Walt Stoeppelwerth
Mark Robert Halper Walt Stoeppelwerth

In the past five years, many design/build contractors have been asked by past customers to handle their handyman projects. Sometimes these requests are more on the order of demands. Because clients stay in their homes an average of 11 years today, as opposed to seven in the '80s, the chances of undertaking a second major remodel are substantial. Many contractors feel to refuse to do handyman work is to risk losing future business or valuable referrals.

The good news is that customers usually need a handyman project completed three to five times a year. What that offers your company is the possibility of an ongoing relationship.

The first step is figuring out who will do the work. In most companies of any size, there are usually one or two lead carpenters who are jacks-of-all-trades, with the ability to handle most handyman jobs. At smaller companies, handyman might only be a part-time job. Another solution is to find a retired carpenter or handyman with his own tools and truck who wants to work three or four days a week.

Key differences

Some design/build remodelers have jumped at the chance to set up a handyman division, hoping to transform it into an important part of their business. Unfortunately, many don't understand that full-service remodeling and handyman are altogether different business models.

Handyman demands a bottom-up approach. The handyman in the field estimates the job, writes up the contract, secures materials, performs all work, collects payment, and ensures customer satisfaction. All in a day's time or less.

Then there's the difference in markup. For handyman, we're talking about a range from 25% on materials to 125% on labor, depending on the project.

A third difference is marketing. To reach customers beyond your own database, you need to invest in advertising. A handyman company averaging $500 per job has to sell 1,000 jobs per year to generate $500,000. If the closing rate on marketing-generated leads is one-third, 3,000 leads are required.

One of the most successful marketing methods for handyman companies is developing a base of customers who use the handyman company three to five times a year. These home maintenance contracts are key. A home inventory on the first call will easily yield three to five jobs. Add to that annual maintenance chores like cleaning gutters and changing furnace filters, and a year's worth of work is filled. For elderly clients or second-home owners, there is a completely different list of maintenance needs.

Other considerations

One of the toughest problems is the time it takes to figure out the materials to be used on the job and then get them to the site. A relationship with suppliers or lumberyards will cut time down considerably.

Sit down with suppliers and provide them with a list of the materials you'll use regularly. Ask them to stock these, and arrange for them to pick and pack job materials for quick pickup. Better still, ask suppliers to allow you to call in orders and have them delivered.

Training has to be addressed, as well. Every company offering handyman services should train technicians in as many different areas as possible. This should range from drywall, ceramic tile, roofing, siding, and windows to connecting and disconnecting plumbing, electrical, and HVAC. All handymen should be trained to carry as many different types of tools as possible.

One final point has to do with trucks. It's my belief that the handymen/technicians should have their own trucks. If they own a nice truck, then they can put a sign on it when working for your company. If they don't own a truck, the company should buy one and provide a truck allowance to pay for it. If they're still around when the truck's paid off, it's theirs. --Walt Stoeppelwerth is a publisher of management and estimating information for professional remodelers. (800) 638-8292; htbill@worldnet.att.net; www.hometechonline.com.