By Jim Cory No one is good at everything, but to thrive in the remodeling business, company owners must be skilled in several critical areas. Management consultants refer to the critical knowledge, skills, and attitudes that individuals bring to a job as "core competencies." According to Florence M. Stone, author of The High Value Manager, the term can also apply to "the strengths of the organization that translate to competitive advantages."

Which core competencies do remodelers need to master? Victoria Downing, president of Remodelers Advantage, a Maryland-based industry consulting group, names nine that virtually any remodeling company is expected to have:

1. Owner of the company provides leadership

2. Strong organizational structure

3. Team development as top priority

4. Superior financial management

5. Effective marketing

6. Professional sales system

7. Efficient production

8. High level of client satisfaction

9. Owner is content with his or her role into the foreseeable future

Downing says most remodeling companies tend to be strong in competencies such as production and client satisfaction. Biggest weaknesses? Financial management and organizational structure.

Where the holes are

For big companies, delving for deficiencies and strengths may take an outsider. "The larger the company, the more likely you are to have to go to a consultant," Stone says. When Downing encounters a large company that's not making money, she says it's usually because a couple of competencies are missing. She suggests four or five hours of a consultant's time to "find out where the holes are." To make that time cost-effective, identify in advance what might be problem areas, keeping in mind how these translate to day-to-day operations. If, for example, a company owner is performing his accounting on a cash basis, "you don't know if you're getting accurate financial data," Downing says. That problem needs to be examined, and "there's no point in spending a lot of time on marketing," Downing adds.

Self-assessment. Downing suggests that smaller companies use the nine core competencies as a checklist against which to measure themselves. She also recommends resources such as trade shows, publications, and associations as resources that can help identify weaknesses and point to solutions.

Feedback from clients and employees is key. Stone suggests surveys as an effective method of soliciting client response. Ask past customers to rank aspects of your company on a one-to-five scale, and leave room for written feedback about areas they feel could use improvement. Send the survey with a personal letter, and make sure to ask if they can be contacted for further information.

To get the deeper story, go to those who've decided not to use your services. "If you submit a proposal and get turned down, and you suspect it's more than money, ask," Stone says.

Stone also suggests trying to see your company from the outside. "If you recently hired someone from a competitor," Stone says, "find out what things were like there and how they'd compare your company."

What to do with it all

Understanding your core competencies will help you determine strategy. "The owner should ask, What is our objective, and what are the skills we need to obtain that objective?" Stone says. Then it's a matter of training, or hiring, for those skills.

"Once the competencies that need to be developed are identified," Downing says, remodelers "have to decide on a top priority issue and sit down and do an action plan."

Say, for example, a company has high turnover in sales. Then team development is a core competency that needs a new action plan. "Ask yourself, What are we doing when we bring a salesperson in?" Downing says. "How are we recruiting them? Training them? Reviewing them and helping them once they've been here a while? Identify the steps you now take so you can identify the weaknesses and come up with solutions."