Trade secrets

Information about adding good employees; building customer loyalty; and keeping the lines of communication open.

May 31, 2007


Beyond the usual suspects

Sometimes the best employees may not come from where you expect.

Philip Anderson, president of HDR Remodeling in Berkeley, Calif., has had great success adding employees who didn't follow the traditional path into the industry to his 14-person firm.

His production manager has an electrical engineering degree and worked as a computer consultant in Japan before coming on board four years ago. One of his project managers was trained as an engineer and spent the last few years flipping houses before joining HDR. And he just hired an MBA graduate to run the company's handyman division. Their experience in the corporate world has made the three very skilled compromising with and managing customers in a way that many traditional employees are not, Anderson says.

"Instead of just getting a technician, we've gotten someone who was very well-rounded in their experience," Anderson says.

Anderson says he's probably drawn to nontraditional employees because of his own experience. He spent most of his life working in the corporate world, but when an employer wanted him to move, he quit instead. While looking for another job, he started doing small handyman projects. He found he liked it and started Honey Do Repair 19 years ago, which grew into his current design/build firm.

Building customer loyalty


When Case Design/Remodeling in Bethesda, Md., was looking for a way to increase repeat business, it looked outside the industry for inspiration and created a customer loyalty program.

"Case Dollars," launched in December, rewards clients by giving them 5 percent of their project price as a reward that can be credited to another project within one year. So, if a customer has a $100,000 remodel, they would receive $5,000. They can use the Case Dollars to pay for up to 10 percent of a future project. The Case Dollars can also be transferred to another person.

The program has already resulted in at least $700,000 in work that can be directly attributed to the promotion, says Joaquin Erazo, Case's vice president of marketing.

Everyone on the same page

As companies grow, one of the biggest challenges becomes keeping the lines of communication open. It can be tough to make sure sales is keeping up with what production is doing and that management is on top of everything.

Blackdog Builders in Salem, N.H., has tried to solve that problem with its "Weekly Job Jamboree Meeting," where the management, sales staff and project managers discuss the status of each project.

"It's a really powerful meeting for us as far as keeping everybody on the same page," says President David Bryan.

In the past, sales and production had their own weekly meetings and then would get together for a joint meeting once a month, but Bryan found that wasn't frequent enough for the teams to effectively communicate. Now people are aware of potential problems in time to do something about them, Bryan says.

During the meeting, participants go through each project that is in the design stage, has a contract signed, is under construction or is completed but still has payments pending. Sometimes the update is as brief as "nothing new" or it can be more detailed if needed. When the meetings started two years ago, they took about three hours but are now down to about an hour as everyone has grown used to the format, Bryan says.

>> If you have a Trade Secret you would like to share, e-mail Senior Editor Jonathan Sweet at

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