|Occasionally, when they are with a group of contractors, someone asks Katherine Doll’s husband Bob about his contracting business. He smiles and replies, "I’m in the grocery business. It’s my wife who’s the contractor."
After 10 years in the business, Katherine Doll says she doesn’t get as many "Oh, gosh, you’re a contractor!" comments at cocktail parties. "I’ve established a reputation, and people don’t question it as much," she says.
Becoming a contractor was not Katherine’s lifelong goal. In college she majored in studio art and then history of art but knew she didn’t want to work in a museum. She got married, worked for a group of physicians, had children, and later "worked up" recipes for the catering department at Doll’s Market, her husband’s business.
When she was pregnant with her third daughter, she quit her job to stay home. Two years later, "I knew I wanted to do something," says Katherine. "My kids were older; we needed more income. And I needed a creative outlet."
She had renovated the ’60s style house they owned and had looked forward to getting up every morning to work on that project. Because of her renovation work on her own home, friends often called her for recommendations. "I thought, ‘why couldn’t I do that?’" she says.
Katherine took drafting and construction classes, but she says she learned the most on-the-job and from mentor contractor Bob Cregor. "I’d call him up and say, ‘How do I do this?’ He’d say, ‘I’d do it this way.’ He was a big help and referred people to me. I learned a lot by trial and error, and I learned to do things on my own. . . to give it a try.
Katherine established a core group of sub-contractors – carpenters, drywall installers, plumbers, painters – who were all people she could work well with and depend on. She also hired assistant Dana Monohan, who started as her daughter’s babysitter and became her "right-hand person," handling computer work, book-keeping, and contracts.
"Renovation is such a group effort. When we’re transforming a house we have the homeowner’s ideas, the architect’s ideas, and my ideas," Katherine says. "We have a plan, but we can change things. We have to be flexible. And there are structural issues. Sometimes the beam just has to go right there."
Katherine says every job is different and she learns something new every day. "When you’re tearing into a wall, you don’t know what in the heck is back there." One of her renovation projects revealed a fireplace.
"It’s like finding treasure," she says.
"I love being my own boss. I guess the reason [the business] has kept growing is I like it so much and I’ve made it work," she says.
Anyone who’s had home improvement work done knows the frustrations: workers who don’t show up; details forgotten; and broken promises to return to fix a mistake. Katherine says finishing up is the hardest part of a project, but it’s also the most important. "People remember how well you took care of the details," she says. "The key to being successful is saying, when we make a mistake, we’re going to correct it, and then correcting it and not trying to sneak something by. If the cabinets are going to be five days late, I’m honest with the homeowner. When you are dealing with so many different human beings there are bound to be mistakes. But we try to have as few of those as possible."