Craig Russell, Founder & CEO, The English Contractor & Remodeling Services
What does your firm do?
We are a custom building and bespoke remodeling company located in Cincinnati.
How did you get into this field?
I was the kid who was forever driving my family crazy by taking things apart and putting them back together again, just so I could see how things worked. I grew up in England and ended up being an apprentice to a plasterer, where I learned the art of the trade. I gradually transitioned into learning the art of remodeling, where I worked in some of the most beautiful homes in London. I founded my own building and remodeling firm in England. Then I met my wife at Oktoberfest in Munich. After an 18-month long-distance-courtship, I made the jump to Cincinnati to join my wife as she began her career as an OB-GYN physician at Christ Hospital.
Starting from the ground up again and getting accustomed to the somewhat different building traits of the United States, I started as The English Handyman doing home repair and smaller home improvement jobs. As my reputation grew, so did my projects, as I established my knowledge and credibility within the construction industry in Cincinnati. I incorporated an apprenticeship program into my company, an important learning process and accreditation that is mandatory in the United Kingdom, to teach and encourage the next generation of trades.
Over the past 8 years, I have assembled a best-in-class crew of professional remodelers, with a thriving apprenticeship program of my own for those who want to learn the trade like I did and have transformed my business into a building and remodeling firm. My team of 40+ includes specialty trades, including our own plumber and electrician, so we really have everything we need to build a home from the ground up—from the foundation and mechanicals to the small, bespoke details. I spend most of my time in the field, where I still am happiest when I can get my hands dirty.
How does your firm work with architects?
As a home building and remodeling company, it is our passion to deliver the architect’s vision and the client’s expectations. The end result is a home that is both beautifully designed and beautifully built. A strong partnership between builder and architect helps manage any hurdles or challenges that any project may encounter along the way—and the end result is a customer who is thrilled with the end result.
What inspires you?
Believe it or not, a challenge inspires me. My team and I love to problem solve. I’ve yet to come across a project that doesn’t have some sort of issue, problem or pain point that we needed to solve for a customer. There’s always a solution. After all, there’s a space station that was constructed in outer space, so I always use that as an example to show that anything is possible in construction. Sometimes, it just takes some creative thinking and troubleshooting to make it happen. When my team and I can put our heads together and solve a problem for one of our customers, that is something we really celebrate. Our partners know that we’re not going to walk away from a project shaking our heads. We’re going to roll up our sleeves and work until we figure it out. That’s just our style.
What is your favorite building and why?
I feel like I have to pick one of my own, right? In 2018, my firm was selected as the contractor for the HGTV Urban Oasis. We worked with designer Brian Patrick Flynn and architecture firm Platte Architecture + Design to take a Dutch Colonial Revival in Hyde Park/Oakley down to the studs and then completely remodeled it, outside and out. The home is the shining star of the neighborhood now. I love how just one person remodeling a home in a neighborhood can start a chain of transformation on the street.
When you’re not working, what do you love to do?
I’m a veteran Rugby player, although I don’t frequent the field as much as I would like to. Now I now spend my time as the coach for the University of Cincinnati’s women’s rugby team. It’s a club team at UC, but we’ve helped build up the program over the past few years and are nationally ranked. I’m also one of the assistant Rugby coaches at Moeller High School and previously coached the team at Walnut Hills. Many of those players are now attending college on full rugby scholarships, which is something I’m really proud of.
If I wasn’t a home builder/remodeler, I’d probably be doing something in the automotive industry. I am a military veteran of the Royal Corps Transport, now known as the Royal Logistics Corps. I developed a real love for the Land Rover and off-roading then and now spend my infrequent free time working on my vehicles and riding my Ducati motorcycle. You may see The English Contractor sprinter vans and pick up trucks around the city, but I wouldn’t be a true Englishman if I didn’t drive a Land Rover as my personal vehicle. I have imported a Land Rover defender and a classic Mini from the U.K. I also have passion for horses and riding, having owned a few over the years. Most of my time is spent managing my business and meeting with my customers, but even my pastimes get me out, meeting new people, solving problems and learning new things.
How has the pandemic impacted your company’s work?
We’ve noticed the uptick in people who, after spending some extra time at home, are ready to make some changes. The range of requests we are receiving runs the gamut—from people wanting to make smaller cosmetic updates to those ready to gut the entire house and start over. Of course, like so many other businesses, we’re now managing projects amidst supply shortages and delays. We’re working through that with our customers, with an increased focus on securing selections and ordering materials earlier in the process. It’s an issue that the building trifecta, architect, builder and designer, all have to partner together to manage as we all continue to work through the pandemic.
Our company has continued to grow. It’s a process that we started well before the pandemic, but our timing couldn’t have been better. We have grown our crew and back office staff just in time to meet the increased demand for residential building and construction. We now have a crew of nearly 50 and are improving efficiencies with new office staff as well.
What is your favorite pandemic-safe activity?
Does working count? We’ve recently completed a number of outdoor projects, including a total backyard transformation and a few covered porches. So I guess you can say I’ve been enjoying my time in the great outdoors. That goes for my time at home with my family, as well. We spend our weekends on our boat, where we taught both of our kids to water ski, and at our neighborhood pool.
The English Contractor is not only a Title Sponsor, but is also a Sesquicentennial Stakeholder and the Platinum sponsor of AIA Cincinnati’s CRANawards. Learn more at theenglishcontractor.com.