Editor's Notebook -- Who's Your Real Competitor?

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Editor's column advising remodelers to look at other industries that are 'stealing' away laborers as competition.

July 01, 1999

Summer is in full swing, but many hammers aren’t. That’s not because there aren’t enough nails to pound, either. No, the nails are waiting; there just aren’t enough arms to swing the hammers.

Labor shortages that have hampered remodelers for months have become critical this summer. Remodelers who have their own staffs readied are delayed by trade contractors who aren’t available. Combine that with the materials shortages, and some remodelers are having to deal with skyrocketing costs. One remodeling firm tells us it's paying $48 to have an 8212 sheet of drywall hung, taped and plastered.

Consumers are feeling the pinch, too. Those who are fortunate enough to know a professional, who have been able to sign a contract with a reputable remodeler, won’t see work start until well into 2000.

Remodelers who want to grow their company can’t because they can’t find quality lead carpenters. Remodelers who are profitable at their current size struggle to keep the quality workers they have. A remodeling firm in the Rocky Mountain states recently lost its project manager, who started his own company. A typical story in an economy such as this, but it worsens. This project manager took all the employees with him, including their tools. The business owner is left wondering if the business will survive the hit.

But the labor shortage isn’t just a construction issue. This is a national problem. You’ve seen the help-wanted signs throughout your communities. The most visible shortages are in fast food and retail, but other shortages are not so visible. The armed forces, for example, are reportedly severely depleted for lack of recruits.

You’re competing with these employers for workers. You’re competing against comparable hourly wages, you’re competing against benefit packages, you’re competing against vacation time and sick days.

Dennis Gehman, president of Gehman Custom Builder in Harleysville, Pa., spends on benefits to compete with meat packers and pharmaceutical companies for workers. Adding or increasing benefits is one solution. Other solutions include hiring more immigrant labor, educating and training existing employees in order to grow quality from within, and becoming involved with local educational initiatives to refuel the pipeline.

Labor remains the No. 1 issue for the remodeling industry.

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