate those to Habitat. We usually have about two or three truckloads full of material from carpet, ceramic floors or vinyl floors. We donate them for use or resale. We have also helped out on builds for a few projects,” Bill says.
For the past five years, the Pfeiffers have also been involved with Village Project in Bay Village, Ohio, which is a grassroots organization that makes and provides healthy meals for families that have someone in the hospital with cancer, Joan says. The firm even put flooring in the organization’s facilities at cost and donated the labor for the installation.
Looking ahead, Bill and Joan have a goal of retirement. After Joan’s recent health scare, the couple realized they aren’t ready to retire yet, but it isn’t far off.
“Five years is realistic,” Bill says. “My goal is to get a plan put together for the employees to take over. We want it to be a legacy. We’ve worked so hard that we hate to see it close and go away. We have a good company with a good reputation.
“We are striving to get the company stronger than ever,” he continues. “Entrepreneurship is pretty unique, so we are looking for the right people to run it…. This is something we have in mind when we have new people coming on board, too. It is still a family-first attitude.”
This spring, the Pfeiffers’ daughter Amanda will be finishing her final year at Ohio State University with a degree in Construction Project Management. She’s also completing an internship at a large international design-build company. Does she have a future with the firm? Her parents say they’re waiting to see what path she follows. “Joan and I have had a pretty magical life being able to work together and raise a family. Not many people can experience that,” Bill says.