By REMODELING Magazine Staff. Last year, our company grossed $5.7 million. The year before last, we generated $6.5 million worth of work. Those numbers represent a substantial improvement over our 1995 sales of about $1.5 million.

Where did they come from? I'm not completely sure. The economy and the stock market have as much to do with our success as anything else. We've been able to respond to demand and still operate in such a way as to leave people liking us.

In the 26 years I've worked in the construction industry, I've seen companies come and go. Lots of owners get to a certain point in their growth where they feel they can put their businesses on autopilot and let them run themselves. That's dangerous, because you're not paying attention.

Power to the people

In the past 15 years, my job at this company has evolved to the point where the only thing I do is go out on sales calls. We empower project managers to run their own jobs as if they were their own small companies. We don't hover over them or tell them they have to do things in a certain way or at a certain time. Managers have a budget and they know what number they're supposed to come in at. They're empowered to negotiate with clients. We run an open book company. I'm the rainmaker, the one with the vision and the values. I try to push the brains as far down the organizational chart as I can.

We tell a story to our customers through our brochure and our selling process that promises an extraordinary level of construction sophistication, superhuman service, personalized care, and air-tight scheduling. While for the most part we do those things, the fact that we don't live up to the story in all ways all the time disturbs me.

Look for the cracks

One of the things we don't do particularly well is project packaging from design to budget. To be sure, all of our work has a design and a budget, but all are general. We happily take on undefined work, and commonly start in on a project without firm plans and goals. We have very good systems for keeping track of things once we're into it, but our project managers constantly feel thrown into deep water without a life preserver at the start of work.

To help resolve this, I recently hired a pre-construction services manager who will handle the transition from sales to production. I was waiting to see what the year ahead would look like and whether or not we'd have the sales to make it work. Every time you bring someone new on, you have to have a half-million dollars worth of work to pay for him. At a certain point it became clear we had to take the leap of faith and put another person on.

Some customers are over-the-top in love with us, one or two are really outraged with us, and the majority feel pretty darn good about the way they've been treated. Right now we're doing a third-party client survey to see how closely the story we sell is the story we deliver. We also want the survey to find out what our customers want to buy -- this on the theory that it's much easier to sell them what they want to buy, as opposed to what we want to sell. We hope this process will reveal the things we can fix, along with telling us what we're doing well. --Finley Perry is president of F.H. Perry Builder, Hopkinton, Mass.