Production

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.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.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.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.

Ep.69: Hitting Monthly Goals with Aaron Enfinger

Making sure you can hit your monthly revenue goals is key to a healthy bottom line. First, there has to be a plan and intention to hit those marks.

In this episode, Aaron Enfinger tells Tim and Steve about setting revenue and production goals, how to hit them, and why it helps prevent cash-flow problems.

Aaron is the general manager at The Cleary Company in Columbus, OH. In early 2017, he assumed the role of General Manager to address managerial needs The Cleary Company was experiencing, due to their pace of growth. 

He starts his goal-setting process with a spreadsheet, and drills down from the yearly goal to the weekly numbers the company needs to produce to hit its revenue numbers. Then he works with his production manager and office manager to carry the plan through. Aaron gives you great ideas about how you can do this in your own company, including:

  • Designing your production department to handle your goals
  • Why weekly number will fluctuate
  • What sets off alarm bells in the pipeline
  • Scheduling to smooth out seasonal differences
  • How job schedules relate to the master schedule
  • Setting up incremental milestone draws in a job
  • How often to evaluate your financials
  • Setting expectations with clients at the beginning of the project
  • Focusing your production team on their goals
  • Why a cloud-based project management system saves time in invoicing
  • And more …

Aaron also talks about how he found and used a powerful tool on LinkedIn to identify and recruit the company’s new production manager — from The Bahamas.

Click the link for the downloadable copy of Aaron’s Excel file.

Ep.68: Teaming Up with Manufacturers with Aaron Wingert

While you’re trying to please your clients, hit your schedules and margins, and juggle everything else, you can use all the help you can get. One way to bring in some assistance is by reaching out to your product manufacturers.

In this episode, Aaron Wingert discusses the benefits of having a relationship with your manufacturers with Tim and Steve. He gives us a view from the manufacturer’s perspective and insight into how a manufacturer’s representative can improve a remodeler’s business.

Aaron has been a market development manager for Louisiana Pacific for two and a half years, and his territory includes parts of Kansas and Missouri. LP is the largest engineered wood building products manufacturer in the world. Prior to working for LP, he spent nearly 16 years as a building codes inspector in the Kansas City area. 

Builders and remodelers are his main responsibility, and Aaron finds himself on job sites almost every day. Some of his visits are more like sales calls, but often it’s to troubleshoot an installation or answer a question about the materials. The biggest benefit to a remodeler to establishing a relationship with a manufacturer is understanding the products you’re selling as part of the entire project, as well as:

  • The questions to ask your reps
  • How plant visits can help your company’s sales
  • Taking advantage of rebate programs
  • Getting leads from your manufacturing partners
  • Training and education opportunities  for your team
  • Cutting down on errors in building
  • Using co-op dollars in your marketing
  • Getting SEO and social media help
  • Tapping into a manufacturer’s data
  • Best practices in handling product issues
  • And more …

Set yourself up for success by creating relationships with your manufacturer’s reps, take advantage of what they offer, and put yourself ahead of your competition.

Meet These Manufacturers at The Annual Remodelers Summit

Speaking of Manufacturers… Come meet these amazing companies at the Remodelers Summit in Orlando, FL on September 24-25!

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