While the recession wasn't as bad as I urged you to prepare for, the slowdown has given us time to look back on the boom that just ended to see if anything we learned will help us guess what's coming next. Here are some of the themes I saw developing that I think will carry some momentum into next year and beyond.
In response to the stress and pace of the runaway expansion of the '90s, remodelers are deliberately slowing down. Instead of taking on one big-ticket project after another, harried contractors are looking for less pressure and more to show for their efforts when the dust clears.
One answer is to learn to squeeze out more profit without adding volume. That means figuring out what you're good at, then being more selective and learning to turn down work that doesn't fit your business goals.
The past 10 years of experimenting with design/build has taught us some interesting lessons. At the top of the list is this: You can't do design/build on the cheap. As a business model, design/build provides more control, but it also demands more accountability. It uses a different set of client-management skills. Successful companies are looking to add designers with sales skills, and some are also dedicating staff to escorting customers through the remodeling process from start to finish.
Power of partnerships
The frantic pace of construction in the '90s, coupled with the labor shortage, has led to more cooperation among "friendly competitors." This extends to a freer exchange of information and even some referral work. In the same spirit, remodelers are showing stronger loyalty to subcontractors and suppliers and looking for ways to deepen those relationships.
Speaking of loyalty, the '90s have pounded home the value of long-term employees. Perhaps the biggest challenge of the coming years is to find ways to attract, train, and retain the next generation of remodelers.
In the meantime, company owners are recognizing that a bigger paycheck isn't the only way to keep key employees happy. Employees are also looking for more inside information about company goals and more authority to act on their own.
Sal Alfano, Editor-in-Chief