Last month in this space, I reviewed a series of market projections for 2014 from Harvard University as well as the industry’s leading associations.
PREParing for Certification
Becoming a Certified Graduate Remodelor (CGR) offers a significant marketing advantage, say those who have been certified.
Becoming a Certified Graduate Remodelor (CGR) offers a significant marketing advantage, say those who have been certified. And because of changes made to the process in the past two years, the door has opened to allow many more remodelers to obtain certification while also providing a more accurate appraisal of a remodeler’s professional strengths and weaknesses.
It’s easy to explain why the Remodelors Council has upgraded the program to ensure CGRs are well-rounded business people, says Mike Weiss, CGR, president of Weiss & Co. in Carmel, Ind. "I want good competition," he says. "It’s frustrating when I run up against competitors who don’t know what they’re doing. It’s rare that an inexperienced remodeler will price a job way too high and get it. It is altogether too common that the same inexperienced remodeler will significantly underprice a job so that a customer will take a chance on them." The result: the job goes off the market and when it isn’t completed well, the fallout hurts the image of all
The new CGR qualification system, introduced in 1998, features key changes that produced significant improvements and expansions of the program. These included opening certification to a wider group, producing a more effective testing procedure, speeding up the certification process, and reducing its
total cost. The changes resulted from feedback received from the first 200 remodelers to go through the program, says Weiss, who chaired the CGR Board of Governors during the revamp.
In the original program, he says, remodelers completed a 16-page profile that awarded points based on various expertise, memberships and business abilities. Based upon their aggregate scores, applicants took courses in business topics to add enough points to meet the CGR qualification amount. But the program allowed them to take any offered course to meet their requirement, and many tended to take courses in the areas where they were already strong rather than supplement weak areas. In addition, the profile gave too much credit for organization participation and required the CGR to be the business owner.
The revamped version redesigned the profile into a three-page report and introduced the Professional Remodelers Experience Profile (PREP). It consists of a three-hour, 120-question, multiple-choice instrument that measures the remodeler’s expertise in five distinct core areas: Business Administration, Project Management, Design/Estimating/Job Costing, Contracts/Liability/Risk Management, and Sales & Marketing. It also weighs the first three more heavily in the overall assessment. "You’re much better off on the test if you’re a remodeling entrepreneur who runs a strong business than if you’re a carpenter with good selling skills," Weiss says. "We wanted to put the emphasis on long-term business operation and accurate, efficient
The remodeler’s performance on the PREP sets the curriculum for the follow-up courses needed to qualify for certification. If the applicant does well enough in each area, no courses need be taken. At most, two courses in each core area must be completed to fulfill the educational requirement. Some 12 different courses are offered, covering all five areas.
"Focusing the PREP program on learning which specific courses the remodeler should take cuts down on the number of courses they need to be certified," Weiss says. "It also focuses on the areas they most need to address. It ensures they become more well-rounded and strengthen weaknesses without duplicating knowledge they already have."
The courses, which are sanctioned by the Home Builders Institute and the Remodelors Council, are taught by fellow remodelers. Weiss sees great value in attending the courses because of that peer interaction. That value goes beyond the basic upgrade in expertise. "The networking that develops out of these programs is exceptional," he says. The teachers not only use their own experiences and situations to provide context for the material, but they also encourage students to present their own perspectives, leading to a sharing of ideas, brainstorming sessions and applications of the lessons to real-life situations.
"Often, the students walk out of the class with a fistful of business cards from people they can call to bounce around ideas, and they know they’re all on the same page because they’ve got the same grounding from the class," Weiss says. The classes are given at a variety of times during the year, including the Remodelers’ Show and the
RemodelAmerica Show, as well as during state and local meetings.
Courses are evaluated and upgraded at least every three years, based on board reviews and comments received through feedback from class attendees. They rate the courses for material, instructor and overall benefit. "Upgrading the material is a continuing process, but we don’t lack for people to help," Weiss says. "There are a lot of remodelers around the country who love to teach and are motivated to pass on their understanding and help others."
Indeed, Weiss says the new format has enhanced the courses themselves. "The people attending are there because they have a weakness in that area, and this material is helping them become a better remodeler. That interest and need for the material keeps their attention in ways that didn’t always happen with the old approach, where remodelers might be hearing things they already knew and were strong at performing. In return, the teachers are excited because the class is engaged and interested in the
The program has been expanded in two ways: membership in NAHB or the Remodelors Council is no longer required, and the applicant need not own a business. "Our goal is to enhance the reputation of remodelers and set a standard of expertise, and we don’t want to make that exclusive by restricting it," Weiss says. Employees can be sponsored by the company owner, which has boosted applications tenfold, he says. "Many remodelers like the idea of manning their ranks with CGRs. It’s a great sales benefit and marketing tool, and it also improves their own expertise and morale by showing a commitment by the company."
The marketing benefits are substantial, he says. "I don’t send out anything without the CGR emblem on it. It enhances my credibility and provides support that we are professional. It puts more pressure on my competitors to prove their competence." He wears a CGR pin on sales calls and loves it when customers notice and ask him about it.
CGRs must recertify every three years and provide evidence of having taken at least one six-hour business-related course and attending state or local educational programs, or trade shows. The program continues to be an ongoing process of evaluation and upgrades, much like the results of the classes themselves. "It’s been a lot of work to get it to this point," Weiss says. "But it’s been well worth everything that went into updating and revamping it to better meet remodelers’ needs. The new format is more effective and is encouraging more remodelers to participate, and that helps the entire industry."
Testing the Test
Creating questions that gauge the true expertise of remodeling contractors is a difficult task. Achieving that goal with the PREP test required a long process that resulted in an efficient and remarkably accurate scale, says Mike Weiss, CGR.
A blue-ribbon panel of instructors, industry leaders and remodeling business managers (all CGRs) met in December 1997 to create a universe of 800 questions from which two 120-question versions of the PREP would be crafted covering the five core expertise areas.
The questions were developed in conjunction with consultant Wasdyke & Associates, who stressed to the panel that four key criteria for crafting a proper question were needed. These included importance to the topic, weight in determining a specific skill, validity of the specific answer as asked, and reliability of the information across the country.
Each question had to be supported by specific, documented information to ensure no misunderstandings or appeals for other possible answers. "It was a rigorous process, in which we really peeled back the brains of everyone in the room," Weiss says.
Finally, questions were grouped into varying degrees of difficulty. Each question was rated by how many current CGRs could answer it correctly in the opinion of the convened experts. Questions that could be answered by at least 55 percent of all CGRs were included; only three questions were included that the board thought 95 percent of all CGRs could answer.
The prototype was tested by three groups of 90 people: current CGRs, those in the process of being certified, and a group unaware of the certification program. "Our initial predictions on what percentage of test-takers would be able to answer questions were very accurate," Weiss says. "It made us feel confident that we were on the right track with the program."