It is a critical moment in the evolution of a remodeling company, a delicate decision, one that can help your company thrive and prosper for years to come — deciding how many jobs you can handle at a time and how to manage people waiting for your services. In other words: building and managing your backlog.
A backlog of work is an essential and necessary part of a healthy company, allowing you to plan your finances, workloads, and labor and office needs for the coming months or years. It gives the company a sense of security, a vision of stability lasting for, at the least, as long as projects are in queue.
With a backlog, you will no longer scramble for work as one project winds down, no longer have to hire additional labor to finish jobs that spiraled out of plan. A well-orchestrated backlog demonstrates order and permanence to your company, your employees, and to current and potential clients.
The Business of Waiting Total Living Construction, Springfield, Va., generally has a six-month to one-year backlog, and, operations manager Vit Miska says, “we have a great system in place so that clients never feel they are waiting around.”
Homeowners who call with interest in contracting Total Living Construction are asked about their project's scope and are told to expect a call within 10 days. The next phone call sets up an initial, face-to-face design meeting that will take place within three months. Four weeks after that, the company comes back with design ideas and ballpark prices. The design agreement is usually faxed to the homeowner and returned within a week. Then the company sets a soft start date.
This back and forth helps the homeowners feel that the company is actively working on their project. “They watch the project grow organically and do not have a sense of rushing,” says Miska. Customers who feel that a project manager or company owner is rushed often lose faith in him or her and worry more about the project. It can lead to “nitpicking” clients or people looking for mistakes in the work. Assuring clients that there is plenty of time for their project and that you have the ability to answer their concerns and questions helps them feel greater ownership in the job. At the same time, it allows them to leave the day-to-day elements in your hands because they don't feel the need to look over your shoulder.
Pam Anderson, owner of Anderson Construction, Chambersburg, Pa., says that wait time is essential for successful completion of projects. “When I tell clients it is going to be about six months before I can start, they are able to be completely organized before any construction” as far as product selection and fixtures are concerned. The backlog forces homeowners to take the time to make proper decisions about what they want to spend their money on, instead of trying to decide in the midst of rubble and construction.
Because Anderson has a small company, she works only on one project at a time. Maintaining a healthy backlog is essential to her success. Anderson stays in constant contact with her waiting clients by sending them interesting and pertinent magazine articles, alerting them to new Web sites, and being available to discuss matters or concerns that pop up during the wait.
This time also allows the homeowners to make necessary preparations and other decisions related to the remodel, such as finding places to stay in the event that they have to move out of their home, constructing a temporary kitchen, moving bedrooms, and so on — all decisions that will make the eventual project run more smoothly.
Miska and Anderson agree that the customer's responses during this back and forth period are a good indication of the type of client they will be. Sometimes, “you can tell very early that a homeowner is not a good fit with the company,” says Miska, and you can prevent what might otherwise have been an unfortunate, lengthy, or even pricey experience.