As senior marketing director for UPS, Bruce Meller's job was to promote the company's goal of on-time delivery of packages and letters. He also enjoyed remodeling, and spent a lot of time renovating his own home. When a friend called to complain about how long his kitchen upgrade was taking, Meller had an idea: If UPS could create a robust logistics infrastructure to ensure on-time and accurate delivery, why couldn't a remodeling contractor do the same?
Three years ago Meller set out to answer that question and founded Home Forge Remodeling, in Decatur, Ga. The company specializes in kitchen and bath remodeling on a fixed-budget, time-definite schedule that usually spans 18 days or less. “There are no surprises,” says Meller, president, who designed his company around that concept.
Working with a staff designer who returns calls within 24 hours or less, clients select materials before the project starts. The initial consultation takes about an hour, during which time the designer learns the details of the project. Meller reviews the meeting notes, and presents a written proposal to the customer within five days.
The proposal includes a full description of the project, a breakdown of labor and basic material (drywall, plywood, etc.) and finishing (tile, appliances, and so forth) costs. “That's the first chance for them to make sure nothing was overlooked,” says Meller, who typically includes a range of appliance costs because, at this point, clients usually don't know which ones they want.
If the customer gives a thumbs-up on the project, Meller collects a design retainer, which is refunded when the project is completed. Detailed Excel spreadsheets lay out everything from the cost of moving load-bearing walls to buying new drawer knobs. The trick: Be as specific as possible, Meller says. “Our spreadsheet doesn't say ‘stainless steel sink.' It says ‘Blanco sink model #000.'”
Working from a 1,100-square-foot warehouse where all materials are staged prior to installation, Meller says items are first unwrapped and checked for accuracy and damage. When materials for a specific job are ready to use, they're moved on-site — along with the necessary tools — and installed. Doing this adds no extra cost to the project, says Meller, who prefers not to use his customers' homes for storing materials and appliances.
Much as a franchise company would strive for consistency across all of its locations, Meller says his firm sets out to do a complete job within budget and within the 18-day time frame, every time. “A client can tell a friend about the experience, and know that that person will receive exactly the same treatment and quality,” says Meller, who, to that end, always uses employees and no subcontractors.
But what happens when a last-minute change order threatens to disrupt the system and throw off the schedule? Meller says that has only happened twice during the last three years, and that the changes are typically aesthetic, rather than structural. “It's usually a slightly different tile, faucet, or paint color,” Meller says. “Depending on where we are in the schedule, we'll overnight the new materials. It doesn't hold up the job.”
Home Forge Remodeling's unique approach is catching on with customers, many of whom turn into good referral sources for the company. Sales were up 250% in 2006 (over 2005), and are up 40% this year. Meller credits his staffing approach, accurate pricing structure, and logistics strategy with driving that growth.
“Our process eliminates a very frustrating step for customers: when the kitchen is torn up and the contractor waits around for materials to come in,” Meller says. “People can plan their lives around our schedule. We've torn out kitchens on Thanksgiving and had them put back together two days before Christmas.”