Clothes Encounters

The owners of a remodeling firm have to know they’re doing something right when employees report conversations with former clients triggered simply by a company shirt or jacket.

May 31, 2002


Ed Warren, Kaz Brothers Construction. Photo: Phil Matt

The owners of a remodeling firm have to know they’re doing something right when employees report conversations with former clients triggered simply by a company shirt or jacket. Ed Warren, roofing production manager for Kaz Brothers Construction in West Seneca, N.Y., says these chats have become so common that it’s hard to recall any particular one.

“When any of us wear our Kaz Brothers shirts or jackets,” he reports, “we get stopped in stores, restaurants, at sporting events by former customers who tell us stories of how satisfied they are. It’s very gratifying.”

Such obvious public recognition is quite an ego trip, of course, but the day-to-day satisfaction of a job well done is more meaningful to survey respondents. Just about every company on the 101 list had the word quality pop up on its completed survey forms. Most of the remodelers on the list had at least one employee boast about the high percentage of work for returning customers or direct referrals from former clients.

Randy Ricciotti, production manager for Los Angeles remodeler Custom Design & Construction, says “only superior work” meets the company’s standards, and that each of the five employees feels pressure to keep improving his or her skills and, by extension, service to clients.

“We’re all on the same page,” he says. “We all truly care about our homeowners and about Custom Design & Construction and its ability to give clients a quality project. We keep clients informed at all times. Positive feedback from them is part of what makes your job worthwhile.”

Custom Design owner Bill Si-mone feels so strongly about the company’s outstanding customer service that he uses it as part of his hiring process. He gives potential em-ployees a copy of the mission statement, vision and what he calls “the codes to live by,” and he discusses them at length to make sure the candidates understand and agree with every aspect. “If they don’t buy into it, maybe this isn’t the best place for them to work,” Simone says.

Cliff Peterson, an installer for All American Window and Door Co. (Germantown, Wis.), quotes an old saying to sum up his employer’s attitude: “It is never ‘good enough.’ Either it is excellent or it is wrong.”

President Terri Lodwick admits she’s a perfectionist and acknowledges that she’s not bashful about letting employees know it. But, she says, her high standards have rubbed off on them. “I’ve overheard them say, ‘Is Terri going to like this?’ Excellence is a very important word throughout the company. If our employees didn’t agree, they wouldn’t be here. Even if we fall short of our high standards, the customer is usually still pleased.”

Another Wisconsin company, Loren Imhoff Homebuilder Inc. (Middleton), also refuses to accept “good enough,” says office manager Linda Olson. She attributes this companywide attitude to the accountability of each of its dozen employees.

“We’re responsible for our good work and our goof-ups,” she says. “Our subs have the same attitude, too, or they aren’t our subs for very long.”

The firm often is called to fix problems in new homes built by other builders. (Most of Imhoff’s business is home building, but about one-third is remodeling.) Olson says the company often gets pleas for help from homeowners when their builder or remodeler has given up on a tough problem. “We’ll take on the work no one else will, such as repairing extensive damage in a house that was invaded by squirrels while the owners were in Florida for the winter,” Olson says. “We did the work, and the owners were very pleased with it.”

Remodeling companies take reputation and customer satisfaction seriously. After all, many rely on repeat business and referrals. But how likely are remodeling company employees to consider customer satisfaction the most important benefit they receive? That’s exactly how the staff at Mark IV Builders Inc. feels, according to an in-house employee survey done last winter.

“What was most surprising was that ‘The company has a reputation for quality work’ was ranked as the most important benefit,” reports Jeanne Casamento, office manager of the Cabin John, Md., firm. “Not wages, vacation, health insurance, bonus or training even came close!”

Mark IV estimator Kirk Van Camp says the gratification he feels when a job is completed arises largely from the fact that owner Mark Scott, CR, knows what he wants. Scott has it on the home page of the firm’s Web site just in case anyone has doubts: “Dedicated to the highest level of customer service by exceeding expectations of personal trust, professional management and quality workmanship in a timely fashion.”

“We work on a lot of houses put up by tract builders who don’t know their customers,” Van Camp explains, “but we get to learn our clients’ wants and needs. Mark doesn’t cut corners, and he flat-out tells them that. I’ve been in the industry since 1978, and it’s nice to work for somebody with such high standards. Not everyone has them.”

Van Camp also credits Scott’s commitment to communication for the company’s level of customer satisfaction. “One of Mark’s favorite sayings is, ‘I want to make sure what I thought I heard is what you thought you said.’ He’s really careful that everyone understands each other about every detail.”

Ensuring that level of understanding is built into the process used for every project, beginning with the first inquiry from a prospective client and the initial interview by the salesperson, through the planning and construction phases, when weekly meetings allow all parties to discuss what has happened that week and what’s coming up next, and right through completion.

At Loren Imhoff, part of the process is two walk-throughs, one upon completion of the project, the other about a year later as the company’s written warranty expires. Project manager Debbie Gille accompanies the clients as they look for anything that needs to be repaired, adjusted or finished.

“I have been a project manager for 16 years, and I’ve been at Loren Imhoff for four,” Gille says. “And I am amazed at how little we find in these walk-throughs. There might be a crack in the drywall or a doorknob that needs adjusting, but that’s about it. I’m not sure the homeowners realize how exceptional that is, so I tell them about my previous experience. They are extremely pleased with our performance, though.”

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