By Carol K. Dumas
Being a woman in the male-dominated construction industry has never deterred Kathy DeMeyer from advancing in her career.
In July, DeMeyer was named the new owner and CEO of Encore Construction, where she has worked for the past 19 years, starting as an office manager.
According to Constructech, only 13 percent of construction companies are women-owned, and even less women-owned construction companies on Cape Cod.
A native of Stoneham, DeMeyer and her husband moved to Cape Cod in 1985 and owned a convenience store in Brewster for many years. They sold the business when her husband became ill. “After that I went to work for a friend who was a builder and when he retired I worked for an engineer in a temporary position ” she recalls. “ I wanted to take my time, to find the right fit.”
It turned out that construction was that good fit, as the many moving parts to the business — scheduling, permitting, bookkeeping, project management, and working with subcontractors and homeowners – suited her natural organizational skills. Being outdoors and visiting construction sites was also appealing.
“I don’t have great building skills, but I took courses to learn how things went together,” she says. She worked for a builder for five years and obtained her Construction Supervisor License.
“When I applied to work as an office manager at Encore [19 years ago] they told me I was overqualified!” She says with a laugh. A week later, she was promoted to Production Manager and then General Manager before becoming the owner this past July.
“I’m happy to see that a business I started 26 years ago has flourished into a successful remodeling company,” said Encore founder Dale Nikula. “And with Kathy as the new owner and CEO, I am confident Encore will continue to offer our clients the service and workmanship that they expect from us.”
Creating a work-life balance is a challenge for any working woman, no matter what industry, and DeMeyer, who is a mother of two adult sons, is now caregiver to her father.
“Life-work. Always a balance,” she reflects. “I am the primary caregiver for my 94-year-old father living with me in another part of the house. I do, luckily, have some help from a friend but that balance is always a challenge. Just like having children and work, they need your attention as well.”
In her early days as a construction manager, she felt the sting of sexism when she went to pull a building permit at various town halls.
“I’m sorry, but the construction manager has to do that,” she was told.
“I am the construction manager,” she would inform the building department secretary, which raised eyebrows.
Even today, some inspectors can be patronizing, but DeMeyer is more amused by their attitudes, instead of resentful.
“Some of the older inspectors try to test me, and see how much I know,” she says.
DeMeyer is obviously pleased that more women are in the construction industry since she started nearly 30 years ago.
“We’ve come a long way. I think it’s because the guys have become more accepting of us, especially the younger guys,” says DeMeyer.
Professional organizations within the industry are also actively encouraging more women to enter the field.
In 2017 DeMeyer was elected and installed as the first woman Chapter President of the Eastern Massachusetts National Association of the Remodeling Industry (EM NARI), now called the Professional Remodeling Organization of New England. She represented over 200 members during her term.
“To be respected in that position meant a lot to me,” she says.
Wearing Many Hats
Encore is a busy remodeling company, based in East Dennis, focusing on projects from Eastham to Mashpee. The company has 13 full-time employees and employs countless subcontractors, many of whom have worked for the business for decades.
“We typically have 13 jobs going on at a time,” DeMeyer says. “I love remodeling. There’s nothing better than a before and after. It’s my passion.”
The company opened an office in Sudbury for a few years, after many of their seasonal Cape Cod customers asked them to work on their permanent residences. “I worked up there two to three days a week,” DeMeyer says.
Eventually, Encore decided to focus solely on Cape Cod. “I felt that was necessary and that we needed to focus on quality serving our core market.”
Business has been even busier since the pandemic as more people worked from home and seasonal properties became full-time residences.
As owner and CEO, she is in the office more, but she still visits the job sites to make sure projects are running on time and smoothly. She feels that it shows accountability coming from the top level of the company, something that resonates with clients.
Despite her busy schedule, she finds time mentoring women at WE CAN and serves on the construction advisory board at Cape Cod Regional Technical High School. She also serves on the board of the Home Builders and Remodeling Association of Cape Cod. She is Immediate Past President of the Dennis Chamber of Commerce.
Becoming the owner and CEO of Encore has been a seamless transition for herself and the employees, most of whom she hired.
“I knew everything about the business and had been through its growing pains,” she says. “I knew all the financials, the processes. I am honored to be leading Encore into its next generation of growth. We have a great team and our clients see that outcome in each project that we design and build for them.”