The Tim Faller Show

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.

Ep.72: The Labor Shortage from a Small-Town Perspective with Wally Staples

While driving through Maine earlier this year, Tim started wondering how a client of his there deals with the labor shortage in his small town. So he called and asked, and found out that while there are different challenges, what he does to attract and retain his people can be done in any size labor market.

In this episode, Wally J. Staples talks to Tim and Steve about how his company combats the labor crisis outside of the major metropolitan areas, where there just aren’t as many people to choose from.

Wally is the owner and president of Wally J Staples Builders Inc., of Brunswick, ME, founded the company in 1993 when he was in his early 20s. A carpenter by trade, Wally worked in the field building new homes and completing renovations until 2001, when he hired his first lead carpenter, who’s still with WJSB today. This allowed Wally to work on growing the company, and now they have five full-time, in-house carpentry crews, and have completed more than 3,500 projects. 

Brunswick has a population of about 20,000, and is somewhat of a retirement community. It’s located between two major employers —  L.L. Bean and s big shipbuilder. There’s also a strong sense of independence — many carpenters and tradespeople would rather work for themselves. Wally talks about the things you need to do to attract and keep good people in a smaller market, including:

  • How to help people adjust to new roles
  • The benefit of offering benefits — especially paid time off
  • Providing a profit-sharing program for retirement plans, and keeping it in focus
  • Talking about the importance of your safety record regarding profits
  • What not to care about in hiring, like tattoos or age
  • Getting the word out about job openings
  • Appealing to the self-employed 
  • The power of branding in recruiting
  • Why training helps keep employees
  • The zero-question job binder
  • Developing good job descriptions and processes
  • And more …

Including the company party featuring a contortionist. Wally’s tips and tactics aren’t limited to succeeding in a small market — his insights can help any company, in any market.

Ep.71: Switching to the Lead Carpenter System with Steve Nash

When remodeling companies start up, typically the owner is working in the field, making sales, estimating, and doing almost everything else to run the business. There comes a tipping point as the company grows, and one person can’t do it all. That’s where the lead carpenter system comes in.

Transitioning to that system has its challenges. Steve Nash has used the lead carpenter system for 25 years, and understands its ins and outs — and how to move to it smoothly.

In this episode, Steve talks about making the switch with Tim and Steve, how it helps a growing company, and how to avoid the common pitfalls.

Steve began working as a carpenter for his father, from his childhood all through his teens. He founded Upscale Remodeling, in Freeville, NY, in 1991 shortly after college with a bucket of tools, a new truck, and a whole lot of ambition to build a great remodeling company. Today, Upscale Remodeling is a full-service design/build firm specializing in kitchen and bath remodeling, additions, basements, and window and door replacement. The company operates out of a 5,000-sq. ft. showroom, which helps with design and product selection as well as communication across all team members. Upscale Remodeling has been using some variation of the lead carpenter system since the beginning.

He recently teamed up with another remodeler to help a growing company in their Roundtables peer group make the switch to the lead carpenter system. He walks us through the process of transitioning your team, learning as much as you can beforehand, and how to make it work, including:

  • How it can help you cope with the labor shortage
  • Understanding your lead carpenter will be managing
  • Identifying the qualities that make a good lead carpenter
  • Why your best craftsman may not be the best manager
  • Empowering your lead to make decisions
  • Pushing your lead back to the paperwork
  • Being transparent with your lead carpenter
  • Why not to treat it as a promotion, just a different role
  • How to handle a different pay scales
  • The recruitment process and identifying candidates in-house
  • The importance of involving your lead in the sales process
  • Avoiding awkward moments in front of the client
  • Coaching your lead to stay within the scope
  • How to change your markup and job costing to safeguard profits
  • And more …

Keep Those Suggestions Coming…

This topic was another one suggested by a listener — and we hope you keep them coming! If you’ve got an idea for a topic or guest, drop Tim an email at tim@remodelersadvantage.com.

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