High-Tech Attitude

During an initial meeting with a potential client, a remodeler notices that the homeowners are having difficulty visualizing the project from his sketches.

May 31, 2000

During an initial meeting with a potential client, a remodeler notices that the homeowners are having difficulty visualizing the project from his sketches. So, he excuses himself for a moment and walks outside to take a quick picture of the house. After taking another minute to download the digital camera's photo into his computer, it's easy for the remodeler to make a few adjustments with a graphics program and show the homeowners just what their new roofline will look like when it's finished. With the help of this high-tech visual aid, the potential clients become actual clients, and the remodeler begins work on his newest project.

Lynn Motheral's use of the latest technology in his business isn't science fiction, it's science fact. Computers, electronics and cellular devices are used routinely as a part of Stonegate Construction's business process, and Motheral, as owner of the Fort Worth, Texas-based company, keeps looking for newer gadgetry to add to his business.

 

Stonegate Construction
Stonegate Construction
Stonegate Construction
Stonegate Construction
Stonegate Construction
Stonegate Construction
Stonegate Construction
Stonegate Construction
Stonegate Construction
Stonegate Construction
Stonegate Construction

'One of the problems I've found in our industry, as a remodeler, is when I scratch something onto a napkin and say `This is what I'm going to do,' I understand what it is and how it will look," Motheral says. "But the customer just sees a napkin with lines on it. I have to get what's in my mind into their mind, and get a project that will work for both of us. I use the technology to bridge the gap."

Electronic systems do far more for Stonegate than provide visual aid, however. Motheral's offices include a network of three computers, plus two offsite computers that use the Internet to connect to the others. Two laptops, one Palm Pilot and two digital cameras augment the office setup, as do a system of cellular phones, pagers and electronic measuring devices. All these devices work together to help streamline Stonegate's business practices, manage data, and make project management more accurate, faster and easier.

In the office, the technology is used to create designs, manage projects, and track financial data. Because all the financial records are stored and managed electronically, it's easy for Motheral to create reports and financial projections. "I have our manager plot our revenues monthly on a graph. We compare them to the years before, and we keep a four-year running tally," he says. "It helps me understand what's coming down the pike." Motheral has already used financial tracking to help him prepare for annual business drops each May, and it helps him determine when he needs to start hiring extra labor for his busy summer season.

Field operations are also made more accurate and efficient through electronics. Instead of scratching notes on 224s, Motheral keeps track of changes on hand-held Palm Pilots, or small laptop computers. Accurate measurements are input directly from electronic laser devices, and information can be e-mailed back to the office from the jobsite. Motheral has even created voice-recognition software, so contractors can simply speak into laptops, for further enhanced speed and ease.

Digital cameras, which take electronic photos in computer-ready format, are also used to increase accuracy on the job, as well as for sales presentations. Pictures can be taken of work in progress and sent back to the office via e-mail to illustrate any problems or changes. The pictures also prevent subcontractors and designers from making multiple trips to a client's home before work begins.

"Our digital camera will also do five seconds of video," says Motheral. "I'll just stand in one corner and swing the camera around to pan a room. Now I can bring the subs and suppliers to see the house and look at a structure, without having to keep going out to the site and meeting with the homeowners. I bring the pictures to my office. I can also e-mail our designer pictures of the property to get him oriented before he goes out. It's the only way to operate."

 

Paying for the Power Supply

Motheral's technological set-up has been purchased piecemeal over the past five years. Estimating current prices, Motheral says a comparable setup today would cost $15,101, broken down as follows:

 

Paying for the Power Supply

Motheral's technological set-up has been purchased piecemeal over the past five years. Estimating current prices, Motheral says a comparable setup today would cost $15,101, broken down as follows:

 

Paying for the Power Supply

Motheral's technological set-up has been purchased piecemeal over the past five years. Estimating current prices, Motheral says a comparable setup today would cost $15,101, broken down as follows:

 

Paying for the Power Supply

Motheral's technological set-up has been purchased piecemeal over the past five years. Estimating current prices, Motheral says a comparable setup today would cost $15,101, broken down as follows:

 

Paying for the Power Supply

Motheral's technological set-up has been purchased piecemeal over the past five years. Estimating current prices, Motheral says a comparable setup today would cost $15,101, broken down as follows:

 

Paying for the Power Supply

Motheral's technological set-up has been purchased piecemeal over the past five years. Estimating current prices, Motheral says a comparable setup today would cost $15,101, broken down as follows:

 

Paying for the Power Supply

Motheral's technological set-up has been purchased piecemeal over the past five years. Estimating current prices, Motheral says a comparable setup today would cost $15,101, broken down as follows:

 

Paying for the Power Supply

Motheral's technological set-up has been purchased piecemeal over the past five years. Estimating current prices, Motheral says a comparable setup today would cost $15,101, broken down as follows:

 

Paying for the Power Supply

Motheral's technological set-up has been purchased piecemeal over the past five years. Estimating current prices, Motheral says a comparable setup today would cost $15,101, broken down as follows:

 

Paying for the Power Supply

Motheral's technological set-up has been purchased piecemeal over the past five years. Estimating current prices, Motheral says a comparable setup today would cost $15,101, broken down as follows:

 

Paying for the Power Supply

Motheral's technological set-up has been purchased piecemeal over the past five years. Estimating current prices, Motheral says a comparable setup today would cost $15,101, broken down as follows:

 

Paying for the Power Supply

Motheral's technological set-up has been purchased piecemeal over the past five years. Estimating current prices, Motheral says a comparable setup today would cost $15,101, broken down as follows:

 

Paying for the Power Supply

Motheral's technological set-up has been purchased piecemeal over the past five years. Estimating current prices, Motheral says a comparable setup today would cost $15,101, broken down as follows:

 

Motheral's employees have grown to embrace the office's technology. According to Motheral, the employees seemed overwhelmed when he first began integrating computers into his company, more than 10 years ago. But introducing technology in bits and pieces over the past few years has acclimated the staff to electronics.

"What I do is play around with the stuff. I pull a Tom Sawyer," says Motheral. "I show my employees that [using the electronics] is fun, and I get them curious. I lead by example. My office manager enjoys the technology, and my salesman really bought into the programs - he's wanting to take classes and wanting to learn more. The fact is, we don't want to work all of our lives, and if we can work smarter and not harder, then that's what we do. Technology gives us back our lives in the evening."

Stonegate Construction's network of technology was built slowly, over several years. According to Motheral, the past five years have been a building process for the company. Each device was added as needed, and each component was researched before purchase. Motheral reads computer magazines and takes occasional classes at local computer retailers in addition to doing shopping and research over the Internet. Not only does each new piece of equipment have to fill a business need, but it also must be compatible with the rest of the system. Using the technical support resources available from different companies is also critical.

 

Sans Keyboard

When Motheral had difficulty finding adequate voice-recognition software for his employees to use in the field, he refused to settle for a substandard product - instead he created his own. Motheral has worked with other contractors to develop construction-specific software that allows subs to create punch lists and take notes without a keyboard or even a pencil.

The computer program runs on a standard laptop, recognizes a spoken voice, and will automatically "type" text, allowing for fast, hands-free electronic document creation. The software includes construction-specific terms, and filters out the noises surrounding a typical job site.

Called the Walk N Talk Inspector, the program includes a training function that allows the computer to "get used to" a specific person's voice while simultaneously allowing users to build a library of desired words. Having already used Walk N Talk successfully in his own business, Motheral hopes to market the software to other remodelers and construction professionals.

Examining other local remodelers' systems is another way Motheral gauged what the next technological step might be. "That's what Remodelors Councils and business associations are for," says Motheral. "It's where you learn. Ask them what tech they're using, and what is working for them and what isn't. When you're on a budget, you can't buy everything, and you can learn with their expertise." The technology improves more than Stonegate's business - it improves image as well. Motheral's computer savvy helps his customers see Stonegate as a cutting-edge remodeling company. "Because our customers are getting more sophisticated, our industry has suffered a perception that we're not technically oriented," he says. "This is a way of establishing a perception. The services I offer put me ahead of the other person, and hopefully other companies as well."

About the Author


Overlay Init