Trade Secrets

Trade secrets from the remodeling industry

March 31, 2008

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Owners as employees

When Cobb Hill Construction's owners hire a new project manager or supervisor, one of the first things that catches their attention is if the applicant has owned his or her own company.

"That's one of the important criteria we look for because we need them to be able to make those important decisions on their own," says Jerry Kingwill, vice president of operations.

Three of the company's four project managers are former owners, as are a majority of the job site supervisors. Cobb Hill uses a project manager model that puts major decisions into the hands of the on-site management. With the office handling sales, billing and hiring decisions, the supervisors only have to focus on getting the job done well, on time and on budget. The Concord, N.H., company does a mix of commercial and residential work, both new construction and remodeling.

"It's almost as if they are running their own independent company," Kingwill says. "It's their project. They have responsibility and ownership for it."

Having run a business in the past, former owners have a better understanding of the financial side of construction and the impact of every decision on the bottom line, Kingwill says.

"They know what it means and what it takes to make a dollar."

Many have become long-term employees because they know what the alternative is.

"They don't like chasing the money; they don't like the pressure of not going home at night," Kingwill says. "We give them a lot of freedom, so they are acting in the capacity where they still get to do what they want to do, without the headaches."

TheGreenPiece: Walking the (green) walk

Being green isn't just about using the right products when you're remodeling. But it's also about the way you approach your entire business.

That's the attitude Michael McCutcheon has tried to instill at McCutcheon Construction, his award-winning design/build firm in Berkeley, Calif., where he's made a concerted effort to green his offices.

To improve indoor air quality, McCutcheon removed the carpet in the office and replaced it with polished concrete. For better energy efficiency, the company has changed its light bulbs to fluorescent. Throughout the building, McCutcheon setup recycling stations and the company uses 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper for its copiers and printers. The company is also shifting to smaller, more fuel-efficient company trucks and encouraging trade contractors to do the same.

"It's important to be consistent," McCutcheon says. "We want people to know we're doing it and not just talking about it."

To that end, McCutcheon has a recycling symbol on all of its recent marketing materials to let potential clients know that the flyer or brochure is printed on recycled paper.

"It touts what we're doing and brings it to everyone's attention."

McCutcheon wants that commitment to be shared by his employees and has even started using applicants' interest in green construction as a litmus test during interviews.

"Some people get really excited, but others, their eyes just kind of glaze over," he says. "... It tells me they aren't good at thinking about others and aren't going to get excited about new challenges."

Eye catchers

When somebody is behind a truck from Ocean Breeze Awnings & More, they'll know exactly what the company does.

That's because all four of the Surfside Beach, S.C., company's trucks have personalized license plates for the company's outdoor living services: SCRN RM, SUNROOM, PATIORM and DECKMAN.

"It seems to have worked out pretty good for us," says COO David Powers. "A lot of people see us from behind when they're waiting in traffic, and it's gotten us a lot of attention."

Powers came up with the idea about 1½ years ago. He has always had personalized plates on his own vehicle and thought it would be a good way to grab people's attention.

"When people see personalized tags, they're always trying to figure out what they stand for, so I figured it was something people would notice," he says.

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