Joe Stoddard
Frank J. Borkowski Joe Stoddard

Back in the mid-1980s, a friend of mine started a specialty drafting operation detailing heavy steel projects such as high-rises, bridges, and ballparks. His first technology investment was on three seats of an AutoCAD add-on that I’d never heard of. For $50,000, he got a “dongle” to plug into his printer port, a couple floppy disks, and a crummy little manual printed on a dot-matrix printer. Additional seats were $10,000 each.

No, the software wasn’t magical — it involved lots of calls to tech support, bad words, and late nights. But unlike generic AutoCAD, it was perfectly suited to the job. It allowed his small shop to crank out in days what took the big drafting firms weeks. Within a few months the software was paid for, and he was taking jobs away from every major drafting firm in the state.

This taught me a valuable lesson: As long as you can show a reasonable return on investment, the up-front cost is really secondary if you find the right tool for the job. And while “industry-specific” software is always relatively more expensive than something generic from the big-box stores, every year technology costs less and less, making it easier for smaller remodelers to get what they need.

Here are just a few examples of when it might make sense for a remodeling company to abandon generic software and go industry-specific:

  • It’s a numbers game. You handle big volumes of leads from multiple sources and have to compensate salespeople and affiliates in multiple geographic areas.

  • Time is money. You have multiple service trucks on the road and need to keep track of both where they are and what inventory is inside of them.

  • Turnaround is critical. You install nonstandard specialized products or systems and need to generate accurate estimates and complex contract documents on the spot.

  • Enforcing best practices. Whatever you’re installing, moving, or modifying is technically challenging, and the possibility of human error is great. Think “house moving” or “photovoltaic systems” or even “basement waterproofing.” You can’t afford mistakes, period.

—Joe Stoddard is a process and technology consultant to the building industry. Reach him at