Remember the TV comedy Get Smart? In each episode, Maxwell Smart and his faithful assistant, 99, battled to protect society from evil enemies. The enemies worked for an organization called Chaos. Max and 99 worked for Control, and their team always seemed to save the day.
Just as in a remodeling business, the battles between Control and Chaos provided a weekly, perhaps never-ending, supply of challenges. I believe that remodelers can win every time — but only if you know what is around the corner, and what to do when you get there.
HIGH-STAKES CHAOS Two types of chaos seem to threaten remodeling businesses. The first is what I call “organized chaos.” This is when your company is still relatively small, and you, the owner, can keep most of the information assembled in your head. You may not be able to anticipate or control everything that happens — that's the chaos part — but your ability to react exceeds the volume of that chaos.
For most remodelers, I find that organized chaos is manageable up to a volume of roughly $500,000 to $1 million, depending on factors such as average job size, project complexity, and the condition of existing business systems. During this stage of business development, because of the relatively small number and size of jobs, you have less at stake at any one time.
Unfortunately, as your company grows, the chaos increases. This is where “disorganized chaos” comes into the picture.
Most remodelers assume that by doubling their volume, they will simply need to double their resources. For example, twice the work can be done with twice the number of field and/or office staff. The reality is that twice the work also requires twice as much business management and administrative oversight.
If you try to manage this growth on your own, without hiring more business staff or creating the appropriate systems, things can quickly start to spin out of control. You find yourself wearing too many hats, and many of the hats don't fit well or look good on you. You're still reacting to the chaos using old methods and systems that don't work, and that require more time and energy than you have. Stress, personal health concerns, employee turnover, and serious challenges to your company's continued existence can follow.
TOOLS FROM THE TRENCHES The good news is that the same essential problems that allow chaos to happen can also put you in control.
The first is education. Without industry-specific education from other remodelers who have come up from the trenches themselves, you'll be reinventing the wheel each day. Instead of seeking out solutions as problems arise, arm yourself with an understanding of the challenges to come, as well as the systems required to handle them. A wealth of educational opportunities includes classes at the Remodeling Show and JLC Live events, seminars and certifications through national trade associations, and knowledge-sharing through peer-review groups.
Through education, you'll also learn about technological solutions — programs that can help you speed sales, design, and estimating cycles; improve jobsite productivity; and communicate instantly and effectively. Many of these programs have been developed independently of one another, a reality that often only addresses organized chaos and delays disorganized chaos.
But mark my words: It won't be long before unified software solutions — based on time-tested best practices from the remodeling trenches — tie together every aspect of a remodeling business. Software companies are working on such solutions now.
So stay tuned. In the meantime, get educated. Use technology, and educate your employees about how to use it. Be like Maxwell Smart, and work for Control. Just keep in mind that a shoe phone is no longer considered an advanced technology. — Shawn McCadden is a nationally known writer, speaker, trainer, and award-winning remodeler and home builder. He sold his Arlington, Mass.-based employee-managed design/build remodeling business in 2004. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.