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'Makeover' contractor has no regrets

Thad Whitesel gets asked all the time if business for Builders Commonwealth has ballooned since the "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" build last summer.

Despite loads of recognition, the design-and-build cooperative president says: "No."

"It probably hasn't affected our bottom line," he said. "But we knew that going in."

Whitesel spent some time on the phone with other companies that had done builds for the show. It didn't stop them from signing on, and it's a decision he doesn't regret.

"When we decided to do this, it was probably the slowest time during the construction industry," he said. "It was more of a morale-booster and team-building exercise for our crew."

The crew of about 30 enjoyed getting behind a cause, he said, and it allowed workers to get to know the competition and work with them. That's also changed the way the commonwealth does business, now bringing in competitors and others they had never worked with before on jobs. The cooperative is also planning to set up a nonprofit program through its Web site, so people can apply for building assistance or donate materials.

Before the show, the group gained business mostly through word of mouth.

"The marketing shot from this was pretty high," Whitesel said, with lots of inquiries and people stopping by to see what the cooperative is about. But only a couple of small jobs appeared to result from the extreme makeover, he said.

The project has worked wonders in other ways.

It changed attitudes about hours, and taught the crew to work with other trades in a better fashion, Whitesel said, remembering the 24-hour building operation.

"You learn how to plan a bit better," he said. "You learn it's not going to kill you to work on a Saturday."