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S1:E6 | Digital Wave Riders | Redefining Ethical Redevelopment with Mara Esser of NARI Charlotte

Updated: 4 days ago

S1:E6 | Digital Wave Riders | Redefining Ethical Redevelopment with Mara Esser of NARI Charlotte

Mara Esser is the Executive Director of NARI Charlotte, an organization that vets ethical remodelers and professionals of similar trades to provide homeowners with valuable resources in upgrading their homes. In this episode, Mara discusses how NARI came to be, working with Next Wave Services to ensure a strong website that receives constant updates, and how her organization gets involved in the Charlotte community.

In the Charlotte market and looking for vetted, quality remodelers, check out NARI Charlotte at

Full Transcript.

BC Babbles (00:01.134)
Good morning and welcome back to the Digital Wave Riders podcast. I am your host Brandon Casiano. And this morning I am joined by the executive director of NARI, the National Association of Remodeling Industry of the Remodeling Industry. Please welcome to the show Mara Esser.

Mara Esser (00:17.86)
Thanks for having me.

BC Babbles (00:19.606)
How you doing this morning? It is a beautiful Thursday over here in Moresville. I don't know how it is down there in the Queen City.

Mara Esser (00:25.088)
It's gorgeous, beautiful, perfect day.

BC Babbles (00:28.442)
Awesome. So thank you again for joining me. I'm happy to have you on. This has been a really fun project within Next wave services so far. So I really appreciate you hopping on with this episode To kick off. Please give a little bit of information about Neri about your role within it and how it came to be my understanding is Neri has a decently extensive history. So

Mara Esser (00:50.752)
It does, yeah, it's really cool. So NARI actually was formed, it started its roots in about 1935. President Roosevelt was actually doing the National Recovery Act and created an organization called NERSICA which it reformed, but it was basically a collection of ethical contractors to help with the national recovery.

BC Babbles (01:05.023)

BC Babbles (01:17.088)

Mara Esser (01:17.168)
and it reformed and there were different iterations throughout, you know, decades. In 1982, there were two kind of competing groups and they decided to join forces. So in 1982, the two main groups that had come out of that National Recovery Act group formed NARI So since 1982, we've been known as NARI which is the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

BC Babbles (01:40.942)
Mm hmm.

Mara Esser (01:45.572)
and they joined forces. And the whole goal of this was that it would become an association that really presented itself as a more ethical contractor. So while people are looking for contractors and things like that, we wanted to create a code of ethics and kind of a standard of practice.

BC Babbles (01:57.901)
Hmm. Yeah.

Mara Esser (02:09.608)
So that people understood who they were hiring. And so our chapter, so it's a national organization. So there's about 50 chapters just roughly across the United States and I run our Charlotte chapter. So our Charlotte chapter actually started around 1990. There was a group of contractors in Charlotte.

BC Babbles (02:19.979)

Mara Esser (02:33.412)
who really felt like people did not respect or trust the contractors in the Charlotte area. In our industry, there's a term called chuck in a truck, which is, you know, it's the idea that just a guy who has some skills throws some tools in a truck and goes out there and starts working, which is fine, except that some of those may not have the ethics or the background or the training needed to give you the kind of work that you want.

BC Babbles (02:43.362)

Mara Esser (03:03.276)
What this group really wanted to do was figure out a way to give the public, the consumer, the confidence to hire them, knowing that they had the skillset, the training, insurance, things like that, that would make them more confident in their buying decisions with contractors. So this group got together in 1990, and they started forming their NARI chapter.

BC Babbles (03:16.141)

BC Babbles (03:22.85)

Mara Esser (03:31.968)
We didn't charter until 1992 officially, but it really started in 1990. And we have been a strong NARI chapter ever since then. So I've been in my position about two years and really enjoying it. And what I do is I kind of run the day-to-day chapter, keeping our events and all of our standards and our membership and all of that stuff running. So.

BC Babbles (03:45.205)

BC Babbles (03:57.93)
Very cool. And now the, the residential works industry has obviously seen an overhaul of how it's endeavoring in slash needs to be able to get in touch with its people, make sure that reports are built with their target audiences and make sure that they are known of, especially in today's rapidly evolving landscape. So from the beginning of your involvement, what kind of changes have you seen in?

Mara Esser (04:19.893)
Digital world, right? Yeah.

BC Babbles (04:27.182)
strategies regarding marketing, just kind of networking and how your particular strategies and evolving with this landscape.

Mara Esser (04:39.184)
So it's very interesting. So when NARI started, one of the biggest things was that they had these printed directories. And that was like the thing, is to get your hands on a directory. So you had to be a member to get one or be printed in it. And it was like the big thing. And so I have literally boxes of these old directories, which were like.

BC Babbles (04:44.917)

BC Babbles (04:49.866)
Yeah. Right? He he he.

BC Babbles (04:55.436)

BC Babbles (05:02.315)
Oh wow.

Mara Esser (05:03.128)
the way that everybody communicated. And this was like your badge of honor to be in this directory. And these would be like, you know, they were like gold. You know, if you had a directory, you know, you had the list of the who's of, you know, the Charlotte people. And it's so funny now because with the digital world, you know, printed material just isn't the way we do things anymore.

BC Babbles (05:12.717)

BC Babbles (05:26.657)

Mara Esser (05:27.028)
So for us, it's been like a huge evolution. Our membership directory now is online. So, you know, that's all accessed through our website, that Next Wave has helped us develop. So, and our directory is amazing because our company is different. We have actually two audiences. So we have membership, because we cater to...

BC Babbles (05:48.808)

Mara Esser (05:51.368)
our contractors and all of the surrounding businesses that support our general contractors. So that's kind of one audience is our membership. But we also have an audience of consumers who want to use our membership and use the resources that we have to connect with those people. So our digital sphere has kind of a dual audience. And so our website is a way that we can connect with both of those and keep those communications open.

BC Babbles (06:02.316)

BC Babbles (06:08.685)

BC Babbles (06:19.618)

Mara Esser (06:20.004)
So now everything's online and people can go onto our website and find a NARI verified GC or contractor or vendor supplier that kind of thing. So it's been a huge evolution for us from the golden book to now. It's a click away. So

BC Babbles (06:31.053)

BC Babbles (06:38.03)
I feel like if NARI has like a central location in Charlotte, there should be like a history wall, like hall made showcasing each of these directories that used to be like you said, goal basically. One of the first things, speaking of NARI is one of the first things I noticed hopping onto the website and checking you guys out is that it's a very warm and inviting kind of atmosphere given to this platform. So what were your, like talk about what...

Mara Esser (06:45.37)
I know, I know. I know. I know, I know, yeah.

BC Babbles (07:06.082)
were the important elements for you guys and making sure when discussing with Next Wave this platform, what you wanted to see, what were the kind of quintessential elements that had to be on this website for you guys.

Mara Esser (07:19.652)
That's a great question. Well, I talked a little bit about the dual audience. That was a huge part for us, is to make it user friendly for both audiences. So to have clear pathways, if I'm a consumer and I come to the site, how do I access the site and really get the information I need? Same thing with a member. If I'm a member and I'm coming on, how do I find our calendar of events? How do I find the resources that I'm looking for and that type of thing? But also it's a great way for us to showcase

BC Babbles (07:24.207)
Mm-hmm. Mm.

BC Babbles (07:43.115)

Mara Esser (07:49.4)
One of the things that I find the most endearing about our NARI chapter, and that is our philanthropic endeavors. There is a huge kind of emotional benefit to being a NARI member, and that is that we do a ton of outreach in the Charlotte community. And what I find is that a lot of our members, they're really busy because they're really good contractors and vendors and suppliers, and so they're busy day to day with their business.

BC Babbles (07:53.674)
Yeah. Mmm.

BC Babbles (08:05.047)

BC Babbles (08:13.378)

Mara Esser (08:16.132)
That doesn't mean that they don't have the heart or the willingness to get out in the community. But sometimes that's hard to find those outlets and things to do that. What NARI offers them is a way we do all the legwork and the back work to set up programs and to do things that they can participate in easily and give back to the Charlotte community. So we really wanted to showcase what we were doing for Charlotte. We do several large events that produce great

BC Babbles (08:29.533)

BC Babbles (08:37.684)

Mara Esser (08:46.092)
results for our community. We do a great bowling event, and the proceeds from that give us the opportunity to give back to a Dream On 3, which is a local charity that does a great, their whole platform is amazing. They get kids who have life altering illness or injury, and they ask them about their sports dreams, and then they select kids,

BC Babbles (08:47.769)

BC Babbles (08:55.88)

BC Babbles (09:02.55)

BC Babbles (09:08.546)

Mara Esser (09:16.168)
make their dreams come true basically. So this year we were able to support Braden's wish and his dream which was to go to the Wells Fargo golf tournament. So we funded that for him by doing a great yeah so we raised the money through our bowling event and then sent Braden to the Wells Fargo tournament where he had he had full access he got a

BC Babbles (09:18.103)
Oh wow.

BC Babbles (09:23.47)

BC Babbles (09:27.746)
Hmm. That's so cool.

Mara Esser (09:42.6)
a golf pro to give him lessons. He got his own set of Titleist clubs. Like he got the full treatment. So we get to do those types of things and watch his journey. And it's a wonderful way to give back to Charlotte. Right now we're also working on Safe Alliance is a community-based shelter for people who are escaping domestic violence.

BC Babbles (09:45.892)
Oh, that's so cool!

BC Babbles (09:57.45)

BC Babbles (10:02.071)

BC Babbles (10:08.002)

Mara Esser (10:08.388)
And we have a subgroup called WIN, which stands for Women in NARI. And our group decided that we wanted to align with Safe Alliance and do some makeovers in their spaces. So right now, it's really cool. We're currently working on four spaces for them. And one of our member designers redesigned four of their spaces. And we're currently working on.

BC Babbles (10:13.075)

BC Babbles (10:21.087)

Mara Esser (10:34.928)
getting the funds together to remake these spaces. And early November, we're gonna go in and remake their spaces. So it's a more supportive and fun environment while the singles or families come in. They stay in this place for about three months while they are escaping dangerous situations and then getting the training skills, support, all the things that they need to get into a safe home.

BC Babbles (10:36.961)

BC Babbles (10:44.126)
Hmm... yeah.

BC Babbles (10:51.566)

BC Babbles (10:55.586)

BC Babbles (11:02.356)

Mara Esser (11:02.696)
and kind of rebuild their lives. So this was a really heart touching endeavor that we took on and we are really excited about it. So, yeah.

BC Babbles (11:08.351)

BC Babbles (11:13.106)
Oh my god, absolutely. So NARI sorry, NARI ugh. NARI just has, NARI sounds like it has quality on quality is what I'm getting from it. It sounds like such a fantastic organization. My goodness.

Mara Esser (11:16.688)
That's the first one.

Mara Esser (11:21.192)
That's a great way to put it. Yeah. A lot of people say about NARI that like, there's a lot of associations out there. And the feeling when you come to a NARI meeting is different. A lot of people say when they go to other organizations, it's like they're in a room of their competitors. I have heard over and again that when people come to a NARI meeting, they're among friends, and it feels like family. And yes, a lot of people do compete.

BC Babbles (11:30.219)

BC Babbles (11:34.41)

BC Babbles (11:43.988)

Mara Esser (11:48.44)
but we look at it as there's tons of work in Charlotte and we work together to make everyone better. And we join together as ethical contractors, knowing that if we do a good job and we can change the view of what a contractor is, and like buying together as ethical contractors, we can change that view. And we can really help each other.

BC Babbles (11:51.979)


BC Babbles (12:05.923)

BC Babbles (12:12.619)

Mara Esser (12:15.773)
to create a good name for contractors in the Charlotte area. So, yeah.

BC Babbles (12:19.482)
That's so cool. So, so the talk about, you know, we, you just mentioned, you talked about how you have all this philanthropic information available on the website. And so what I'm interested in knowing is with the ability to provide all this kind of information, this educational information, what kind of engagement change have you been able to see with the launch of this new platform for you guys?

Mara Esser (12:32.1)
we do.

Mara Esser (12:46.988)
It's been huge. What I love is a lot, some of the highlights for me are, you know, we've had to roll with, you know, the new digital world and really get more involved in social media and that kind of thing. Our platform with NextWave allows a lot of integration with that, and so it's been great to see that growth.

BC Babbles (12:57.59)

BC Babbles (13:04.663)

Mara Esser (13:08.52)
We, our website allows us to roll in our social media posts. So those are like on our front page and they roll through as we're posting, things are updated. We love that integration and just the way that it allows people to see kind of things live. So as we're posting about these events and showing pictures of Braden at Wells Fargo and showing our updates of what we're doing for Safe Alliance, we can show those real time on our website.

BC Babbles (13:14.055)

BC Babbles (13:25.667)

BC Babbles (13:29.922)

BC Babbles (13:34.402)

Mara Esser (13:37.632)
And so that's been really great. And it's increased our engagement a lot. And so that cross feed of the social media and the website has been really fantastic for us. So. Yeah. Okay.

BC Babbles (13:37.742)
Oh, that's so cool. Yeah.

BC Babbles (13:47.506)
Awesome. So with the cross evolution of both your engagement and both of the platform available to you guys and for everybody else, do you guys, what do you guys already have plans on the calendar for continued development? What, what new avenues are kind of on the table? Are you considering, what do you think you guys will touch on next?

Mara Esser (14:08.78)
We do. So our next endeavor with NextWave, and this is the part that we're leaning into them heavily because I am not a technical person. Like, I don't know this stuff. And so, you know, when Brian and Lindsay and Angelo and I get together on our calls, which is great, and I feel like they're friends, you know, we talk about how we can really take it to the next level.

BC Babbles (14:18.834)

BC Babbles (14:27.797)

BC Babbles (14:34.903)

Mara Esser (14:35.064)
So one of the things that we're doing is building up pages that are more location focused for our area to try to target the different areas around Charlotte because Charlotte is a great big city, but there's tons of outlying areas too that feed it. So making sure that we're touching on all of those areas and letting them know that we're a resource for them as well. That's been a huge undertaking that we're doing right now.

BC Babbles (14:41.783)

BC Babbles (14:46.09)
Hmm. Yeah. Oh yeah.

BC Babbles (14:56.78)

Mara Esser (15:00.928)
And then the other thing that we're working on is SEOs. So those are the search engine optimizations. So Brian and his team have been working really hard behind the scenes, kind of getting us optimized for that, to make sure that people who are looking for ethical contractors can find us. Yeah.

BC Babbles (15:04.054)
Hmm. Right.

BC Babbles (15:12.834)
Very cool.

BC Babbles (15:16.574)
Mm hmm. Very nice. Now, what advice, well, having gone through this experience with NextWave, with the platform evolution, with the engagement evolution, with being able to see this incredible expansion of networking and philanthropic work that NARI likes to be involved with. If you were to come across someone within a similar industry, similar organization who is at a pause or has concerns about approaching this kind of

marketing and networking platform, what advice would you give to them? You know, what kind of points do you feel are the best insights to help anyone with these kind of questions?

Mara Esser (15:57.94)
Ooh, that's a good question too. I can speak from my experience. I think I had some good leadership helping me as we were going through this. So one of the things that we did that helped us a lot was that we really sat down and thought through what our message was on our website. So before we even talked with NextWave, we're like, what message is it that we want and who is our audience? So those were the two things that we wanted to be clear about before we spoke with them.

BC Babbles (16:07.107)

BC Babbles (16:15.896)

BC Babbles (16:23.499)


Mara Esser (16:27.148)
Next Wave. So we defined our two audiences, which I spoke about before, our consumer and also our membership. But then we talked about like, what are the things that we want? What are our most important messages to those people? And we came up with four silos, and we call them silos just because we wanted to put all of our, you know, our feed in. And so we kind of came up with those four and then built our website off of that.

BC Babbles (16:31.447)

BC Babbles (16:40.109)

BC Babbles (16:46.751)
Right, yeah.

BC Babbles (16:51.502)
Hmm. Very cool.

Mara Esser (16:53.644)
So I thought that was a really good way. And that came from our president, Brad Little, who runs revision design remodeling. He's our president. He's like, let's put this structure out there. Let's call it the silos. Let's figure this out first. And then everything that we feed into this has to fit into one of our silos. If it's not, it's probably not that important to our message right now. So that was great. And so everything we do has to fit into a silo. So I loved that framework

BC Babbles (17:04.981)

BC Babbles (17:14.87)
Hmm, I like that.

BC Babbles (17:21.015)

Mara Esser (17:23.608)
us keep things neat and orderly. It helped us to find our tabs and everything that worked into our website. So that was great. And when we brought that up with NextWave, they were 100% on board with it and stuck with our silos. Everything was based off of those. We developed all of, they do great spreadsheets and documents that show you the pathways of how everything's going to work.

BC Babbles (17:50.933)

Mara Esser (17:50.976)
and it all flowed right from our silos. So that was fantastic and it worked great for us. So that was a great way to start. The other thing I would say is don't wait until it's perfect to launch. For me, a website is a living thing. I am on, I email Angelo, my guy from Next Wave, every week with little updates, little things, you know.

BC Babbles (17:55.21)
Very good. Awesome.

BC Babbles (18:03.39)
Hmm. Yeah.

BC Babbles (18:13.822)

Mara Esser (18:16.16)
He and I are on a call almost every week just talking about how we can make the website better What I need to add what I need to edit. We are not a stagnant group. We're moving all the time There are calendars ever moving. We're constantly doing things in the community. So it's a living thing Don't wait till it's perfect to launch it, you know, just get it out there You can always edit and change and make it grow and see what's working and what's not

BC Babbles (18:21.772)

BC Babbles (18:25.983)

BC Babbles (18:39.508)

BC Babbles (18:44.992)

Mara Esser (18:45.201)
And next wave can really help you look at the analytics behind the scenes to see what is working and what's not, and then help you develop from there. So that would be my advice.

BC Babbles (18:53.326)
I think that's a perfect message. You know, mold it as it goes. You know, clay doesn't harden right away. You have time to work with it. So I think that's a great insight to provide. I think you touched on this a little bit earlier, but just in case we haven't touched on it, are there anything big coming, is there anything big coming up with Neri that people should know about event wise, philanthropic work? You wanna get out there before people miss it?

Mara Esser (19:01.244)
Exactly. Yeah.

Mara Esser (19:18.656)
Yeah, I absolutely do. So I talked about our Safe Alliance project, which is amazing. So on September 21st, we are going to be hosting a trivia night at the Horseshoe on Mint Street. So it's a it's an open trivia night, anyone can come, but we're going to do some raffle prizes and some fun things. And part of the proceeds from food and drink that are purchased that night are going to go to Safe Alliance and 100%

BC Babbles (19:23.689)

BC Babbles (19:32.149)

BC Babbles (19:45.28)
Oh good.

Mara Esser (19:46.undefined)
funds that we get from that will go directly to the project. And that's going to help us buy sectionals and different pieces that we need for this project. So we're also going to be selling raffle tickets there for some different really fun raffle prizes. And all of those proceeds too will be going for all of the furnishings and things that we need for that project. So that's a huge thing coming up.

BC Babbles (19:54.242)

Mara Esser (20:09.296)
We also have our Cody Awards coming up. So one of the great things that NARI of Charlotte and National do is called the Cody Awards. It's the Contractor of the Year Awards. And so members submit projects of different categories, anywhere from a kitchen to a bath, to an entire house, exteriors, everything. There's about 50 different categories. And they submit their projects from the previous year, and then it's all judged.

BC Babbles (20:18.146)

BC Babbles (20:28.448)

Mara Esser (20:36.724)
on different criteria and we have a big gala event in Charlotte. That's the first level of the competition is the Charlotte level. We have a big gala event coming up. That's in November, November 10th. We'll be having the gala event. Our submissions are due September 21st. So we're getting our submissions in right now and then we'll have our competition. It's judged from other NERI chapters across the country.

BC Babbles (20:45.475)

Mara Esser (21:04.98)
And then we'll be revealing the winners at our big gala event, which will be at Founders Hall on November 10th. So we also do a really fun, like, Facebook posting of all the entrants so that we can do a people's choice. So if you look at our Facebook page, you can vote on your favorites and, you know, cast your vote for your favorite in several different categories. So that's always fun. So we get the public involved in that as well.

BC Babbles (21:09.185)


BC Babbles (21:19.339)

BC Babbles (21:32.238)

Mara Esser (21:33.044)
And then all of our people are able to enter the regional and the national awards as well.

BC Babbles (21:41.42)
Awesome! And so where can people go and find you so they can keep up with all this activity?

Mara Esser (21:46.368)
Well, the best place to go is our website. It's So N-A-R-I

BC Babbles (21:55.598)
and then social media wise?

Mara Esser (21:57.712)
Oh, we are at Neri CLT and I should have all of these, but I don't, but all the links are on our website, so.

BC Babbles (22:05.666)
Sounds perfect. Well, thank you again for joining me this morning, Mara. It's been fantastic learning about NARI and all the work that you guys do locally and abroad. So I really appreciate sitting down with you this morning. We'll make sure to put all the important links in the description for this episode. So you can contact Mara and get accustomed to NARI and all their incredible work. And we will see you on the next episode.

Mara Esser (22:16.684)
It was great talking to you.

Mara Esser (22:28.228)
Thanks, Brandon.

Redefining Ethical Redevelopment with Mara Esser of NARI Charlotte
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