Klein takes ‘Smartt’ approach to construction
FARGO—When Paula Klein heard about a company called Dirtt several years ago, it got her thinking.
Dirtt is a Canadian company that manufactures prefabricated walls and other materials that make rearranging interior spaces and things like electrical and data hookups a breeze.
“Right away, I knew this is the future of construction,” said Klein, whose excitement led to the birth of her own company, Smartt Interior Construction.
Klein’s Fargo-based Smartt partners with Dirtt, taking the products and materials Dirtt manufactures and assembles, and installing them on projects where Smartt also provides onsite management of the work.
Smartt began in 2011, a year Klein said she basically spent “planting seeds” and building awareness of what her company can do.
By 2013, Smartt was doing $2.3 million worth of business and generating lots of attention for Klein, a licensed contractor who is Smartt’s owner and CEO.
Her company’s ongoing success earned Klein the Small Business Administration’s 2015 North Dakota Small Business Person of the Year Award, and last fall she was named woman entrepreneur of the year by the Bismarck-based Center for Technology and Business.
“Pretty cool,” Klein said of the recognition, which she said is particularly gratifying since she is working in a field long dominated by men.
Klein said products made by Dirtt, which she said stands for “doing it right this time,” have been embraced by commercial clients who have spaces to rent but don’t want to follow the conventional course of fixing up a building for clients only to see them eventually depart. This often prompts another remodel to accommodate a new tenant.
All of which leads to messy projects and lots of material heading for landfills, Klein said.
She said what Smartt provides is a clean and easy way to bring beauty and utility to a space while offering flexibility when it’s time to rearrange or remove elements.
One of Smartt’s projects was a retrofit of a downtown Fargo building that was done for Alerus Financial.
Andrew Hanson, a commercial banker at Alerus, said he’s a fan of Klein’s work, especially the sliding glass door of his office that has a controlled, self-closing feature he enjoys demonstrating.
Although Smartt has grown quickly in just a few years, Klein said she is only getting started, and has her eye on expanding more into health care as well as home settings.
“I think we’ve just kind of scratched the surface,” she said.