podcast | May 13, 2024 |
Inside the world of elite contracting

Josh Wiener grew up dreaming of becoming a famous actor—little did he know that one day he would instead be working with Julia Roberts on a new apartment. After his early years on the Upper West Side, Wiener ended up at Vassar studying psychology and acting. To help pay for college, he worked as a painter and plasterer, enlisting the help of friends and classmates. Postgraduation, he still saw acting in his future, until his therapist urged him to dive headfirst into contracting. “What is construction? It’s kind of a dark cloud, and it’s kind of rainy, and then it clears up. And, oh, it’s done—it’s a beautiful day,” he tells host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast. “That’s how construction is. It’s a whirlwind, and it rains, and then the flowers come out. So I named it SilverLining.”

That therapist ended up being an integral part of the firm’s beginnings. “He helped me through all the early steps, like [learning to] hire somebody, do estimates and ‘drop the brush.’ And I was like, ‘I can’t drop the brush—how am I going to make money if I drop the brush or the hammer?’ And he’s like, ‘Well, try it. Go out and try to sell.’ It was hard to convert from dropping the brush to running the whole company,” he says.

But that’s exactly what he did. He hired one employee, then took out the Yellow Pages and started calling architects alphabetically, asking if they needed a carpenter or painter. Kicking it up a notch, he hired the voice actor from the Mercedes-Benz ads to do cold calls. They paid off, and Wiener began to get job after job—37 years later, he has grown his team to 250 people, with offices in Los Angeles and New York and clients from Kate Winslet to a roster of hedge fund billionaires.

A lot has changed in those decades. One thing he’s not worried about: AI stealing his job. “Designers are never going to be out of work, because someone has to tell it what it wants,” he says. “If you can’t articulate what you want, which most clients can’t, AI is never going to replace your job.” He has found that the industry is all about human connections among clients, designers and contractors, and while computers can help inform that process, it can’t take over. “You can’t get a relationship with a computer, right? Unless you’re a psycho,” he adds.

Elsewhere in the episode, Wiener discusses the rise of NDAs, the importance of being open and upfront about timelines, why building costs keep increasing and what separates a great designer from a good one.

Crucial insight: Wiener emphasizes the value of finding great artisan collaborators—from both an aesthetic and an economic standpoint. “If you find a great mirror guy, you sell more mirrors than you ever did. If you find a great leather installer, you find yourself selling more leather installations. It’s because their artisanship inspires you to sell them.”

Key quote: “[Contracting] is very hard to sell. When you sell a $50 million construction job, keep in mind, it’s probably one of the most expensive things this person has ever done. [And] you’re not giving a test drive for a Rolls-Royce; you’re not saying, ‘Step on the pedal and see how it takes the turns.’ You’re saying, ‘Trust me: This next year is going to go really well.’ It’s the hardest thing to sell full trust. I’m selling them something totally ethereal. I’m going to make this dream come true.”

This episode is sponsored by Four Hands. Listen to the show below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Thursday Show

BOH executive editor Fred Nicolaus and host Dennis Scully discuss the biggest news in the design industry, including the fate of Banana Republic’s home brand, takeaways from the Kips Bay Decorator Show House, and what Instagram’s newest update could mean for designers. Later, artist and designer Justina Blakeney of Jungalow discusses a new phase of her career.

This episode is sponsored by Loloi and Annie Selke. Listen to the show below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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