Our Small Business Blog series was created to highlight some of the small businesses that APANO’s Small Business Advisor, Grace Henricks, has been working with. In the next installment of our series, we had the opportunity to interview Alan Pierce of Revive Works PDX, to talk about how he and his wife started their construction and remodeling business. Alan talks about the difficulties during the pandemic and speaks on how art and construction intersect in his work. With a focus on community, safety, and quality, Alan leads a company that is not only providing a great service in Portland, but is creating a new workforce and opportunities for fellow tradespersons. Grace has been Revive Works Remodeling’s Business Advisor for the past two years, and interviews Alan for us today.
Grace: Hi Alan, thanks so much for joining us today. Could you start off by telling me a little bit about yourself and your business? When and how did you start your business?
Alan: I started the business in January 2014 with my wife. For six months prior to opening, we just had one vehicle and one tool. We spent about six months saving to buy tools and building up a portfolio of work for our website. In the beginning, sometimes we’d drive all over Oregon traveling up to an hour and a half one way for site visits. At the time the economy still hadn’t recovered. So there wasn’t a ton of business. But we just kept with it. And then slowly over time, it’s grown little by little.
Grace: And when you started, I remember you also mentioned being a professional artist – was your art background somewhat of a fit when you entered into the field of construction?
Alan: Surprisingly yes, most definitely. I was a professional artist from 17-29 years old. I started my art education when I was about 9. There are so many parallels between art and construction that I wasn’t aware of before I entered the industry because it’s basically creative problem solving. That was the biggest correlation, but you’re also dealing heavily with line, volume, texture, tone, color and design composition. So all of that stuff thankfully transferred over.
Grace: Yes, I can definitely see the parallels there. How about your business’s mission and values?
Alan: Revive Works is built on five values: Vision, Craftsmanship, Safety, Open and Innovative Collaboration, and Customer Service. When we started the company, we tried to look at what the best companies in the industry were doing and what the worst companies in the industry were doing. We tried to model ourselves to hopefully achieve what the best companies were doing. Safety was super important for me, because when I was managing infrastructure projects, it was a pretty dangerous place. We had a lot of heavy equipment. One mistake and your head can get taken off by a one ton bucket. Then on the vision side that really aligned with my art background. For customer service, we noticed that a lot of people have issues with that, so we thought, okay, we’ve got to be really good on this and make sure that we provide better customer service. The mission is to just always stay evolving and improving the product and the service. And my personal mission is to integrate the art, with construction engineering and design, to provide the best aesthetic look and feeling for each project while not losing sight of the best functionality. Because I think the more well thought out a project is based on what the client’s needs are, the more long-term functionality you’re going to get out of it.
Grace: Yeah, I get all that working with you. And I think my experience of contractors is that you’re in a league, somewhat above the average. I think of your thoughtfulness and your care, your integrity. I don’t think folks think about safety as much as they could or should. And I think that really speaks to your care about your subcontractors, or just people in general. I just wanted to appreciate that.
Alan: Oh, thank you very much. Our other mission I didn’t mention is also to be involved with both social equity and to help with environmental causes. We’ve tried to minimize our footprint by using tree-free paper and different small things that we try to do environmentally. And hopefully, in the near future, we will start to replace our work vehicles with electric vehicles and continue getting a smaller and smaller carbon footprint. That’s one of the long-term goals as well.
Grace: That’s commendable. I think all small and large businesses, if they focused on that, it would make a big difference. Alan, can you also talk about what it has been like running your business since the pandemic?
Alan: In March, when everything just shut down, I think the whole world was completely unprepared. In my position, I had to shut down the company for about six months, because I’m the caretaker for my grandmother. She’s 98 years old, she’s got COPD, a pacemaker, and asthma. So she’s in danger of not doing well if she caught COVID. So we waited until we could both get vaccinated. And then from there, we opened back up, but just being very careful, trying not to be in homes with more than two people and homes that allowed for separation of airflow between our craftspeople and the client. Because at that time we didn’t really know how contagious or dangerous it was. And there were so many unknowns back then. There were a lot of challenges. Logistics issues, material shortages. There were a bunch of labor and material price increases, lumber went up 300%. Basically, we had to be really clear with setting expectations with our clients that we don’t have any control over what’s going on globally.
Grace: You know, you kind of answered all of that beautifully. Communication sounds like it was key. Moving on to some of your personal story, Alan, do you have family here? You mentioned your grandmother, and that’s amazing, she’s 98.
Alan: Yes, she’s 98, so only two more years till she’s a Centurion. But I’ve got family all over the place – East coast, West coast, the South. That’s my mother’s side and my step father’s side, and then my biological father’s side is from a Dayak tribe called the Kenyah in Borneo. And so I’ve got a huge family over there. For about 6 years we lived in remote villages and sometimes on a houseboat, so we got to experience village life, and for a little while I would row 45 minutes each way to school. Our village was pretty remote, three days from any major city, and there was no electricity and no hot water or any other food than fish, but I definitely got a real appreciation for nature. And that was one of the things, when you live deep in the jungle, it’s such a beautiful place, undisturbed by anything.
Alan rowing to school (second from the left)
Grace: So what brought you to Portland? And why are you setting down roots here?
Alan: Well, I first moved back to Portland in 2007. I graduated from the Paris American Academy in Paris with my Bachelors of Fine Arts. I had moved back here to take care of my grandmother. Portland to me was a breath of fresh air. It was clean, safe. Beautiful nature. In Indonesia we had a dictator, his name was Suharto. In 1998 we had a revolution, so he stepped down, and then after that, there was a period of a lot of violence there. The embassy right in front of my apartment was bombed. And then the hotel a mile from my house was bombed. There was about a 6 year period after 1998 where we had a lot of wars, ethnic persecution and a lot of terrorist bombings. Thankfully now many things have changed in Indonesia and democracy has taken a strong hold.
Grace: Well, I’m glad you’re here and that we’ve gotten the opportunity to connect through APANO. Even before we started working together though, I think in 2020, you had reached out to APANO’s cultural director offering a book you had written?
Alan: Yes, I thought it would be a great opportunity to help young artists understand the framework of the art world a little better. When I was doing art professionally full time there was a real lack of quite a few things. One of them was business understanding. I did 14 years of formal art education and they never once spoke about business. But basically, as a professional artist, you’re an independent contractor, and you have to understand business in order to be able to do it with any chance of success. But when you go to art school, they don’t prepare you for this at all. So when you come out, you really don’t know anything, you don’t know any contract language, you don’t know about marketing or costing, logistics, etc. And so the purpose of the book was basically to take all of the lessons that I had learned over a 30 year period and condense it and organize it into something that would hopefully be helpful for beginning artists. I figured, if you can learn from my mistakes, and have an easier way, then awesome. Because it was a long, difficult journey, and there wasn’t anybody to guide me on how to do it. So it was all trial and error. And as you know, trial and error takes a long time.
Grace: That would be great if we can share it somehow to the community and get it out there. I remember skimming it and thought it was really helpful. What’s the title of that book?
Grace: Great, thank you for sharing that! With that in mind, you seem very community minded and willing to share your knowledge. How do you see your business’s role in the community?
Alan: One of the roles that I hope to provide is I’d like to be able to provide job opportunities for people with a good living wage, and also training within the remodeling industry, because after the recession from 2008 to 2014, construction was in a massive slump. And what ended up happening was somewhere from 30 to 50% of skilled craftspeople left the industry for good. Because they had to feed their families, and there was just no work. And so now as our economy is ramping up, we just don’t have enough skilled craftspeople. All the skilled laborers are taken up by the big companies. And so I’m hoping that Revive Works can provide training for people who want to get into the trades. So that’s one thing that’s important to me. We’ve also developed relationships with two NGOs called Reach and NAYA and hope to partner with more NGO’s in the future. They provide grant funds for low-income homeowners. And so we work with them, and we offer a discounted labor rate to help contribute to their mission. So that’s been a really great experience.
Grace: You mentioned that for you every day, you’re looking to just improve upon what you did yesterday. Was that an accurate way to capture what you said?
Alan: Yeah, that’s my philosophy, just always to improve. Always evolve everyday. My parents and my grandparents always said just compete with yourself. And so that was a piece of advice that always resonated with me – just compete with yourself and never quit.
Grace: And then Alan, here’s our last question. It’s kind of a big one. What are your hopes for the future?
Alan: Well, I’d like to go to the moon, Mars, and also become president. No, just kidding, for Revive Works, the hopes for the future are basically taking on increasingly challenging artistic projects and integrating my art background into the projects, as well as providing job opportunities and living wages for people. And also hopefully, being a part of training people who want to be in the construction industry because one of our biggest issues is that there’s just not enough skilled labor. And so for a small to medium business, that’s one of our biggest challenges, finding skilled labor. So if you can’t find it, you’ve got to build it. And I’d like to be a part of that.
Grace: I think that’s all we have time for today, Alan, thank you so much. If folks reading want to find out more about Alan, you can visit, https://www.reviveworkspdx.com. Alan is also currently hiring, so if you or anyone you know is interested in becoming a Craftsperson or apprentice, see more details here!
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