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Building Her Own Outdoor Living Empire With Teresa Williams
Episode 25th October 2021 • Behind the Screens From Universal Screens • US Motions
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In this episode of Behind the Screens, we’re meeting KJ Custom Screens and Outdoor Living Owner, Teresa Williams.

Teresa has been a Universal Screens Dealer for quite a while now, and she and the guys discuss why this relationship has lasted so long.

Teresa also talks about her own journey into the outdoor living space, and why buying a business right before a massive recession ended up being one of the best things she ever did. 

They also talk about her key to relationship building, how she’s been able to grow such an amazing business, and why being a woman hasn’t been anything that’s held her back.

You can find out more about Teresa’s company at: https://www.kjcustom.com/

To connect with the guys at Universal Screens, visit usmotions.com

Transcripts

- [Presenter] Welcome to "Behind the Screens", a podcast where we talk to industry experts and the people who make Universal Screens, a leader in the world of motorized retractable screens.

- Welcome back, another episode of "Behind the Screens". I'm Shawn Culbertson, the CEO of Universal Screens. I'm joined by, I'm joined with, I'm joined. I'm joined here, yeah whatever. I'm joined by Michael Longoria to my right. Michael Longoria is the VP of Operations for Universal Screens. And I'm also here with Teresa Stags. Oh, that's right. Name change,

- Yes, yes.

- Teresa Williams.

- Theresa Williams.

- From KJ Custom Screens and Outdoor Living. Before we get started, we definitely want to give a shout out to 903 Brewers. We've got another beer here. This one's called the Milkshake and Fries.

- Jeremy's Milkshake and Fries.

- So, this is a blind taste, blind taste, who knows? It doesn't sound like it's gonna be great, but I've heard good things. So...

- Just a little warning it says, milk stout brewed with chocolate soft serve and sea salt, so.

- Chocolate and sea salt go good, I can deal with that.

- We'll see how that goes.

- The fry part I don't know but.

- So, while you pour that, I'm gonna get in, dive right in with Teresa. So, tell us about your company, what you guys do and who you service, the area you service. Go ahead.

- Okay, so, my name is Theresa Williams and I'm the owner of KJ Custom Screens and Outdoor Living. And we service pretty much the Dallas metroplex. We do a little bit outside of it, but predominantly we stick within the metroplex area. I started the company about 13 years ago. I bought it from my brother, when he decided he didn't want to be in it anymore. And he'd done it for about two years, and then asked me if I wanted to buy it. And I was, had no idea what I was really doing with screens, but I knew marketing and I knew business. So, those are the two things I was bringing to the table for him. So, I said, "Yes, I'll take it." "I'll go ahead and buy it.".

- So, your brother had the company.

- Had the company yes.

- And he was selling.

- He sold the name, the company basically to me. Which is why I never changed it, 'cause it was Justin and Katherine, KJ. And so, since he had branded it already, I didn't want to rebrand it. So, I kept it as KJ.

- And you, you were never in the industry, whether interior or exterior.

- Never, uh-uh.

- Okay.

- He brought me on to do his interior.

- Okay.

- And which I quickly, as soon as I took over and got rid of that. Because I'm not an interior,

- Yeah.

- I'm not a designer. And I, it wasn't my forte. So, we stopped doing the interior and focused predominantly on the exterior.

- Gotcha.

- And so that is where we go her started.

- And so, maybe you said, how long, how long have you been in the industry?

-:

- Okay.

- So is that 13 years?

- Yeah.

- Right.

- 13.

- Okay, yeah.

- And so in:

remember what was going on in:

- Yeah, of course, yeah.

- The market crashed.

- Housing industry crashed. I bought it at the worst possible time.

- Yeah.

- I had no idea, of course.

- So, you were thinking to yourself like, I made a mistake.

- Oh yeah. Well, and it didn't take, so for us, because we dealt with a lot of home builders at that point. It didn't hit us almost a year later, because we had channels in place, you know? So, that's when it really hit us. And then I was wondering, "What the heck did I do?". Like, I will never get into this situation again. That's what I remember telling myself. How can I not be back here where, you know, the average home is not purchasing a screen anymore.

- Yeah. What, and so that is, was what drove me to how I build the business today. 'Cause I was not going to be back there again.

- Well, did that, did that, seeing that, you were in that mind frame of people aren't buying screens, did that push you more? Or did that kind of set you back and you kind of, you know.

- No, it well, absolutely pushed more. I just knew that I had to hit a different market, and that was the high-end market because, typically the higher-end home it, you know, recession doesn't hurt them.

- And you are a known personality in DFW, and that high-end custom builder market.

- Yes.

- You know, that's the one thing that, you know, I've, we've known each other for a long time now and you know, one thing I'm not good at it all is networking. I don't, I don't even try anymore. I don't like to do it. Now, if you drop someone into my lap and introduce me to them, I can talk to them as long as they can talk back.

- Right.

- But I'm not going to walk into a room, I'm not going to walk into a crawfish boil, and I'm not going to go sit with someone and network.

- Right.

- He's the strange kid in the corner like,

- Oh, absolutely.

- Oh, I've been in public with him, I know.

- Absolutely. And mention crawfish boil, I'm going to go in and eat crawfish, you know.

- That's right.

- But you, are completely different in that environment. And I admire that about you, because you get in that environment and the crawfish is my first and it's your fifth.

- Yep.

- It's about finding the people, networking with those people, finding out who can build your business and how you can get interconnected with them. And I think it's an unbelievable sight when I go to these things and see how those builders react with you and not just builders, but other vendors, vendors that have no impact on your bottom line at all. That just know who you are because you're, you're out there.

- Right, relationship building.

- Yeah.

- That's the predominantly, I think is the one thing that has changed the way I do business is by building the relationships. And builders are very loyal. If they like you, they're very, very loyal. So, that's what we do. We build relationships with them. I know their kids, I know their wives. I know their employees. I know their project managers. I, the whole office knows who we are, we know who they are, and they don't forget us. They don't forget us. We drop them off cookies. Once a year, everybody gets touched once a year, whether or not they're doing a whole lot with us or not, they get touched. And by getting touched, I mean, we go to their office and we just, "Thank you for using us or," "Hey, we're still here."

- Yeah.

- "Why don't you use us?". You know, so it's relationship building, and that's what they remember.

- And that goes a long way. And you know, we try to do that. And sometimes, you know, we lose touch of doing that. You know, we as a company, Universal Screens, is what I'm saying. And you know, we need to get back to the old ways of doing that more and more. And I'm here to admit, you know, we grew so fast that sometimes those things, which are the most important things, you know, building those relationships and strengthen those relationships each year, you know, those make or break your company and it's time to kind of refocus. And you and I have talked on the, on the side about that and, in that how I've come in and fully just self admitted to my guys, like, "Look, I made some mistakes, and some things that we did on the sales end, and we're going to correct that.". And so, you know, I've told you, there's going to be some changes coming forward with the way we deal with things. But yeah, those relationships are huge. And like I said, I think it's awesome. I go to these events and, you know, I appreciate that you include us. We've got two of your ARC awards sitting, I think one's turned backwards maybe, but we've got two of your ARC awards here and being at the, those events with you, you know, just there as a bump on the log, but completely, you know, supportive of all that you do. It's awesome.

- Yeah, that's one things that I remember, is going to the awards with you, dressin' up,

- Right.

- Having a good time that night so.

- Well, it's one of the only things that you get recognized for.

- Yeah.

- Right? And then this is one of the shows that the Dallas Home Builders puts on, for their association. It's associates, re-modelers, and custom home-builders. And so, anytime that you can get an award like this, the general public doesn't know what it is, they just know you have an award,

- Yeah.

- You know, and so it's a great honor to have it, but it's, what's really neat. And I remember you brought Brandon, I think, to one of those award shows and he was out in the warehouse. I don't, Brandon, I can't remember which one it was, but he came and I just remember, he was like, he's never seen anything outside of, you know, the manufacturing facility.

- Yep.

- And he never saw the, the final product and what happens with that.

- Yeah, and that's a big thing with how fast we've grown in the back. And so many production employees of them, not truly being out on the field and seeing, you know, what it is that we do, what it is that we make, where it goes, and then what you do with it as, as our customers. And we've made an effort, you know recently to, to change that. And, you know, we've talked about doing dealer training, but also trying to do those events for our own employees of getting them on the field and seeing things because, you know, Michael, as we discussed in another episode, you know, he started building these and the reason he's as good and valuable to us today is because he knows that product like the back of his hand. Actually, before these go stale,

- Yeah.

- Let's cheers.

- I'm so excited.

- Cheers to you.

- So, the Milkshake and Fries, not as good as the last one but,

- You can tell,

- That stout comes through I mean it's,

- Stout comes through, I don't taste the milkshake or the.

- Tastes like, it's like caramel and sea salt.

- You do taste, yeah.

- Actually, it's not too bad.

- Yeah. There you go.

- I may finish this.

- Yeah and that's one thing that we try to instill in the employees 'cause they can be back there all day long building a product. But, if they don't know what they're building it for, then it's,

- Right.

- It's hard so.

- Yeah, I know they have pictures on the walls.

- Right.

- You know.

- You know, they built the, the screens for some of these huge homes that you're building, you know that you're working on. You know, 20 plus million dollar homes. They don't know that when they build them.

- No.

- They don't know that that's going out the door, and going into ex-football player's house,

- Right.

- You know, and so when we tell them, 'cause we do come across where we know, you know, we've got screens, Spurrier's Restaurant down in Gainesville and we know, and we can tell them, that's exciting, that's football coach. They know that. But, a lot of times we don't know where these go.

- Right.

- You know, and they just, they don't know where these are ending up and they're ending up in some amazing places.

- They only know by the pictures that we hang on the wall.

- Exactly.

- Right.

- Yep. And most of those pictures ended up being Teresa's, because she gives us pictures, we put them up. And so yeah, if you're listening and you want your pictures on our wall, send us your pictures. And if they're great work, we would definitely.

- But they have to be over $40 million houses. No, no, no.

- 10 screens or more.

- So, the next talk that I wanted to get into is, is probably one that you get asked, anytime you talk about what you do. And it's the fact that the retractable industry across the board, is a very male dominated industry. For us when I look at our top dealers, there are some extremely strong women in that group, you being one of them. And there's some other ones out there that we will, we were gonna get on this show as well, because it shows a different aspect of this business. But, what is it like? You're dealing with these home builders, I used to deal with home builders on us, these are some good old boys, you know, some rough and tough guys that they're building a home and they really don't have time for my nonsense with the screens. And now here you come in as a female, you know, what have, have you had to change your persona, your personality, so to speak and deal with that? Or, you know, do you, is it different that you get them in a different way?

- Or was that how you were raised, is that you were raised in that and you know, it came natural to you?

- You know, that's a very interesting way that you put it on there, because it's a construction industry and it is male dominated. And I guess, I never my dad always told me that I could do anything I wanted to do, if I put my mind to it, right. And that's what I always focused on. I didn't focus on the fact that I was a female, and that I couldn't do what boys could do. I figured a way around it, to do what the boys could do. Right, so, I, once I've made up my mind to do something, I'm gonna do it. And if you tell me that I can't do it, and especially because I'm a woman that is more, I will find a way to prove you wrong.

- Yeah.

- And so, and I never looked at it as a woman versus male thing, but it definitely has had that part to it. I remember when I first started, I would get up on the ladder and the builders would be so nervous. They did not like that at all. They wanted their women on the ground,

- Yeah.

- 'Cause they felt like they had to help. Like they, it just, and it wasn't a, "Oh, this isn't your job." "And this is my job." It was "What if you get hurt?" "You're a woman." you know, "I need to protect." It was a protection thing more than anything.

- Yeah.

- And so I never took offense to that. I just made sure I stayed on the ground for the most part. I still do our own measures. You know, I still go out there and I'll do all that. But they're a little uncomfortable if they see me with a drill. So, I don't do that anymore, but it's also not my forte.

- Yeah.

- I'm good at a marketing and business. That's where I'm good at. And I was, I've had a business before. And one of the things they told me was you hire people for the things you're not good at.

- Yeah.

- And that's what I did. So, I hired a good installers, and I made sure that they knew what, to make me look good. They knew what they were doin'.

- And I think that's a big key, you know, each episode that we do, we're tryna find that key, that the person listening, you know, can kind of hone in on. And that's probably the key of this episode, is that no matter what business you are, what size your business is, you don't do everything well. You know, and you have to be able to sit back and realize like, "You know what, I'm not good at this, but I'm really good at this.". And if you have it within your budget, to hire someone to do that, then that's probably the best move for you to make, to grow your business. And sometimes you have to stretch that budget or you have to take that leap. And we're all scared to take that leap.

- Risk.

- Yeah, it's definitely all of this comes with a risk, you know. But yeah, getting out of your comfort zone and realizing like, you know, me doing this sub-par is only gonna hurt our business. I need someone that can install.

- Right.

- You know that when I sell the job, which I know I can sell the job, I need someone to come out here and install the job.

- Yep.

- Properly. And you know, the best customers that we have across the country have really good installation crews.

- Really good, yep.

- You know, you rarely hear from them on installation issues. It's something, it's something else.

- Right.

- And I think that's what I've seen personally, is that the biggest mistakes are by dealers who think that they have to have hands on everything, and you don't. So, they're out selling plus they're onto the job site, and they're supervising their crew, and they're talking to the customer, but you shouldn't have to do that.

- Right.

- You do what you do well, which is sell and know the product, and let your install team, make sure you have a great install team, and let them do their thing.

- Right.

- So.

- Yep.

- Yep, but we have a marketing director. She's great, she's better than I am at marketing. I mean, she's amazing. So, she goes out and she does things that I can't touch, you know, and my installation crew is, they're fantastic at the installations, that's what they do. I do the day-to-day business, but I go to, I'm at every sales appointment. I know every customer, I've seen I've worked with every one of them. So I've, I like that aspect. Nobody's a better sales person in the business than I am. Right. So, why would I hire someone else to do that? Hire somebody else to support me versus, you know, 'cause that's where I'm good. That's where my skill is.

- And you know, you're going in and you're selling yourself and your business. You're not selling the product.

- Nope.

- The product is a secondary item.

- Yes.

- That yes, they are paying for,

- Yes.

- But you're selling yourself in,

- Yes.

- And your business.

- Because it, when it comes down to it, if they're doin' research and they look at the competitors, they're gonna to look very similar and they're not really gonna know

- Right.

- What the difference is, but if Teresa comes in and you meet with me and I go, "Teresa seems very confident.", "And she sounds, you know, like she's going to get the job done.", I'm gonna go with you. Opposed to the guy that comes in is like, "Ah, I can do it.". You know,

- Right.

- So, you're selling yourself and that's great, that's great.

- Well, and you know I, it's great too though, because I do sell the manufacturer and to toot ya'll's horn here a little bit, you know, when you can say that your manufacturer is local and you've worked with them and, how great they are and you have that backing you up, you can sell anything. 'Cause I know we have mistakes. All of us have had mistakes, but you guys back up your mistakes. And I think that is, and I, and I'll tell customers that, you know what mistakes are made on every side, but they back them up.

- Yeah.

- And we make mistakes and you know what, we make more mistakes than we would like, but as we've grown, it seems like the ratio of those mistakes is this is, you know, in a, it's not in a completely alarming rate, but it does, it does come up. But that's the thing that we've preached here, is just when they happen, we need to take care of that. You know, we've had a very good relationship with you, personally you and I have it a very good, even anytime that we've got, it's a, it's hard, I'm exaggerating when I say anytime we've gotten cross-ways because we, it's more like a family thing.

- Right.

- But we haven't seen eye to eye on some things.

- Right.

- But even that we've always been able to talk

- Right.

- And work that through, you know, and the relationship that we have with you for this market, and we have a lot of dealers in this market, you know, that, that do a lot of jobs and, you know, we're nothing but thankful for what you do. You're out there representing our product at a high, high level in front of high clientele, you know. And speaking of that, it's kind of a segue into, you know, what you've got coming on the horizon, very exciting.

- Yes.

- Something that I don't know that anyone, that we've had as a customer, I know we haven't internally done it, has done this type of television show. And you're going to be getting involved in that very, very soon.

- Yes, yep.

- So, speak on that for a little bit,

- Okay.

- You know.

- So, we start filming on September 22nd, we're doing a segment on "Designing Spaces", which is on Lifetime and.

- Very exciting.

- I know, I'm so excited about it. We're showcasing one of the homes that we've done, as a matter of fact, you and Joe were out there, with us on that, on a few things. And it has 13 screens, I think on it.

- I believe so.

- Yeah, 13 screens plus the two in the cabana. So, it's a beautiful, it's a gorgeous home.

- We personally installed these, just so everybody, no, no, no we did not.

- It's the "Designing Spaces, Luxury Edition", so it's a beautiful house. I can't wait to showcase that and meet with the builder, the builder and I are going to walk 'em through everything.

- And it takes about an hour to walk around the entire house.

- Yes.

- That's how big of a house it is.

- Oh, it's giant. It's just, it's beautiful. It, it was, it was an amazing, it was an amazing home.

- And just for anybody who doesn't know "Designing Spaces" is on what cable,

- Lifetime.

- Lifetime.

- Lifetime.

- And when do you think, so they're going to start filming here pretty soon.

- Yep.

- When do you expect this to...

- First quarter, so probably January,

- Okay.

- Which is great, 'cause it's right in time for winter.

- Yeah.

- To go into the spring. So, people are just starting in January after all the holidays going, "Okay we need to do something with my backyard.".

- Now,

- Right.

- We can really start pushin' it. So, we'll start social, put it on social media in September, but we're really going to promote it before it comes out.

- When, when you first mentioned this to me, we went back and forth with it a bit. We won't say what the cost is, but we'll leave that to the others when they're solicited to come. And you see that eye-opening cost.

- Yes.

- You know, it's, it's not a cheap adventure to take on the risks we just mentioned. What, why did you take that risk to do this? And I fully back it, I think that's great.

- Right.

- And I've told you, you know, however we can help you, we will. But what was the, what was the end factor of, "Yeah, let's do this."?

- Well, remember we had just decided to go with Lux magazine as well.

- Right.

- Which is very high-end, luxury home magazine. And that was quite costly. So, it, this is the most I've ever put out for marketing dollars. But, my costs of return when you sit there and you look at how many screens, if you sold from an episode, to at least just make your cost I had to do it,

- Yeah.

- Had to do it. So, it was just an incentive for me to go out and go, "Okay, I need to go sell this many screens, to make this up."

- Yeah.

- And that, and that's basically, plus it's putting us in the market where I want. We're really going for the luxury home. And that is where both of these avenues of marketing are taking us. So that's,

- I think it's almost an advertisement that, no matter what size the home, no matter, you know, what the challenge is.

- Yep.

- That you can, you can do it. And that's, that's more advertising of these are the homes that I do and I can do it so.

- That's right. And y'all have done some very creative, out of the box screens for us as well. So, not that everybody should, but, but you guys have definitely done some creative, we've done some pretty big ones with you, so.

- Well, I'm excited, yeah. That's gonna be great. I appreciate you asking me to be a part of that too. And I look forward to that.

- You're gonna be on the show?

- I'm gonna be the show. I think they cast me as lead actor. I even have a small musical,

- He's person C.

- I even have a small musical part.

- Shane would love it. He would be so happy.

- But Shane has to be in the, he's gotta be part of the dance ensemble. So, clearly my youngest daughter is now in theater and that's why I know the, this verbiage.

- Right, right.

- So, a lot has changed with you over the past six months.

- Right.

- So, I got the name wrong when we started.

- That's all right.

- You know, so the new, the new Theresa Williams, how is, how is that going? How's marriage life?

- It's great, it's really good. Shane has his own business, and he does outdoor living as well. So, it's awesome, at the same time, and sometimes it's all you do is talk about work, and to the point where the kids are like, "Oh, my God.". "Stop talking about work.". You know, because we do so much together on a lot of our jobs, but we blended a family and it's, it is, it has its challenges, but it's been awesome.

- And I think that's, you know, since, you know, here's a podcast tryna find out ways that we can relate to the audience. So, that's one of those ways is that, or one of those topics is when you get home, like you said, you're talking about work. And you know, I'm kind of in that same boat, but we cut it off. Like, I'm almost to a point where I'm kind of a, an a-hole about, not talking about work.

- I'm glad I'm not the only one.

- Yeah.

- Yes.

- So, I just don't want to talk about work

- Yes.

- Until I want to talk about work.

- Right, right, right.

- Right, so like tonight I gotta ask her something about work, but normally it's like, it's time's off. But tonight I'm gonna have to ask her specific question.

- We try not to as well, We try not to as well.

- I even texted her earlier, I was like, "We gotta talk about this tonight." And I'm thinking like, I don't want to talk about work, but this is, this work.

- Well, we work out of the home too, right. Both of us two and the kids are home all summer. So, that's when they heard a lot more about it, I'm sure then what they normally do, we try not do it at night as well. But you get sucked into it, it's, gosh sometimes it's hard.

- Have you gotten the kids involved in the businesses at all?

- My middle son, my oldest is in college. So, my middle one worked last summer as an installer.

- Nice.

- Yeah, he wasn't really.

- Into it, he didn't like the heat.

- Yeah, not his thing.

- Sometime you gotta find out the hard way like that, yeah.

- Yeah, so he opted not to do it this summer.

- But it is interesting to try to find out that, you know, and that that opportunity will be afforded, you know, to Mike's kids when they're old enough to come. My two oldest worked this summer, Cadence work in the office, to help the office staff. And my son Dylan worked in the back and it was great. They were able to work, put in some hours while also doing the activities they needed for their summer school and athletics.

- Good.

- But, you know, my son was in the back in the production, in the heat, working. And the feedback that I got was he's a good worker. He gets his stuff done. And those are the things that I wanted to hear, you know,

- Yep.

- And my daughter was in here working, you know, in the office air conditioned, but she was getting stuff done and, and people said, "Anything we give her, she gets done." So, you know, as a parent certainly made me proud to,

- That's right.

- Hear that, okay, they can definitely do that. I don't have to watch after them.

- Right.

- You know, to try to teach them some things.

- Well, let's see what dad does. We don't just bring home money.

- Yeah.

- You know, we're not just a paycheck.

- Right.

- 'Cause a lot of times that's how the kids feel, you're just a paycheck.

- Yeah.

- You know, and so when they actually see you do the work, you know, and they come and then they're on a job site. That was the best thing for my kids, is actually seeing the job site and actually seeing what we do. 'Cause otherwise I'm just on my phone all the time, you know, I don't do anything. I just play on my phone. So, like, "No, that's my job." I'm fielding, you know, texts and calls and emails and,

- Right.

- Sure, sure mom.

- Yeah, right, right. I'm Candy Crush mom, I know it.

- But it's also good that, that your son was able to get out there. And I think Shawn's used it before is that you can show them, like, if you don't get a college degree, you're going to be out there working as an installer, you know so.

- Well, okay so that brings up a whole nother thing.

- Not that installing is a bad thing.

- Trades are so needed right now.

- Oh, absolutely.

- And I promote so much with trades. Collin County has an amazing trade program. I know, he doesn't have to go to college. My middle one does not want to go. He can go trade school, two years he has a degree. Electricians are making 150 bucks an hour.

- Right.

- They're making really good money.

- Yeah.

- So, I have any tie, you know, college is not for everybody.

- No, it's not.

- It's not at all, so I think that if they want to do a trade, that's great. And labor is good for 'em. It really is.

- Unless they don't like labor, and then you know, they're in trouble.

- What teenager does, you know?

- Well, I think that about wraps it up. You know, like I said, we just wanted to kind of dive a little bit deeper into, into, you know, Theresa and KJ as a, as a company and you know, the background and you know, your kinda, your success without telling exactly what you're doing. You know, we'll keep those secrets to ourselves. But man, it's awesome working with you. You some amazing projects, you're a good person, you know. I don't have friendships with all of our customers. For many reasons. There is a, there's a line,

- Yep.

- But I do consider you a friend. I was quite bummed that we couldn't make your wedding. I do appreciate that we were even included, but yeah. You know, anything you need, you know, you can definitely ask us. Whether it's work or family.

- I know.

- But so yeah,

- I know where to go.

- It's almost like if you're not keeping up with the Williams. TV show, you got...

- Next time, we'll get Shane on here. We don't even need a mic, you can just sit there. All right, well, that's it for this episode of "Behind the Screens" we will, we'll catch you on the next one. Thank you.

- Thank you.

- [Presenter] Thanks for listening to "Behind the Screens". Don't forget to follow us on your favorite podcast player, and leave us a review.

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