|Judges screened NRQ applicants at NAHB Research Center offices. From left: Ed Caldeira, director of quality services, Research Center; Adam Helfman, CR, Fairway Construction; Walt Stoeppelwerth, HomeTech Inc.; Mike Cordonnier, CR, Remodeling Designs Inc.; Professional Remodeler editor in chief Rod Sutton; and Kermit Baker, director of the Remodeling Futures Program at Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.
Remodelers who understand remodeling quality know it’s much more than excellence in construction. It’s more than a high referral rate or a low warranty service rate. Quality-minded remodelers know it’s a march of continuous improvement toward customer satisfaction, measured and assessed over time. It’s about the development of processes and the implementation of systems that enable the remodeler to move successfully and smoothly from lead to punch list.
The Fifth Annual National Remodeling Quality Awards, presented this month at the Remodelers’ Show in Detroit, honors those remodeling companies that have begun their quality marches. The National Remodeling Quality Award, based on the Malcolm Baldrige Award, recognizes a remodeling company’s ability to identify quality standards, put in place systems to benchmark and then measure those standards, and finally to build a company culture that supports and moves toward the improvement of those standards over time.
Assessing these abilities falls upon the judging panel assembled by Ed Caldeira, director of quality services for the NAHB Research Center, which sponsors the National Remodeling Quality Award along with the Remodelors Council and Professional Remodeler magazine. In addition to Caldeira, this year’s judges were National Remodeling Quality Award winners Mike Cordonnier, CR, Remodeling Designs Inc., and Adam Helfman, CR, Fairway Construction; and industry representatives Kermit Baker, director of the Remodeling Futures Program at Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, Walt Stoeppelwerth, HomeTech Inc., and Professional Remodeler editor in chief Rod Sutton.
The panel first screened entries, identifying finalists whose applications indicated an understanding of quality standards and processes. With this list, judges moved into the field to visit each finalist. Teams traveled to the companies’ headquarters for intensive meetings with company management and office staff, job-site tours and conversations with field staff. Site visits afforded finalists the opportunity to show how the company executes the quality processes it described in the application. In addition, the Research Center surveyed the client list of each finalist to measure, as a third party, that company’s customer satisfaction.
|"[Winning] allowed me to benchmark myself against quality standards and helped me set goals."
Each NRQ entrant, finalist or not, received a feedback report from the panel. This report identifies specific strengths and weaknesses in the application and guides the remodeling company in how to improve those areas. Company practices identified by the judges as industry benchmarks are also highlighted. Caldeira says the key ingredient for a successful National Remodeling Quality Award candidate is a commitment to quality excellence. This commitment goes beyond excellence in customer satisfaction, however, to include excellence in the management of the business.
"Sooner or later, remodelers with this commitment can develop the level of performance worthy of an NRQ Award," Caldeira says. "For these companies, the NRQ is more of a process toward a goal than an award. They use it as a performance benchmark to gauge where they are and what they need to do to get to the highest level."
Indeed, this is where award winners separate themselves. Cordonnier, whose company won a Gold Award, says the drive to improve sets an NRQ candidate apart. "They have to know that they’re on the right track when it comes to running a quality-focused company," he says. "[They] realize that they will better themselves by going through the process."
|"We have established areas that need improving and developed a plan to improve on those."
Cordonnier says the process doesn’t stop with winning the award. Since winning in 1998, Remodeling Designs has continued to re-evaluate itself. "We have established areas that need improving and developed a plan to improve on those," Cordonnier says. The application, he says, was the real start of the process because it helped Remodeling Designs fine-tune its quality standards. "We read through the application, and that uncovered some glaring deficiencies," he says. "When I looked at the judging criteria, I knew we needed to do something. When they ask about results, I realized that they were asking for some tracking. We didn’t have a lot of that in place, and it was very informal. We worked on those deficiencies for a year, then we submitted our application.
"Most people who enter, especially the smaller companies, I don’t think have been exposed to the structured criteria [of NRQ]," Cordonnier says. "I don’t know if they’ve thought about what indicators are used to assess how they’re doing."
Helfman says reading the application had a similar effect on Fairway. He was motivated to enter after attending the awards ceremony in 1996. "When I grabbed the application [at the ceremony], it struck me that it wasn’t about a good picture of a job, it was about business practices. This is the kind of business I run. We invested a lot of time and effort and achieved the Silver Award."
|"[Quality-minded remodelers] use [NRQ] as a performance benchmark to gauge where they are and what they need to do to get to the highest level."
That was the start of the process for Fairway, as well. "[Winning the Silver] allowed me to benchmark myself against quality standards and helped me set goals. Being competitive in nature, it was an incentive [to apply again to attain Gold]." Helfman cites the Research Center’s customer survey as the main benefit of the application process. "Being able to have an external report on your company allows you to see quality issues you don’t even recognize. The feedback reports from customers revealed a common thread: Workmanship was fabulous, but it took too long." Fairway tackled that problem and won the Gold Award the next year, in 1998.
The first step on the quality march, according to Caldeira, is for a remodeling company to create a long-range view, looking five or more years out. "Use the NRQ criteria as a model for high-performance remodeling that you can adapt to your company," he says. "NRQ criteria is an excellent model. Past NRQ winners are among the most successful remodeling companies in the country."
Next, he says, the company should set a goal of winning the NRQ Award. The motive should not be to put another trophy on the wall; the motive should be to make the company a quality company. "Plan what needs to be done and how long it will take to get to the highest levels," he says. "Depending on the company’s level of development, this may be several years in the future."
Regardless of the time line, though, Caldeira recommends preparing an application every year. "The process of answering the NRQ questions challenges you to think about how you manage the company in ways that you may not have thought about before," he says. "Feedback from the judging panel provides additional insight into useful improvement strategies."