Trade Secrets

Team-building activities from Blue Canyon Construction in Washington state; Sage Homebuilders in St. Louis explains co-opetition and Feldco wins the Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics.

June 30, 2008

If you have a Trade Secret you would like to share, e-mail Senior Editor Jonathan Sweet at jonathan.sweet@reedbusiness.com.

Having fun with open book

A lot of companies share financials with their employees, but Blue Canyon Construction decided a few years ago to have some fun with the concept.

The Seattle-based design/build firm hosts an annual retreat for its employees to review the past year, look toward the future and reward them for their work. The retreat is held at a remote resort location on a Friday and a Saturday.

"The idea is to get the employees feeling involved in the company," says the company's business consultant, Mary Kay Beeby. "We look at where all the money goes and how we can improve from the previous year."

Blue Canyon uses "The Great Game of Business" concept (www.greatgame.com), created by former business executive Jack Stack, which focuses on making open-book management more appealing to employees by engaging them in entertaining activities.

"It's a great team-building activity, and it's increased the loyalty of the employees," Beeby says. "We get really good ideas and action items out of the retreat every year."

One unique aspect of Blue Canyon's retreat is that spouses are invited along and encouraged to participate in many of the meetings.

"So much of our employees' time is spent at work, we just figured their spouses would be interested," Beeby says. "The feedback we've gotten is that they really appreciate being involved."

Beyond keeping the employees and spouses happy, it's also paid other dividends. With many of the spouses having backgrounds in fields such as banking, technology and government, they've been able to contribute to the discussions.

"They give us a different perspective," Beeby says. "One of the things we do is give them a problem to solve — a real problem we have — and they always come up with great ideas."


THEGREENPIECE


Can 'co-opetition' work for you?

For many remodelers, working with their competition goes against their instincts.

But Sage Homebuilders in St. Louis decided that there was so much to learn about green construction that it made more sense to work with other builders and remodelers, a practice principal Jason Stone has dubbed "co-opetition."

Stone says he gets frequent questions about green practices because of his efforts to promote them through his Web site, blog and a monthly green newsletter. Sage, which builds custom homes as well as remodels, uses green practices in every project.

Stone says he'd rather be competing with other educated remodelers than those who might just try to do green without enough knowledge.

"Why not share the information if they ask?" he says. "The last thing we want in this industry is a bunch of people out there selling green and doing a lousy job."

There's plenty of business to go around in the green arena, and more companies promoting it can only help, Stone says.

"If it's really going to take off, we feel like we need to have a lot of builders doing it," he says. "If enough people build green, then the public will recognize it."

The practice has not only helped the Sage team learn more about green practices, it's also helped business by generating referrals from the companies they've shared information with. Despite the downturn in the market, Sage Homebuilders has doubled its sales in the last year.


A focus on ethics

For years, Feldco has put an emphasis on delighting its customers through employee training, quality-control metrics and a focus on ethics.

That approach has paid off for the Chicago exterior contractor, which has received the Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics from its local Better Business Bureau.

"We've always taken pride in our customer delight," says Director of Communications Patti Freko. "This is very important for us because it makes us even more credible to customers."

The award has been a big part of the company's ability to keep business strong in a down market, Freko says.

"People are very receptive to it," she says. "It's been the clincher for some sales, and we've made it an important part of our presentation."

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