Remodeler to Remodeler: Field or Office?

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Remodelers present the pros and cons of continuing to work in the field.

May 01, 2001

FIELD

As president of House of Hanbury in Newington, Conn., Bob Hanbury, CGR, long has spent about one-third of his week, approximately 15 hours in the field, helping overcome obstacles and even doing some of the labor. The 25-year-old company does about $1.4 million in volume, a level Hanbury wants to maintain.

PR: How do you spend your time when in the field?

HANBURY: I do whatever is needed to keep the project moving and being efficient. That can be trouble-shooting or picking up the slack in getting some work done. Usually it means consulting when a challenge comes up or when an unknown situation develops. I try to be on hand, for instance, when rerouting is needed or hidden conditions will occur. I’ve found the one-third/two-thirds split works well in splitting my time.

PR: What advantages do you receive from remaining in the field?

HANBURY: It helps me ensure I have my estimating accurate and that the jobs are efficient. If I find we used to finish bathrooms in 60 hours and now they take us 70 hours, I want to find out why that’s happening and ensure I’m not using outdated estimating methods. It also keeps me up to date on new tools and techniques, and it gives me a chance to provide hands-on training to employees to show them ways to be more efficient.

In addition, it basically means I can do more work with fewer employees. The time I spend in the field is billable hours, adding considerable marginal dollars by reducing my cost against overhead. So the company grows, and I can help keep projects on schedule.

I also enjoy seeing the customers. Part of the reason most remodelers get into the business is because they enjoy the people contact. Being out there gives me more empathy for the process and the customers’ concerns and what needs to be done. It puts me back on the firing line. Once you move to the office, the only satisfaction you get is in seeing the check.

PR: How do you keep the company growing if you’re in the field?

HANBURY: You have to know your company’s goals and position. If you’re in a growth mode and need more sales, the time would be better spent marketing and going on calls. My company is mature. We’re at an ideal size, and to grow more than about 10 percent larger, I’d have to invest in more overhead, which I don’t think is appropriate.

PR: How would you suggest remodelers split their time?

HANBURY: Once your organization is in equilibrium and you’re not looking for more growth, you have more time for other activities. Working in the field helps make the company more efficient and improves the profit without requiring an investment in expansion.

OFFICE

Five years ago, Ron Strauss, CGR, moved his company, Strauss & Falarski Builders, out of his home office in Rockford, Mich., to a building he purchased with his partner, Steve Falarski. In the process, Strauss shifted from spending only Tuesdays in the office to being there full time. As president, he manages all administrative functions with a five-person in-house staff while Falarski sells the projects and coordinates field staff for the $1 million company.

PR: Why did you move into the office full time?

STRAUSS: I enjoy the field, but I have always known that I’m a better businessman than a carpenter. Once we hired a project manager, I gradually stopped going to every job regularly because most didn’t need that supervision. Within six months, I was entirely in the office. If I had it to do over, I would have gotten out of the field faster.

PR: What advantages does it give you to be in the office full time?

STRAUSS: My stress level is down to zero because I don’t have as many activities to juggle. I work 8 to 5, five days a week, rather than the 80 hours a week I worked before. I spend more time now working on my business rather than simply [working] in my business, and that’s a significant distinction.

There’s also the psychological aspect of going to the office every day and being mentally prepared for that environment versus going out into the field at various times. We have a showroom where customers stop in, and it’s good for them to know I’m here. Once I started going to the office full time, our business really took off.

PR: Are there any drawbacks?

STRAUSS: It’s difficult to convey the level of quality that I want, and of course nobody does the job as well as I think I would. Communicating and training become even more vital.

PR: How do you control operations in the field without being there?

STRAUSS: The entire staff, including carpenters, meets every Friday morning to discuss all the projects. It’s a chance to discuss what’s coming up and go over any issues on any subject affecting the company or the employees personally. Steve also discusses the projects with the project manager individually and works out schedules.

PR: How would you suggest a remodeler determine whether he should quit the field?

STRAUSS: You have to create a strategic plan of where you want to be. Put down on paper every issue you can think of and create plans of action. That is a powerful document when done correctly. We do one every year, and it keeps us on track.

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