There's a bright line between remodelers who have figured out how to run multiple branches and those who lack the ability or the desire to do so. For Paul Sullivan, the decision was logical, even if the result isn't always easy to execute.
Sullivan, owner of full-service remodeling and property management firm The Sullivan Co., spends the entire school year yo-yo'ing along a 135-mile string between his home in the White Mountain resort community of Waterville Valley, N.H., and the tony Boston suburb of Newton, Mass. Then, during the summer, he pivots that north-south trip and instead commutes between Newton and his summer home 95 miles southeast in the Cape Cod town of Brewster, Mass.
His typical week goes like this: Mondays he’s in Waterville Valley. On Tuesday morning, he’s either on the road to Newton at 4:30 a.m. or else he drives his daughter to elementary school and then heads south at 8:30 a.m. Client meetings around Boston — including all major projects, which he makes a point of visiting with the clients weekly — take place the rest of Tuesday, followed by a stay in a local hotel where he works until 11 p.m. He’s back at work in Newton on Wednesday at 7 a.m., departing there at either 3 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays mix work with a little play back in Waterville Valley, particularly if there’s a weekend appointment in the resort area.
During the summer, Sullivan’s schedule is simpler: sleep every night at the house on the Cape, drive into metro Boston as needed, and talk to Waterville Valley office staffers regularly.
Sullivan told REMODELING in a June 10 interview that the unusual lifestyle makes sense for his business because many of his Boston-area customers have second homes either up in New Hampshire or down on Cape Cod. Clients welcome the opportunity to work on their vacation properties with the same design/build and property management company that worked on their main house, he said.
Most of his 11 workers are based near Boston, where Sullivan has worked for 25 years and where most of his 20 active repair jobs are located. The small office in Waterville Valley (run by Sullivan’s oldest son) opened in June 2012, while the Cape Cod office is actually no more than a laptop and Internet connection in Sullivan’s summer home.
Sullivan cautions that those who want to duplicate his far-flung management style need two kinds of discipline. “One is maintaining your contacts. You can’t say ‘I don’t feel like going to Boston that week,’” he said.
The second comes from living in an area where he can walk to tennis courts and a golf course and can see the ski run out of his office window. “You have to have incredible discipline to not say ‘I’ll work tomorrow,’” he said. “This is where you live, but you have a job and a career. … It’s all about planning and efficiency.”
Another way Sullivan stays efficient is his practice of personally meeting the clients on his major projects at least once a week, typically at the job site. He has three such projects under way now, one of them on an island in Boston Harbor. These meetings also provide an opportunity for him to talk face-to-face with each project's manager and the manager's crew members.
"My lead carpenter/project manager has a BuilderTrend [construction management software] system on his iPhone and he also carries a laptop," Sullivan said. "We ask the clients if they’ll let us use their wireless. He’s constantly on BuilderTrend or sending out email. He can even take a picture with his smartphone and upload it onto the system."
It also helps to put all your records into cloud-based services so you can access them from anywhere, as well as use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone service, he said. But one thing that Sullivan rarely does is work while driving.