Pat Franz, president of Chicago-based Clairmont Ltd., considers his laptop computer to be a "must-have" tool. He takes it wherever he goes, whether to the office, a sales meeting or a jobsite. When used in combination with his Palm Pilot and his portable printer, the laptop allows him to accomplish any task no matter where he is. A profile of Franz’s computer illustrates the key elements for this remodeler’s virtual reality.
Digital dictaphone ledger (PunchList): Franz’s lead carpenters keep notes over a digital dictaphone every day. Three to four times a week, this ledger is downloaded into a database by the office secretary for all members of the management team to access. Franz has found that the digital dictaphone prevents carpenters from balking at the keyboard, and saves time for everyone. The database is organized by client, and project-by-project "to-do" lists allow jobs to run smoothly.
E-mail (Ameritech.net): E-mail communication between the main office and lead carpenters streamlines each day’s tasks. Instead of reporting in to the office, each carpenter receives a morning e-mail memo with the day’s punch list and tasks outlined. E-mail is also used for communication with clients.
Peachtree Accounting: Invoices are created, updated and organized with this software. The lead carpenter taking the order or change order at the jobsite can maintain the document easily, cutting down on mistakes as well as time. Used in combination with custom software from Chicago Title and Trust, these invoices and changes can be added to contracts as they’re entered, further streamlining the process.
Contract template (Microsoft Word): By keeping a contract at the ready, Franz can not only close on a possible project immediately, but he can also have a document with all the job specifications ready for the client before the meeting is through. According to Franz, the document helps close deals faster, but also gives the homeowner a useful tool. The customers have a clear-cut list of every product they chose for the project, which gets passed on to the lead carpenter. "It keeps me from getting paged during a meeting to answer technical questions," Franz says.
Sales call checklists (Microsoft Word): These checklists include every possible question Franz might need to ask a potential client during a sales call, ensuring that no question goes unanswered. Even when an architect designs a project, there are still many specifications that homeowners must make, and this document prevents them from answering those questions more than once. Plus, it keeps Franz on-track during meetings and helps present the image of organization and technical savvy.
Web browser (Ameritech.net): By accessing manufacturers’ Web sites during sales calls, Franz can easily show clients what products are available, complete with pictures and options. Franz can often answer detailed product-related questions without having to interrupt the flow of the meeting or making a phone call.
Palm Pilot: Franz’s handheld computer holds a database including all clients’ names, phone numbers, addresses and other contact information. Additionally, Palm Pilots take handwritten notes that can be added to the central punchlist. The Palm Pilot can also access the Internet when necessary, for Web browsing and e-mail.
Digital Camera: Before, during and upon completion of a project, the camera is used to keep a photographic record of all work done. Photos are loaded directly into a record on the laptop, and they can be compared to work in progress or shown to the homeowner on-screen. The photos offer a form of insurance against damages, but they also help the remodeler answer any questions as progress proceeds.