We've all heard the adage, “If it ain't broke, don't fix it.” And how many times have you heard someone say, “It's good enough for now,” or “We don't have time to improve how we do it; we need to just get it done”? In the less-than-perfect world of remodeling, we have a tendency to hope for the best rather than prepare for the worst. And that's no way to run a business. There is always room for improvement.
Snowed In Several months back, Sal Alfano's editorial likened plowing snow to the way we deal with the “snow storm” of problems that often threatens to overwhelm our remodeling businesses. Like snow that's plowed into bigger and bigger piles until there's no longer any room to move, the quick and low-cost solutions that many remodelers use today might box them in 'til there's no room to grow the business. Sal's solution was to replace his plow with a snow blower, which got rid of the snow for good each time he cleared his driveway.
Digging Out While there is no business equivalent to a snow blower, there are some simple things you can do to keep your business from losing traction. Start by cross-training your employees to replace one another in a pinch — or permanently, if someone leaves. And be sure to document in writing the systems and methods your employees use so that when someone is absent or leaves the company, critical information doesn't go with them.
Also, recruit and hire people who can grow with your business. Find employees who can not only get today's job done, but who also have the brains and the vision to become the managers your business will need tomorrow. Having management trainees waiting in the wings is far better than scrambling to find them on short notice.
Systems Solution Even with the best people on your team, you'll struggle unless you seek out and implement business systems that can grow with your business. A system can be simple at first, serving your immediate needs, but be sure it has the capacity and flexibility to grow and expand with your business. For example, a software program such as QuickBooks can be used as a simple check-book when you first get started, but it can also produce detailed P&L or job cost reports as your business grows too big to keep everything straight in your head.
Keeping up with technology was a real challenge in my own business. Although computers on the market were continuously improving, I didn't want to invest in starting over with a better computer system. Instead, I tried to put a Band-Aid on an outdated system. When I finally faced the music, it involved a lot of money for new computers and training time for my employees to learn how to use them. But it was an invaluable improvement that allowed my rapidly expanding team to do things better, faster, and more accurately.
What I learned, and what I tell others, is to embrace change, education, and advancement as a part of your daily business mindset. By implementing improvements slowly and continuously, you will keep your business and its systems up to date, efficient, and profitable. This approach also helps spread out the investment over time, so the overall cost is easier to absorb than a lump sum payment.
Continuous improvement will keep your business and your employees nimble and well-prepared to address the future. Or, you can just remain idle, get snowed over, and welcome in the ice age.
— Shawn McCadden, CR, CLC, recently sold his Arlington, Mass., employee-managed design/build remodeling business. In his second career, he is director of education for DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen by Worldwide; firstname.lastname@example.org.