North businesses marks four decades of home improvement

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(L-R) Steven LaPlante, Kim Darcy, and Darrell Laplante at Houle's, which recently marked its 40th anniversary. The LaPlantes became owners in 2016 and described Al Houle as a strong personality. Staff Photo/Max Bowen

By Max Bowen-max.bowen@northstarreporter.com

Since 1981, Al Houle and his business have been a staple in the community and beyond.

Now run by Darrell and Steven LaPlante, the company recently marked its 40th year. Darrell and Steven became the owners in 2016 and also run DRL Carpet. They began their work in flooring doing installations while in high school and eventually did some work for Houle.

We talked about buying them out at some point and when he was ready to call it quits,” said Darell. “He called me and that’s how we ended up here.”

Darrell said that Al was the kind of person “you either loved or hated,” and he joked that he was lucky enough to be the former. He described Houle as a great businessman who preferred the more ‘old school’ approach, doing everything on pen and paper. He joked that when the two took over it was awhile before they got caught up.

Our biggest conversion was there was no customers unless you folded through the boxes and all that stuff,” he said.

The last 18 months have been a challenge for home improvement businesses in more ways than one. Houle’s had to close for three months in 2020, but saw a flood of customers when the doors opened once more. Darrell said it was a challenge keeping up at first, but the work has begun to balance out. Perhaps the biggest problem has been finding new employees. Darrell said that out of 14 interviews that he recently scheduled, only two people showed up.

I would say six to eight estimates a day, probably doing three or four right now,” said Darrell. “Which is good, because it gives me a chance to catch up on everything.”

When the LaPlantes became the owners they made few changes aside from a remodel of the store. Darrell said that Houles has been a staple in North Attleborough and people come for the service as well as the name.

His (Al’s) old customers still come here a lot, of customers that we deal with,” said Darrell. “They don’t even know he’s not involved with the business anymore, nor do they know that he’s not here anymore.”

Darrell credits Kim Darcy with being the backbone of the business. He and Steven are rarely in the store, often out doing estimates and installations while she takes on the day-to-day operations.

We come in, we check on what’s going on,” said Darrell. “On a good week she sees my face two or three times a week.”