Dale Nikula, president of Encore Construction Co., knew that he wanted to grow his $1.2 million company into something much larger. But he was afraid that expansion might mean losing the high level of customer contact he felt was essential to his company's continuing success. Then he stumbled upon The Lead Carpenter Handbook, a book written by industry consultant and REMODELING columnist Tim Faller, and the light bulb went on.

"I could see that this method of production would allow me to keep the management of the job at the jobsite, instead of at the office with a production manager," Nikula says. "In the complex jobs we produce, we really need someone on the job every day. Because we do eight to 14 jobs at a time, no production manager could have kept up."

The process for switching to the system was gradual. "We started with one of our staff carpenters," Nikula says. "We wanted to make sure it would work for us."

His company now has five lead carpenters and six other carpenters who assist when needed. "There's not a lot that the lead can do alone, so the other support carpenters are critical."

Nikula discovered that one of the keys to success was to build in management time for each of the leads. "The jobs will take longer, there's no question about it," Nikula says. "We add at least an hour each day specifically for the lead to deal with management issues, vs. working directly on the job. While the duration of the jobs is slightly greater, we're able to handle the job very well, without adding the overhead costs of a production manager."

Now, just over three years later, the lead carpenter system has allowed Encore to more than triple their volume since 2000 to over $5.5 million without dramatically affecting their overhead.

Victoria Downing is president of Remodelers Advantage, Futon, Md. (301) 490-5620, victoria@remodelersadvantage.com.