Remodelers Advantage

Ep.82: Key Performance Indicators for Carpenters & Project Managers with Rick Swanquist

Many problems plaguing production departments end up costing time and money. While it’s clear that there are issues, many remodeling companies can’t pinpoint the causes. 

One way to find out what’s really going on is to establish Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs. KPIs allow you to measure how well your production process works. But what should you measure, and how can you do it?

In this episode, Rick Swanquist answers those questions as he joins Tim and Steve to discuss how he uses KPIs to really know what’s going on in his production department, and what it means to his company.

A veteran of the construction industry, with nearly 15 years of project management experience, Rick has been with Main Street Design Build in Birmingham, MI, since 2015. Rick was hired to be a project developer at Main Street, quickly working his way up to project manager, and spent the first two years of his tenure managing projects. He has been a production manager for two years at Main Street. Rick’s passion is scheduling and managing subcontractors and in-house carpenters to see a project through to its completion.

When beginning to institute KPIs in your company, you need to figure out what they’ll be. Rick defines a KPI as a goal that is practicable and repeatable through objectives defined by metrics, that have timelines and targets with methods for predicting and measuring them. The data is collected throughout each project and evaluated at the end. Rick talks about what he looks at, how to set goals, and keeping his team accountable through KPIs, including:

  • What can be measured
  • How to evaluate KPIs
  • The 13 KPIs he uses for carpenters
  • The KPIs for project managers
  • Using the project autopsy to measure performance
  • How long-term measurement ensures accurate assessments
  • How the estimate works in the mix
  • Keeping the process open and transparent
  • Establishing a baseline for expectations
  • How KPIs can boost morale and healthy competition
  • The client satisfaction score
  • And more …

All the KPIs, taken together, allow Rick to see how his team is performing and to identify and solve problems in production quickly. 

Ep.81: Success with Daily Logs with Jason Stearns

Today we’re tackling what can be a simple topic, but some remodeling companies are still struggling with daily job logs. Technology has made this task so much easier to accomplish and to store.

In this episode, Jason Stearns talks with Tim and Steve about what to capture in a daily log, how to get your project managers to do it effectively, and why it’s a legal necessity. 

Jason has been in high-end residential market in San Francisco for almost 30 years, including projects working with many prestigious architecture firms. He joined Jeff King & Co. as director of production in 2017. Since then, he’s helped implement the use of Procore for their production teams, standardized the project scheduling formats, and started a weighted numeric skills assessment system for evaluating the carpentry and labor staff to identify needed training for advancement.

The daily log is a working tool that helps you track your scheduling commitments from subcontractors, keep records to protect you and your company during disputes, and other information. Jason talks about how his company uses daily logs, and the benefits, including:

  • Using templates for the log
  • What information to record
  • Tracking inspections
  • Using it as a legal document in lawsuits
  • How to get your team’s buy-in
  • Making everyone accountable
  • Using the logs in a project review
  • Why to keep them private
  • And more …

If you’re still on the fence and not regularly keeping daily logs, Jason says keeping one for every job, every day, is the best insurance you can have against your company getting hurt in a legal dispute.

Tell Us More …

We’ve gotten fantastic ideas from our listeners for topics and guests. If you’ve got a suggestion for Tim, drop him a line at tim@remodelersadvantage.com.

Ep.80: Evaluating Trade Partners with Joe Divel

We talk about working with trade partners and subcontractors a lot around here. It can be a complicated and challenging relationship — too often it’s like you can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them.

Part of any relationship is change, and adjusting to those changes to keep it fresh and healthy. To keep track of those fluctuations, you need to evaluate how you’re working together.

In this episode, Joe Divel talks about trade partner evaluations with Tim and Steve, how they can keep work relationships solid for all parties, and head off problems before they start.

Joe has been with Case Design Remodeling Inc. in the Washington, DC, metro area for 21 years, wearing many hats during that time, mostly in the production area. Currently, as the senior director of recruitment, alliances, and logistics, he helps production by managing the company’s alliances, tracking job completion, and managing field support and safety.

At Case, they refer to how they work with trade partners or subcontractors as an alliance — Joe says that word choice reflects the respect they have for the firms they work with. He talks about how to start and maintain your own evaluation tools and what it can do for your company, no matter what you may call your subcontractors, including:

  • On-boarding new partners
  • What should be evaluated
  • Who you should survey
  • How often to assess the partnership
  • The red flags to look for
  • Sharing the results with partners
  • How to address problems
  • Learning how you can help them
  • And more …

Including why the company checks on proof of insurance from partners, and how much coverage your own firm should carry.

Keeping up with Tim Faller…

Every month, Tim shares personal and professional tips and advice, and some great stories of his adventures out on the Road. “From the Field” is Tim’s monthly Newsletter and is publishing this Thursday… if you aren’t already subscribed, Click here to Jump on Board.  

Ep.79: Syncing Estimating & Production with Ryan Beaber

It’s a common challenge Tim finds in his consulting work with remodelers — how difficult it is to accurately estimate your remodeling company’s own work, to bring jobs in on time and budget. The difference can cause friction between estimators and those in the field, and cost you money. 

In this episode, Ryan Beaber talks to Tim and Steve about his experience as an estimator, and why communication between the estimator and project managers is the key to accurate forecasting. This year, his company is coming in one percent under budget on their jobs. 

Ryan is an estimator with Forward Design Build Remodel in Ann Arbor, MI. Ryan joined the team in 2015 as a carpenter, and in January 2019 moved into the office to take over the estimating responsibilities. Forward Design Build Remodel has had year-over-year growth for several years, consistently out-pacing industry averages in customer satisfaction, and receiving peer recognition such as the 2018 ProRemodeler Gold Design Award, the 2018 NARI CotY Regional Award for residential interior, and the 2019 Fred Case Remodeling Entrepreneur of the Year runner up.

Ryan says experience in the field helped his transition to becoming the estimator. He understands how the field team works and knows the subcontractors, which helps him keep communications open, accurate and efficient. Ryan talks about how he and the field staff make this happen, including:

  • Using past jobs to predict future budgets
  • Handling discrepancies between budget and what actually happened
  • Accepting responsibility for mistakes
  • The importance of cataloging communications
  • Tracking all the data
  • Posting the red flags
  • Handling change orders quickly
  • The KPIs to look for
  • Taking care of clients’ emotions
  • Handling material cost increases
  • And more …

Ryan says both estimating and production want the company to be successful — use that to get everyone on the same page, and pulling in the same direction.

The Suggestion Box is Open

This episode was once again the result of a listener’s suggestion. If you have an idea for a topic or guest, drop Tim a line at tim@remodelersadvantage.com.

Ep.78: The Four-Day Work Week with Tim Welsh

To make the remodeling business work, there are a few musts — you have to be efficient, you have to have a competitive edge, and a good work-life balance.

Tim Welsh’s company does it in four days a week — at least in the field.

In this episode, Tim discusses the four-day work week with Tim and Steve, including how he came to it, what benefits there are, and how you can do it too.

Tim is the president of Welsh Construction in Lexington, VA. Though he started out wanting to enter the custom furniture business, Tim began his career as a laborer and worked his way up to foreman. He opened his own business 26 years ago, doing everything himself, until his wife joined him. Tim and Janeen have grown the company, added staff, and are in the process of transferring ownership as part of an eight-year transition plan.

The four-day work week started for Tim early on in — though at that time it meant four long days in the field for him, with the fifth day spent in the office or on sales calls. The carpenters working for him got used to being on the job for 10 hours, four days a week. When Tim transitioned out of the field, he kept the four-day schedule for his field staff. “It was in their DNA by that time,” he says. Tim tells you why it works for his company, including:

  • Who works four days, who works all five
  • How it makes start-up and breakdown more efficient
  • What you save from only having four lunch breaks
  • Explaining the schedule to your clients
  • Working with your subcontractors     
  • Getting used to 10-hour days
  • Working in winter darkness
  • How to work Monday holidays into the mix
  • The financial aspect
  • How it helps in hiring and keeping field staff
  • And more …

Tim says this schedule can help smaller contractors to concentrate their efforts in the field, while leaving time for other tasks on the fifth day. For larger firms, with lead carpenters and project managers, he advises rolling it out and trying it. It may work for you.

Ep.77: Building a Trade School From Scratch with Richard Laughlin

The skills gap is real, but when we all talk about it, it often takes a negative turn. It seems like it’s always a complaint, with nobody taking any real action to solve it.

Richard Laughlin is the exception, and is taking a grass-roots approach in his small town in Texas that’s already growing in other parts of the state.

In this episode, Richard talks about re-starting a local trades program with Tim and Steve, and what it does for the students and employers.

Richard Laughlin is the owner of Laughlin Homes & Restoration in Fredericksburg, TX., and is the 2019 recipient of The Fred Case Remodeling Entrepreneur of the Year Award. He grew up in large-scale commercial construction with his dad and grandfather, who were general contractors. He attended Fredericksburg Trades school from 1975-78, and won statewide awards in carpentry skills as a sophomore in 1976 and cabinetry in 1977 with a custom built-pool table. He started his own design build custom home business in 1984. LHR has been recognized with dozens of state and national Awards. Richard filmed several episodes of Junk Gypsy on HGTV and was on Extreme Makeover

While Richard has great memories of his own trade education, the program was later downgraded in favor of a more college prep-focused curriculum. Kids were no longer getting the kind of time and attention necessary to get construction skills. About four years ago, Richard stepped into the breach, and he appealed to his state representative to get legislation passed that would create an opportunity for skills-based education again. Richard and other builders in his area pulled together to create a trade program that gives students hands-on experience building a custom home over the school year. He talks about how the program got off the ground, and how you can do something similar, including:

  • Showing the school systems the benefits
  • Raising money for a trades program to beat the budget argument
  • Putting together a strategy
  • Getting your subcontractors on board
  • Soliciting tool and materials donation
  • Working for sponsorships
  • Being persistent
  • How it fills jobs later
  • Structuring a non-profit
  • Creating a curriculum
  • Making the time to do it
  • And more …

Restarting the trades program has been very rewarding, he says, and spreading it nationwide is the goal. Read more about it on Richard’s website, or on the Casa Uber Alles Facebook page.

And Have You Heard About Tim’s New Book?

We are excited to announce that Tim’s newest book, Dear Remodeler, Lessons on Life, Leadership and Production is now available in the Remodelers Advantage Bookstore! Just in time for Holiday shopping!

Ep.76: Production in Insurance Restoration with Mike Carey

Restoring a home after a catastrophe like a fire or flood is fairly specialized, not something most remodeling companies do. There are different challenges, like dealing with insurance companies and payouts, so these companies have different perspectives on production.

Mike Carey has worked in insurance restoration for 25 years, as well as doing residential remodeling and commercial contracting, giving him a unique viewpoint.

In this episode, Mike talks to Tim and Steve about the differences — and similarities — in production when restoring a client’s home versus standard remodeling, and what to do to get started in this part of the industry.

Mike’s company, Carey Contracting, is located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In business for 35 years, Carey Contracting has 15 employees. Carey has been involved in insurance restoration work for 25 years, and there are years where insurance restoration produces more than 50 percent of the company’s volume. 

Mike went to school to learn what an insurance adjuster knows when he started out in the restoration business. Since then, the company has made a name for itself in the insurance restoration business. He says the restoration can be wonderfully rewarding work. Mike talks about the process of working with insurers and clients, and getting your team up to speed, including:

  • Working with adjusters
  • Project time frames
  • Working through the clients’ stresses
  • Demolition and discovery
  • Billing for restoration work
  • The critical need for proper documentation
  • Insurance vs. “as built”
  • Remaining objective
  • Creating a buffer between the insurer and the homeowner
  • Dealing with code improvements and policies
  • And more …

If you’re interested in pursuing insurance restoration, Mike says, you’ll need software that’s compatible with what insurance companies use and get training in fire, smoke, and water damage restoration. 

Ep.75: Promoting the Young Guy with Ryan Murphy

Finding good employees and managers can be difficult — there just aren’t that many qualified workers out there. Hiring somebody young without much training is an investment, but it can pay off in the long run. If you find the right person.

Ryan Murphy is one of those people. He didn’t know anything about construction until he started working in the field when he was 19. Six years later, he’s a project manager.

In this episode, Ryan talks to Tim and Steve about his experience and growth, and how your company can find great workers and train them to move up within your organization.

Ryan is a project manager at Elite Construction Services Inc. in Santa Cruz, CA. He joined Elite three years ago as a carpenter after gaining two years of experience elsewhere. He worked his way from apprentice to journeyman after his first year. Six months later, Ryan began training to become a project manager, while still doing some carpentry as needed. 

You have to have a constant and consistent conversation with everyone you meet to find the right people, he says. Talk to family, friends, and clients even before you have an opening. Ryan talks about his experiences in getting hired, his training on the job, and how you can promote people from within, including:

  • What to look for
  • Using a visual workbook
  • When to let workers go on their own
  • How to train for growth
  • Providing a safety net
  • How to teach the office tasks
  • Teaching people to answer their own questions
  • Using technology to run jobs better
  • And more …

The biggest key to finding and keeping young workers is making them feel like they have a real future in the industry, and especially within your company, Ryan says.

Ep.74: Remodeling in Historic Restoration with Walter Beebe-Center

Any remodeling involving a historic building is complicated. You never know exactly what you’ll find hidden and what will have to be replaced. Period details have to be replicated, material that would be tossed out in a standard remodel must be saved, and old-world techniques like window glazing must be done. If the local historical commission gets involved, it can add another level of difficulty.

Remodeling historic structures isn’t for everyone, but Walter Beebe-Center and his company tackle these projects regularly. He says the company’s been lucky to work on houses that were occupied by people like Abigail Adams, John Greenleaf Whittier, Paul Revere, Josiah Quincy, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Alexander Hamilton. 

In this episode, Walter talks to Tim and Steve about remodeling historic homes, fixing previous work, and bringing older homes up to modern standards — with new plumbing, electrical work, and more energy efficiency.

Walter is the owner of Essex Restoration in Wilmington, MA. Upon graduating from Columbia College with a B.A. in economics, Walter gained hands-on carpentry experience by working on various building and remodeling projects in eastern Massachusetts. After five years working in the field, he (like many of his employees) attended North Bennett Street School’s two-year, full-time Preservation Carpentry program. In 1994, Walter founded Essex Restoration and began operating as a three-man company. Since then, Essex Restoration has grown to 17 employees and has served hundreds of clients. 

Walter explains the differences in working in preservation, replication, and renovation. Working with homeowners in historic homes requires compromises, in budget and function. He talks about the particular challenges and rewards of working in historic buildings, and how to preserve the charm of the old while building in modern conveniences and energy efficiency, including:

  • Figuring out how and where to add electricity and plumbing
  • Why drafts kept old houses healthy
  • How remodeling differs from “re-muddling”
  • Welding window glass
  • Working with the historical commission
  • Tunneling under an old foundation to pour new footings
  • Repairing a leaking roof without removing interior plaster
  • What a drift pin is, and how to use it
  • How to structure contracts
  • Keeping control of the budget
  • Setting a fixed markup percentage
  • Emptying a full dumpster to find an antique detail
  • The stories old buildings tell
  • And more …

If you’re interested in gaining the skills and knowledge necessary to work on historic homes, Walter advises to pair formal training with on-the-job experience.

Ep.73: Getting Young People into the Trades with a High School Summer Work Program with Stuart Feldt

We’re big advocates of getting young people into the building trades. Getting kids and their parents to understand that working in remodeling and construction can provide a great career is the first step. 

Stuart Feldt has an internship program for high school students at his company, giving them hands-on experience during their summer vacations.

In this episode, Stuart discusses the program with Tim and Steve, where he finds the kids, and how you can start a similar initiative.

Stuart founded his company, W.S. Feldt, in 1993 as a sole proprietor in Mountlake Terrace, WA. The company specializes in remodels of all types, with an occasional custom home build. This is the company’s second year of employing high school students.

Working with high school students means taking some extra time while teaching them the proper skills, and how to do them safely. But it’s an important step to ensure there will be a steady stream of skilled tradespeople coming into the industry. Stuart talks about how he started the program, and what you can do to run your own initiative, including:

  • The legal issues
  • The skills to teach, and how
  • Finding the right work for them to do
  • Being flexible
  • Accepting there will be some extra costs and inefficiencies
  • How to handle the job costs
  • The benefits of turning your team into teachers
  • The possibility of turning it into a non-profit
  • Reaching out to educators for help
  • Giving an overview of the business
  • And more …

A high-school outreach and internship program is one way to beat the labor shortage by providing a pipeline for your company.

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