quality service companies

How do you select a high quality service company for your home?

Finding good quality service companies is a common challenge that many home owners face. It seems like there are so many specialists that sometimes a new home-owner feels the need for a small team of experts to keep their investment in good shape. Home owners often wonder who they can trust that will do a good job for a fair price. With all the advertising out there, it’s hard to know which companies to trust. Here’s a short outline to help make it easier to spot good quality companies.

Use On-line Business Directories to find Quality Service Companies

What is ironic is that there are more ways than ever before to find good quality companies. The first on-line source most often checked is the Better Business Bureau.  And while the BBB certainly is one source to look at, it is not always the most reliable.  The reason for this is that many clients may get frustrated, but not enough customers will file a complaint with the BBB. As long as no complaints are made, the company retains their positive rating.  And contrary to popular belief, reputable companies also can also get bashed on the BBB website despite taking serious steps to resolve a complaint. This happens when the consumer refuses to be satisfied with the company’s resolution efforts.

Look for On-line Reviews from Real Customers to find Quality Service Companies

So, what is the next place most often checked when trying to find good quality companies? On-line reviews on third party platforms like Yelp, Google, and Yahoo.  These type of on-line directory (or search) services are always worth looking into.  However, there are still issues to be had in this category of research as well.  First, Yelp is notorious for blocking legitimate reviews due to ‘grammar, punctation, etc.”  And in today’s text-friendly world, reviewers are often not grammatically correct.  Google is also often considered an excellent source for 3rd party verification of a company’s reliability & credibility. Unfortunately, Google reviews need to be taken with a grain of salt as well.  With fierce competition in many industries, many business owners will admit they have been plagued by false negative reviews (with little recourse).  What is the solution?  Ultimately, it involves reading through enough reviews on these platforms to get a sense for the overall theme.

What kind of themes are you looking for in the reviews posted? Here are a few questions to ask:

  1. Is the overall sentiment positive?
  2. Do the negative reviews cite specific issues that the company is trying (or has tried) to address?
  3. Do the reviews seem genuinely written by actual customers? (too many that are all the same or 80% similar content could indicate false reviews)

Look for Award-Winning Companies

Another way to you can check out a business is to see what types of awards and recognition it’s recently received.  In North Alabama, there are several recognition programs that try to use objective criteria, in addition to the Best in Business Award.  As an award program that is designed to recognize excellence, the Best in Business Award Program uses several metrics to determine which local companies should become recipients each year.

In addition to the Best in Business Award Program (which serves Alabama, Middle Tennessee, and Georgia), the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama (CCAA) and the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) also recognizes “Small Business of the Year Awards” and those companies are announced at the CCAA/BCA Partnership Annual Meeting/Luncheon in Birmingham, Alabama. In addition to associations and organizations, local chambers of commerce will often provide recognition to local companies for their outstanding contributions or services.

The answer to the question that started this blog is the same as it has been for the past 20 years: Research your service providers as thoroughly as possible. The twist is that now all that info is on-line, and the consumer is tasked with integrating information from several sources:

Cross Reference Multiple Sources to Find High Quality Service Companies

  1. Recommendations from friends and neighbors
  2. On-line reviews
  3. Third party recognition programs (like Best in Business Award, Chamber of Commerce Associations, etc.)
  4. Personal interactions/interviews

There are really many excellent service providers out there that are willing and able to do good quality work- don’t let a few bad news stories cause excess worry! With all of the on-line tools available, finding good quality services that are reliable can be as easy as drinking a cup of coffee in front of your computer!

nxtsteps family law families in crisis

NXTSTEP for families in crisis

When Joe and Louise first married, they promised to stay together for better or for worse. Twelve years and two kids later, “worse” came, and their lives were turned upside down. Though they tried to make things work, the situation became miserable for the entire family and difficult choices had to be made.

Fran was terrified that she might not be able to hang on to her two boys. As a single mother, the challenges she faced on a daily basis weighed heavily on her, and now the threat of losing custody of what she cared most about in the world was overwhelming.

Shane’s parents had always put him first, and now it was his turn to take care of them as they both struggled with debilitating health issues. The situation was made much more stressful by disagreements with Shane’s siblings about what was best for them, and it was becoming very confusing.

When a family finds themselves in the middle of a crisis that is emotionally, financially or mentally devastating, not knowing what to do can make the situation even worse.

Kris Sexton and Coby Boswell understand this very well; they are the partners at NXTSTEP Family Law, P.C., and their mission is to help mothers, fathers, children or grandparents resolve family law issues, and take the next steps to a new life. Every case – every family – has its unique challenges and circumstances, and should be treated that way. That’s exactly what happens at NXTSTEP.

What is truly unique about this firm is the importance they place on accessibility. When someone like Joe, Louise, Fran or Shane hires this firm, they will gain access to their own team of caring, legal experts. From the first call to the final resolution, every client has a connection to an entire team of professionals who will keep them informed and reassured every step of the way.

NXTSTEP Family Law, P.C. has earned recognition in the law industry for their work, and continues to be awarded accolades. Besides becoming a recipient of the Best in Business Award, Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce named Kristina Sexton as  Young Professional of the Year 2018 and in 2017 the firm was awarded Emerging Business of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce. In 2017 & 2018 Coby Boswell was named a Rising Star by Super Lawyers. Kris and Coby both maintain an  Avvo Rating of 10.  Kris named by the American institute of Family Law Attorneys as one of the 10 Best Female Attorney in Alabama. Kris and Coby both have also garnered recognition for the National Advocates Top 40 under 40. The firm was recognized by the Alabama State Bar in 2017 for their contribution to Equal Justice in Alabama for the pro bono services they provided to clients who were qualified by the Madison County Volunteer Lawyers Program for the same.

These awards point to the success of NXTSTEP’s work and client satisfaction. Equally important, though, are the many testimonials from people who have faced the most turbulent times a family can go through, and found that right in the middle of the turmoil, NXTSTEP is the source of calm reason and orderly direction. As Kris says, “We see people go through all the stages of grief during this process, and emerge from the experience changed. They find closure, resolution and a sense of peace about the future.”

charity recipient

501(c)(3) Charity Recipient Named for 2019

charity recipientWe are very pleased to announce that Kids to Love has been named the 2019 501(c)(3) charity recipient for 2019. For this very special Best in Business Award, the current recipients area asked to nominate a non-profit organization they feel deserves this award. It is always difficult to decide on this, as our community has many well deserving non-profit organizations.

The staff of Kids to Love will be invited as our guests of honor next spring at our Best in Business Award Recipient Reception.


Since 2004, the Kids to Love Foundation has directly impacted the lives of more than 250,000 foster children. Their goal is to find “forever families” for children who are waiting to be adopted. The work this organization does is quite incredible; not only do they find families for many of these children, but they have provided scholarships to high school students and offer KTECH, which is Mechatronics/Advanced Manufacturing training. As a part of the KTECH training, young adults are able to learn life skills through LifeLab.

There is so much to this wonderful organization, please visit their website for more information.

Good Samaritan Hospice

Good Samaritan Hospice: The Shoulder Northern Alabama Leans on During Painful Times

Good Samaritan Hospice director Jim Pride, a former business owner and realtor, was asked by Janet Melton to come to work at her new company in 2009. And he did. “While I enjoyed the work, it wasn’t something I was passionate about,” Pride admitted. But then, something amazing happened.

Good Samaritan Hospice

He had been working there for a few months when he received a phone call one Friday at 4 p.m. One of his patient’s wives was asking for some help. Her husband was under hospice care and he needed some supplies for the weekend ahead. Pride volunteered to drop off the items Good Samaritan Hospice provides to their patients. He arrived at the South Huntsville residence and knocked on the door. The wife asked him to bring the items into her husband’s bedroom. “There was a frail older gentleman suffering with COPD,” Pride recalled. “His head perked up and he asked ‘Who are you?’ As I was telling him who I was, I ended up sitting down and chatting with this elderly couple for quite a while. When I left, all I could think about all of the way home was that I actually made a real difference in their lives that day.

“The next morning, my wife and I were drinking coffee and I told her then, ‘I really believe I’m going to work on Monday morning with a different outlook. I can see now that I can make a difference, and I can help people. That was my moment of clarity.” Pride has been there ever since. Good Samaritan Hospice Team

Over the next few months, Pride got more engaged. He started a program he continues to this day, calling all of his patients on Thursday afternoons and Friday mornings to see how they’re doing and learn if they’ll be needing supplies over the weekend. “It’s often the caregiver whom I talk to. They seem to appreciate that call every week. When I am done asking about the patients and their supplies, I always ask, ‘How are you doing? Is there anything we can do to make things easier on you?’ They really appreciate that.”

Pride spends many of his days presenting to local groups, educating them on the role hospice plays during end of life care. For example, Pride discovered that the general public often doesn’t realize that hospice is a benefit, usually covered by either Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance. “The inability to pay should never disqualify any individual from receiving quality end-of-life care,” Pride reassured.

Another misconception is that people associate hospice with the last few weeks or days of someone’s life. Contrarily, people can have hospice for as long as they continue to meet criteria. Pride explained, “In the most basic sense, if the patient is still declining, you have an unlimited number of certification periods for hospice to serve you, as long as you meet criteria. The criteria vary for different diseases.” Pride went on to explain that there are two consecutive 90-day certification periods at first, and if the patient continues declining after that six months, their team can re-certify them after that for an unlimited number of 60-day periods as long as needed. Good Samaritan Helping Hands

Pride shared that it takes a special person to do hospice work, and when they recruit staff, they typically seek out people who have done this type of work before. Another large part of their support is their non-denominational chaplains, providing emotional and spiritual support. “Often, we have unchurched patients,” Pride elaborated. “We are really pleased that our chaplains are often asked to officiate at the patients’ services. It says a lot.”

Best in Business Award recipient Good Samaritan Hospice serves all of Northern Alabama. For more information, please visit gshospice.com or call (256) 772-8108. Consultations are always complimentary.

Fly Away Airport Parking Logo

Fly Away Airport Parking: The Nashville Traveler’s Alternative

Did you know that the average driver anywhere around the world spends 20 minutes per trip trying to find a parking space?1 Sound familiar? Add to that the stress of having a plane to catch, and perhaps an entire family to corral, and it quickly becomes a recipe for anxiety attacks. But for Nashville business and leisure travelers, there’s an alternative: Fly Away Airport Parking, the off-airport parking alternative. Located at the south side of Nashville Airport, the lot consists of 10 prime acres, with spaces for up to 1,500 cars at one time.

Fly Away Airport Parking Parking Lot

Fly Away Airport Parking is the cost-effective, easy way to park and fly without the hassle of waiting in line. Users simply set up an account online with their credit card—PCI compliant–and Fly Away Airport Parking does the rest. When a traveler drops off their vehicle, the attendant provides them with a ticket, billed to their credit card, and the Fly Away Airport Parking shuttle bus takes them to the airport. Upon the traveler’s return, they can text the claim check number to Fly Away, and the Fly Away valet will have their car waiting for them, along with an ice-cold bottle of water. (Fly Away founded this tradition several years ago after finding most of their customers are dehydrated after a long day of traveling).

Fly Away Airport Parking customers earn 10 points for every 24 hours they park with them. Once they traveler has reached 50 points, they’re eligible for one full 24-hour day of free parking. “We have some customers with more than 1,000 points,” said Yonas Yakob, General Manager. Fly Away Airport Parking also offers aggressive digital coupons, often as much as 40% off.

As proud supporters of the U.S. military, merchant marines, and first responders, Fly Away ensures they receive the largest discount of any program they offer, as low as $6.95 a day. Many Fort Campbell travelers from Kentucky take advantage of that program, Yakob notes. At the Nashville Fly Away office, the large American flag and the five services flags underscore their commitment to our patriots. “It’s the right thing to do, morally,” said Yakob.

Yakob is pleased to report Fly Away Airport Parking has little employee turnover. Similar to Southwest Airlines in their approach to hiring and corporate culture, they seek upbeat employees who joke with the customers and exude a friendly, can-do attitude. Yakob shared that they are currently seeking two more drivers and two more valets for the Nashville location. (The drivers need to be able to drive a dual-axle shuttle, requiring an F endorsement.)

Fly Away Airport Parking Shuttle Bus

“We have great success in hiring seniors as our shuttle drivers. They’re always here on time and they’re reliable in every way,” Yakob opined. While the shuttle drivers earn $9.00 per hour, they routinely average $150 per day in tips. “We welcome people who have a good work ethic, good decision making skills and who are willing to work hard, fast, and long. If you can do that, we have opportunities for you,” he said.

By 2 p.m., Yakob estimated he had yet another 280 customers landing whose cars his team would valet by day’s end, but he ended the interview by welcoming people to submit their job applications to him via yonas@flyawayparking.com or call (615) 367-2200.

  1. IBM Study in 2011: http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/35515.wss
MY Designs Studio

Monica Yother of MY Designs: What Happens When A Traditional Artist Turns Graphic Designer

Monica Yother DesignsThe old adage, “Find what you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life” applies to MY Designs owner Monica Yother. From Huntsville’s Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment, Monica is hard at work in Studio 114—she might interject “hard at play”—helping start-ups with their brand identities, refining existing brands and marketing strategies, something she’s been doing since 1987, and in her spare time, using her artistic talent to support non-profit organizations.

“There are many similarities between making art and crafting a design strategy,” she explained. When she first sits down with her clients, she discerns their company’s personality and the market they’re trying to reach, identifying appropriate typefaces and imagery. “Whether my clients are business-to-business or consumer facing, we look at the bigger picture together. We interpret their visual designs to create one cohesive message, so that the customers they’re trying to reach will understand it at a glance.”

Monica is hard-pressed to qualify her perfect client, as she has “so many awesome clients,” including the recent food truck client she helped design their logo and visual branding, but she has a soft spot for the non-profits she supports—the Huntsville Ballet, a local horse rescue in Huntsville, and any non-profits related to horses or the arts. “My favorite things to paint have always been dance and equine art. I paint in acrylics, oils, watercolors and pastels. I do some mixed media, as well.”

In addition to her marketing, creative director and graphic design work, Monica has a separate business called “My Horses Art” where she hosts painting parties for non-profits to fundraise, kids’ birthday parties and for corporate team-building events. She donates 15% of those earnings to the aforementioned Huntsville horse rescue.

In much the way adult coloring books have become wildly popular as a relaxing way to tap into buried creativity, so have the group painting events. “I recently had a dental practice do a team-building exercise here,” she recounted. Her 20’ x 24’ studio accommodates up to 18 people, but her typical group is 10 to 12 painting enthusiasts. “My focus is on creative fun. Everyone walks away with something they’ve painted that is completely different from their neighbor. As for the birthday parties, parents often tell me, ‘This is the quietest kids’ birthday party I’ve ever had!’” she added with a laugh.

Monica’s future plans include growing her one-on-one training workshops. For a $150 fee, she gives two hours of her time teaching people the basics of Photoshop, InDesign, social media graphics, blogging, WordPress and more. “I had one client who needed a book cover, and together, we designed it in two hours. My workshops are economical for business people who need to learn how to do something…we actually work on their project.”

For more information on Monica and her services, please call her at 256-520-4134 or visit her websites as follows:

  • MyHorsesArt.com (for painting parties, birthday parties and fundraisers)
  • MonicaYother.com (for commissioning original paintings)
  • My-designs.net (for graphic design, websites, branding, marketing strategy and booking her 2-hour workshops)
The Cornerstone Initiative

Debbi Akers and Huntsville’s CornerStone Initiative: Walking With Those in Need

“Describing CornerStone to someone is often hard to do,” admitted Debbi Akers, the non-profit’s director. This social worker with a heart for missions spent 19 years at home raising her children and engaging in various local and global mission efforts. When her oldest two children approached college age, she knew she it was time to step more fully into the lives of those she had always been drawn to and as God would have it, a position at CornerStone opened up.

The Cornerstone Initiative

And that’s how Debbi got her masters degree in “front porch conversations.” Those impromptu conversations that happen as she walks through the neighborhood encompassing CornerStone’s focus area, are key to the “Initiatives” that CornerStone takes in the community. CornerStone is built around the philosophy of Christian Community Development (CCD), where the idea of listening is paramount to everything else. Quite opposite from direct service providers who offer immediate “relief” in the way of food, shelter, rent and utility assistance, and clothing, CCD practitioners believe in serving in a manner that will empower individuals (and in turn, a community) to have the dignity of providing these things for themselves. “We are not a direct service providers,” said Debbi, “but we collaborate with many in this city to help our friends move out of crisis mode and into a place where we can seek stability and most of all, long term solutions.”

One specific area where CornerStone has “listened” and responded to the community is in the area of education and employment. After being introduced to the ministry of an international program called “Jobs for Life (JFL),” CornerStone not only shared their awareness with city and church leaders, but also initiated a local class right in the middle of an under-resourced area in the 35805 zip code. Multiple partners joined in the effort, including Huntsville Housing Authority, and at least three local churches. JFL is a 32-hour course, which offers a discipleship platform enabling churches and organizations to develop gospel-centered relationships, while teaching people God’s design for work.

Besides offering a Biblically based curriculum, one facet that sets JFL apart from many other soft skills job training courses is the supportive community that it provides. Students are paired with a type of mentor that Debbi refers to as “champions.” She elaborated, “These champions undergo training that helps them recognize the worth and dignity of every individual they encounter. It is training that hopefully keeps our volunteers and champions from going into a community and trying to fix’ people or rescue’ them.” Instead, a champion becomes somewhat of a cheerleader for the JFL student they are paired with. This encouraging relationship mandates a one-year commitment minimum.

CornerStone takes no more than 12 students at a time. For every class, each student’s champions sit down with them, eat meals with them, and eventually they become like extended members of each other’s families. In addition, if the student has children, CornerStone and their partnering volunteers provide them with childcare for every class. “Every potential barrier that we can address is removed in order to ensure success for our students,” Debbi explained.

These programs are designed to ensure the attendees can present themselves well to potential employers. In addition to being committed to preparing folks for the workplace, CornerStone is very excited about inviting future employers to join their team in a “ JFL Business Network.”

“We’ve formed a business network, meeting with local small businesses and even larger, well known employers,” Debbi explained. “As much as specific skill sets are needed, it seems that so many employers are telling us that they are willing to train individuals, if they can only find people who have strong character and a strong work ethic…people who will consistently show up for work.” This business/faith community/ non-profit relationship seems to be catching on, and CornerStone is now seeing employers calling, them, asking them when they will have graduates ready for hire. She added, “We’re seeing the marketplace, the church and the not-for-profit all coming together. We believe to be successful, it takes all three.”

Champion Wanda Hall and Debbi Akers

Champion Wanda Hall and Debbi Akers

Debbi shared the dramatic story of how life-changing this initiative has been for one member in particular: “We had a young man who came to class with his head down, never looking anyone in the eye, his pants sagging, along with his entire demeanor. He often appeared uninterested and even sometimes bothered to be at class. Ironically, his girlfriend was taking the class, also. Initially, instructors were a bit skeptical as to his commitment to the program, but this young man continued to show up and complete his assignments. His “champion” was committed to him and never backed down or became intimidated by the quietness of this young man. But all of the sudden, this young man whose whole world possibly had existed only within a few square miles of his low-income neighborhood, now went from having no significant network to having an expanding network for 25+ people who were committed to his success. He had a different sphere of influence speaking into him, encouraging him, offering him wisdom and advice. Now he had new connections with jobs and people he didn’t know existed before this class. Within weeks, he had people with strong standing in the community who would give him job references… And the “poverty of network and opportunity” took a punch to the gut!

“As his commitment to ‘show up’ continued and his desire to make a difference in his own life began to grow, he applied for a job, was encouraged by his classmates and champion, and was hired! He came into class the week after he got the job and the assignment for that night was to do a 90-second commercial about himself. When this man came up for his commercial, he blew everyone away! He came in, standing like a man, straight up – he smiled, spoked confidently and boldly about himself, the things he was good at, and about his dreams for the future! The staff, volunteers and champions in the room had tears in their eyes – ‘What just happened!?’ they exclaimed. Well, we got to see firsthand the dignity of work – what it did for him – it was phenomenal. We promote this class and teach this philosophy, but when you see it, you believe it with everything within you. We are just so excited for him,” Debbi declared.


Jobs For Life graduates with their champions

Jobs For Life graduates with their champions

At the end of the 8-week course, CornerStone celebrates the students with a big graduation. “We have so many students who have never walked across a stage and received a certificate. Their whole families come out. It’s powerful. You see what it means to them for someone to invest in their lives.”

One area where CornerStone plans to expand their efforts in the coming year is to expand the reach of the Jobs for Life ministry. Just like the local church that has partnered so heavily with them to make this recurring fall class a success, CornerStone hopes to find more churches and businesses willing to invest their time in offering such an opportunity to people throughout this community. It is their plan to offer training for future JFL site leaders so that this expansion can take place.

We know that everyone is not ready for a jobs-for-life class. There are so many men and women who need to focus on completing a GED. There are others who could take advantage of the multiple opportunities that exist in this city to expand their employment options through programs at highly reputable institutions like Calhoun and Drake.

“We would like to find ways to connect with this community and really promote the fact that the tech school and the community colleges are brief, low cost opportunities that truly certify you for a job. We need to do a better job of delivering this message in a more powerful, attractive way, and following the example of the JFL model, connecting churches to walk with the students through those opportunities. If you’re in survival mode living day to day, you often lose all hope and don’t recognize great opportunities as being for you. At the end of the day, these individuals are not seeking a handout, but instead, simply a hand of encouragement that leads you to an opportunity and empowers you to grasp it. The church has to be willing to step up and walk with the vulnerable and the oppressed in our community. We have to find ways to restore hope and remind people that God has a plan and purpose for their lives. We must toss out the “easy button” of tossing money at poverty and thinking that will solve everything. Poverty is complex. Therefore, solutions that last and can be sustained are just as complex,” Debbi added.

For more information or to get involved with the CornerStone Initiative, please visit http://www.cornerstone-al.org/.

State Farm

State Farm Agent Christina Smith Ushers In a Kindness Revolution

Christina Smith Photo

christinasmiththumbSix years ago, Christina Smith’s engineering career was long behind her. In January of 2010, she sat down for the first time behind the desk in her new Huntsville State Farm office, a newly minted agent, unsure of what to expect. She was thoroughly trained, competent, and ready to serve, having been appointed to this agency for a retiring agent. Her previous engineering background made her a natural fit for serving Huntsville, where hundreds of engineers lived and worked. “We tended to speak the same language,” Christina recalled.

But Christina hailed from Alexander City three hours away, and had uprooted the lives of her husband and young son to take on this opportunity. Her agency’s slogan, “Helping people live life confidently!” became somewhat of a personal reminder for her, as well, in her new role. She was completely new to this community, and she was eager to embrace her new life with gusto. “It was extremely challenging, but I felt like it was God’s plan for us to do it, so we did.”

Today, those first few weeks of her new agency are a distant memory. Christina is a busy agent with five licensed team members in her office, and more than 85 State Farm products she can offer her clients for every touchstone in their lives, from home mortgages and car loans — and the insurance to protect both — to banking and checking accounts.

Near the front door of her office on Governors West NW, a bowl filled with rubber wristbands greets her guests. There are two versions: one says “Pay It Forward,” and the other says “It’s Cool 2B Kind.” These wristbands are the visible souvenirs of a movement in which Christina has found meaningful work – as a community champion for the national non-profit initiative called “The Kindness Revolution.”



“It’s given me an opportunity to partner with an integrity organization that shares the same values that I do as a business owner. That was the appeal for me. I was able to join an organization that basically spreads the values of respect and kindness,” she explained.

The Kindness Revolution is a grass-roots organization that encourages people to hand out the signature wristbands recognizing those who do acts of kindness. Their “Spirit of Kindness” awards are given to students, volunteers, employees and organizations. Last week Christina presented an award at a local pre-school, and recently spoke to the American Heritage Girls Club about this growing movement.

There are many unsung heroes in the community, from first responders and police to small business owners, and Christina looks forward to ensuring they are acknowledged, since most volunteers tend to fly under the radar and not call attention to their good works. “We’re just getting started — there are so many deserving recipients out there,” she declared.

Christina’s community involvement and professional recognitions over the past six years have demonstrated her ability to flourish in her new community. In addition to her work with the Kindness Revolution, she has been recognized for the following:

  • North Alabama Best in Business Award Recipient
  • 2012 Start Up Business of the Year for Madison Chamber of Commerce
  • Christian Women Job Corp Advisory Council
  • Ambassador Travel Qualifier

It wouldn’t be surprising if someone tapped Christina on the shoulder one day, gifting her with a Kindness Revolution wristband, coming full circle.

For information about the State Farm products Christina offers, please call the Christina Smith Agency at (256) 270-9898 or visit http://christinasmithagency.com. If you are interested in participating in The Kindness Revolution, Christina would be happy to share more information about it, as well, or you can visit her Facebook page at CSmith.ThekindnessRevolution.org.

granite transformations

Granite Transformations in Nashville — The Remodelers for Homeowners Who Want Less Downtime

Granite Transformations franchise owners Bret and Kathy Foster admit it. Their company name may confuse some Nashville residents who think they’re “just another countertop company.” In truth, they’re so much more. They specialize in reducing the pain of kitchen and bath remodeling projects. They transform kitchens countertops and backsplash in as little as one day and do complete bathroom makeovers in a week.

Granite Transformations is the answer for homeowners who want their lives returning to normal as quickly as possible. Rather than living months on end dining out with their kitchen torn apart, or having the entire family sharing the master bathroom while the kids’ bathroom is remodeled, Granite Transformations is the quick-change artist.

We caught up with Bret and Kathy on their mobile phone as they were driving to see their youngest son at a University of Tennessee football game – their love for college football has them toggling on their free weekends between Knoxville and Mississippi State University, where their oldest son is a student. They had some interesting things to say about kitchen and bath trends, the Nashville market, and their unique approach to home remodeling, which we are sharing here:

A: What is the incentive for homeowners to remodel their kitchen or bathroom?

Bret: Depending on where you are, you’re looking at an 80% to 110% return on your investment. That’s why most of those remodeling shows on HGTV focus on the kitchens and bathrooms first.


A: What are the hottest trends in kitchen designs today?

Bret: Shaker-style cabinets done in lighter colors—mostly greys and whites. Homeowners are moving away from beiges and browns in cabinets and countertops. In terms of countertops, quartz has overtaken granite. Again, lighter color is in.

Kathy: I agree. It’s because quartz is easier material to maintain. It’s not porous, you don’t have to seal quartz like you do granite, and you needn’t worry about what you’re cleaning it with. It’s also a more uniform look. People like a more consistent, clean look. There’s no pitting to the surface of quartz like you see with granite.

Bret: We’re not seeing as many farm sink installations in updating kitchens as you might assume from all of the Houzz.com and Pinterest pages people are saving out there. Farm sinks are hard to install if you’re not doing huge re-modification work to your cabinets to support the weight and size of them. The homeowners who are requesting them seem to request mostly white ceramic farm sinks.

Kathy: Homeowners love converting their bottom kitchen and bath cabinets into drawers. It’s been in the European market forever, and we’re glad it’s growing here. For us, it’s just a slight modification, but it makes the homeowner so much happier because their kitchen is now functional for the first time. They are gaining so much more useful space for storage. It’s a smart, easy design alteration.

BEFORE                                                         AFTER



A: How are you able to complete a major kitchen or bath remodel in five or six workdays?

Bret: We are organized and efficient using our own labor or subs who work with us every day. We do cabinet refacing and countertop resurfacing only. We can add and raise cabinets, make all of the modifications, and then reface everything to look the same. Once you start tearing out cabinets, you’re dealing with plumbing, flooring and electrical modifications. We avoid that. We get in and get out. Even our bathroom remodels takes a week or less.


A: What’s the most unique design request you’ve had?

Bret: We had a Jamaican woman who insisted upon bright red countertops with sparkling mirror chips embedded in the countertops. I didn’t dare show that to my mom or she would have wanted it, too!

We embedded the mascot for a local high school into the countertop of their concession stand, but probably the most intricate piece lately was the mosaic profile we did of Johnny Cash, all hand-cut glass for a beautiful wall accent based on one of his photographs. Our team can create any customized design you request. This is a great asset for interior designers, artists, and creatives out there who want to see their unique art, logo, or image design interpreted in a wall accent, shower, backsplash or even the bottom of a swimming pool.


A: How do you transform countertops? What is your approach?

Bret: We’re a very unique product – there’s no one who does what we do the way we do it. Our material is a thin product that we fabricate to overlay existing surfaces, so it’s a unique technology. No one else has taken the time and money to develop the same technology and equipment. People have tried, dabbled and gotten back out of it. Our signature quartz characteristic product has been around for 40 years and we have covered countertops for 20.

Granite Transformations has continued to improve the technology, and no one else has gone to the time and expense to fabricate it. Our countertop material is 1/4″ thick. We’re not tearing out old countertops. We’re recovering existing countertops. We’re putting a lighter-weight, more durable material on top of their existing countertop. From a sustainability standpoint, we feel good about the fact that we’re not filling a landfill with our customers’ old countertops. Our proprietary material is thin and easier to work with. We can even use this material to place in a shower and slope it downward so it will drain.


A: Which areas do you service?

Kathy: We cover a 1.5-hour radius from Nashville, butting up to our colleague’s Knoxville location. We chose to base our operations here because we wanted to live in Nashville. There’s so much opportunity here that we have no plans to expand beyond Nashville.


A: Are there any projects you won’t take on? Too large or too small?

Bret: We do a lot of unique work, but we keep our scope very tight. We don’t do jobs that require painting. We’ll do our portion of a remodel and then let the homeowners hire their own painter. We don’t do much drywall work. We’ll move a wall if we’re making a tub smaller or a shower bigger, but we won’t do full-blown remodeling projects. There’s no project too small for us. We’ll take on the small projects that many will turn down.


A: Tell us about your team in Nashville. How many employees do you have?

Kathy: There are 13 of us, including Bret and me. We’re small enough to be hands-on, and big enough to not be a one-man band. We are always aware of where everyone is and what they’re working on. We run a tight operation.


A: What were your backgrounds? How did you get into this business?

Kathy: We both hail from the building materials industry. I met Bret during my first job out of college, working with a sales rep in a Pella Windows showroom in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Bret: My mom owned a residential contracting business in South Carolina, so I guess you could say I grew up in the business. After college I worked at Pella Windows in Greensboro, installing their CAD system, doing their technical drawings on the commercial side of the business, and I eventually worked my way up into sales, operations and marketing.


A: Do you have any final advice for a homeowner considering a remodeling project?

Bret: Be open to the suggestions your contractor makes, but get more than one opinion. And, of course, call us for sound advice and an economic solution!


A: How can our readers find you?

 Kathy: Our website is http://www.granitetransformations.com/nashville/ and we welcome you to call us at (615) 332-8434. Our store is located at 5215 Linbar Drive Suite 207, Nashville, TN 37211.

Valley Title & Closing Services

Wendy Worley: The Heart and Soul of Huntsville Real Estate Closings

Surviving cancer—twice—has made Valley Title and Closing Services, LLC founder Wendy Worley’s focus on being even more present and in the moment to those around her. “My goals are not five years ahead. They’re every day,” she explained. “I want to continue servicing the clients as well as I do now. Always. I just want to make sure my clients are happy.”

To say Wendy is accommodating to her customers is a bit of an understatement. Even prior to her cancer, Valley Title and Closing was renowned for being attentive to their customers. They are the rare title company offering “travel closings.” If the customer cannot come to them, they go to their clients. Wendy answers her phone after hours and on weekends, understanding that the busy schedules of her clients demand that level of high-touch service.

Wendy Worley

“My favorite part of my work is when we hand them their keys. Especially first-time home buyers. They’re just so happy. I like being a part of someone’s dream.”

Born in Chicago where her mom hailed from, Wendy’s parents moved back to the Huntsville area when Wendy was two, as her dad wanted to raise his family in the South.  His hometown was Owens Cross Roads, and Wendy considers the Huntsville area her true home.

Her career started out working with Tommy Adams at Rise Real Estate as his assistant. “While I really loved real estate, I was more interested in the closing part,” she recalled. She worked for another title company after Rise, eventually opening her own title and closing company in 2007.

Valley Title and Closing Services, LLC is infused with Wendy’s warmth and caring nature. The company culture is family-oriented—her mother and son work there while her husband helps out regularly—and they are dedicated to community service.  Every year they play the role of a true Santa, adopting one family at Christmas, based on leads they get from their community contacts, helping them identify which family has true needs. Last year the program was so successful, the adopted family couldn’t fit all of the donated presents inside of their mobile home.

In addition to Valley Title and Closing’s yearly Santa program, they are involved in supporting Memphis-based St. Jude Children’s Hospital, which became familiar to them when they toured the facility, as Wendy’s husband’s work is one of St. Jude’s largest contributors.

Valley Title and Closing also works closely with the Russel Hill Cancer Foundation, since Wendy has first-hand knowledge of how important they are to the community. “They’re affiliated with Clearview Cancer Institute, and we’re very lucky to have that facility,” she declared. Russel Hill is dedicated to helping people who don’t have insurance and helping families who come from out of town in assisting them with a place to stay and any other needs they may have.

Outside of work, Wendy and her family share a love for travel. Their free time is spent on Guntersville Lake, and feeding Wendy’s love for island adventures, with Cabo San Lucas being her personal favorite.

In recounting her personal heroes, she counts among them Tommy Adams for mentoring and supporting her as well as he did, her admiration for the oncologists (including Dr. Kim at UAB in Birmingham) and the nurses who were so caring and saved her life, but most importantly, she recognizes her parents, who live 40 minutes away from CCI and for six weeks, they never missed a day, joining Wendy for every single early morning treatment. “They were there before I was!” she laughed.  On a more serious note, she added, “Once you’re a parent, you’ll always be a parent. I have the best parents.”