Office Upgrade

David Foster takes a business solution a step further, creating a remodeler-specific software package.

September 30, 2000

Foster Home Improvement Inc.

Location: Lorton, Va.

Type of company: Design/build

Staff model: 7 office, 11 field

Annual jobs: 45

Workweek: 40 hours (was 55-60 pre-Client Manager)

Software suite: QuickBooks Pro; Chief Architect; 20/20; Microsoft Office; HomeTech

Bio: Two years of vocational training in high school prompted Foster to study construction management at a community college. He started Foster Home Improvement Inc. at the age of 18, in 1983, and gradually moved from the field into full-time management.

Key to success: "One of my strengths is that I am always trying to find a better way to do things. I search out the problems and make them go away, continually making improvements."

Contact: 703/550-1371,

It would be tough being a client manager at Foster Home Improvement. Responsibilities would include keeping track of prospective clients, organizing all of the Lorton, Va.-based officeÆs finances, tracking jobs in progress, and coordinating with suppliers and subcontractors. Fortunately, president David Foster has developed Client Manager software, which performs all these functions. The software can be used by several employees at the same time and helps streamline the officeÆs systems.

Creating the software wasnÆt FosterÆs original goal; the development grew naturally from FosterÆs desire to strengthen and streamline his office processes with technology. The process began when Foster moved more accounting tools off of paper and onto the computer. "I wanted to integrate some of the processes that are needed in remodeling," he says. "There are so many tasks to be done before a job can start. I disliked the routine paperwork, and I wanted a way to make it as simple as possible, so I needed a system to take care of the routine for me."

As Foster worked more with the office computers, it became clear he would need to hire professionals to create a custom product that would meet his needs. After tapping into FosterÆs remodeling expertise, software development company ReliaBuild created a software package that would not only help integrate and combine FosterÆs business process, but other remodelersÆ offices as well.

All office employees at FosterÆs can use the software at various stages to access the same current and accurate information. "The program is networkable," says Foster. "If you have a network, as many as 10 users can access it at once. The way the program is set up, itÆs useful in an environment where it can be used by different people."

Walking through the various components of the program is much like following a path through a remodeling office, tracking each job from start to finish. As a prospective client calls the office, a receptionist takes the call and creates a new file for the job. All pertinent client information is logged, including names, phone numbers and addresses. Statistics can be generated based on job type, job location, demographic data and several other variables, allowing Foster to develop marketing strategies based on real business analysis.

After prospects are entered, a salesperson is assigned to the job. The salesperson accesses the file to note project details, including budget and estimated time frame. The software makes sure that no steps are missed, even prompting the salesperson to send confirmation letters, which are included in Client Manager as templates. "ThereÆs a lot less paper shuffling and more gets passed on from one person to the next. It lets our sales staff focus their energy on selling ... as well as making the client happy," Foster says.

A designer takes control of the job as soon as itÆs sold. That designer works directly in Client Manager to note the finite details of the project. Estimates are created, and invoices and job reports are written, again using templates. The finances and collections of the job are recorded and updated every time money comes in and payments are processed. Being able to access the designerÆs ongoing work is a key element of this stage. While the job progresses and work is done in the clientÆs home, this section of the software also keeps track of change orders and reports from the field.

As designers contact suppliers and subcontractors for products and labor, a separate section of the Client Manager job file helps coordinate communication. The software can automatically generate faxes sent directly from the computer to different vendors for price quotes. Additional purchase orders are also created here. As work on the job site continues, Client Manager tracks the permits needed and obtained, and automatically calls the correct inspection phone numbers, logging and tracking the dates and results of each inspection.

The statistical analysis is the most important piece of Client Manager, Foster says. "The program contains our budgets and can list our actual cost versus our budget cost at any time. It eventually records the final gross product of each job, the average amount of our change orders, how long each job takes and more. It keeps a record of our average profitability, and we can look at the sales statistics of our staff at any time."

The software improves profits as it improves the companyÆs productivity. Since the remodeling company began using Client Manager, gross profit per project has gone up 3.4%. As job payments are collected, salespeople can track their separate commissions. Security measures such as passwords keep this information private from the other users. After jobs are completed, Client Manager continues to track warranty work done and the profits made. Reports can be generated to track profits, time span, recurring problems and other statistics to give an overall view of the remodelerÆs business.

"We can manage or track where any one job is at any time," says Foster. "It allows our production managers to take over where the salespeople had left off and move forward right away. ItÆs helped on our efficiency -- the handoff is quicker and cleaner. Our whole routine has been fine-tuned a lot due to the program. ItÆs more than software, itÆs a business system for remodeling."

Also See

The Nine-Step Process

Design and Build

Growth of a Saleswoman

About the Author

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