Brian Diamond approaches business the same way Ms. Frizzle (the flame-haired, iguana-toting teacher from “The Magic School Bus”) approaches science: You won’t learn unless you focus on the topic at hand, ask questions, and try new things.
“Too many people don’t move forward or don’t get ahead because they run from problems all the time,” Diamond, owner of Quality Home Exteriors in Omaha, Neb., tells Remodeling. “I say, ‘Let’s get dirty. Let’s jump in. Let’s get messy.' Out of that will come a solution, and we’ll be stronger for it.”
After three years of business, Quality Home Exteriors has become a multimillion-dollar company with only 20 employees (his production department is one person), and it was named to the Big50 list earlier this year. Now that drive and experience has earned Diamond the 2017 Fred Case Remodeling Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
Diamond worked for two remodeling companies before starting his own business. He says his company name, though nothing flashy, could easily be rolled out into other markets in the future. Considering how to expand a business while building a business may appear as too lofty of a goal for some, but that kind of forward thinking has made Diamond successful.
“People will look at something and go, ‘If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,’” he says. “And I think, ‘Well, I know it’s not broken, but let’s smash this thing apart and see if we can put it back together better than it was before.’ That’s my vibe. It drives my staff crazy.”
Before Diamond started his business, he drafted a 42-page business plan detailing the first 36 months of operations. It’s the cornerstone of his business; it serves as the basis for building his company and provides him with plans and insight to help propel it. Divided into nine sections, the plan includes everything from the company’s mission statement and philosophy to the organizational chart (which includes workflow) to the marketing plan. The purpose of his business plan was to look ahead, create projections, and find the pitfalls and issues within his business before they ever occurred—and be prepared for challenges ahead.
Having an in-depth plan paid off. During the company's first year of business, Omaha was hit with a massive hail storm that left many homes in need of repair. Quality Home Exteriors sold $1 million worth of work in two days. Diamond had to jump from year one of his plan to year two. After reorienting himself with his mission statement, he began to review the plan so that he could accelerate his growth. The plan had everything laid out for him: projections; an org chart for a middle-management team; and job descriptions and compensation plans.
“I had something that kept me focused, grounded, and ahead of the situation when most would have been buried with the work, let the important details slip, and cash-flowed themselves right out of business,” he says.
Diamond has monthly planning sessions with his senior leadership team, which helps them keep on track with the quarterly plan. During those meetings, the team reviews whether the company is on track and it makes suggestions or alterations to the plan if necessary. If the team finds that the company is going according to plan, it determines how to exceed what’s been laid out for them.
Since operations and practices are outlined in the business plan, the company can stay focused on its customers.
“If you’re only able to focus on and fix the daily operational challenges in your business, you’re no longer customer-centric; you’re me-centric,” he says. “If I’m having a hard time in my department because I don’t have a plan, I may know that Joe’s roof is leaking and a service is scheduled, but I don’t know it’s going to rain before we get there—that’s a problem.”
Quality Home Exteriors’ files are accessible via both computer and mobile devices (Diamond plans for the company to be completely paperless by the end of 2018). Calling his practices a “creative use of technology,” he’s curated a suite of apps and programs to make sure he’s using his tech “beyond [its] initial application.” This means not only understanding the basics of how and why his team uses a program, but also knowing each feature, shortcut, and nuance to maximize the program’s functionality.
Technology also improves the team’s communication. Because the company is cloud-based, Diamond has easy access to everything. Certain software programs also allow him to see when files were last accessed and how projects are moving through the pipeline. Since he can stay informed about a project’s progress, he doesn’t have to constantly ask his staff questions and make them feel like they’re being micromanaged.
“I can gather information first, so that when it’s time for me and my team to have a conversation I’m already up to speed,” Diamond says. “Information and data make me more impactful as a manager because I’m coming to them with value topics and action items, and not trying to get up to date.”
Diamond strives to have two “super-value conversations” per month with software developers. During those sessions, he discusses the issues his company has with the programs and what tweaks can be made to improve the experience for Quality Home Exteriors. For example, Diamond and his team met with a developer from improveit 360 (a customer relationship management software) to discuss launching a program that would send automated text messages to customers. After a trial run, Diamond and his team ditched the effort, even though customers loved the texts.
“The production side of the CRM was a little clunky for our process, so we had to put it on hold,” Diamond says of the text messaging program. “The next iteration of this is that we see a lot of value in it and our customers dig it, but how do we make it work [better]? We're sticking with it and seeing it through.”
When asked how often he re-evaluates his technology, he admits that it’s about every week—though that typically only entails checking in with his staff. He asks his managers how the apps and processes are working for them and what kind of feedback they have heard from their teams. The constant reassessment has taught Diamond a valuable lesson: Examine all possible outcomes of a new process before implementing it so that you can better understand whether it will be the best way to fix the problem at hand.
Old Technique Meets New Technology
Diamond’s creative use of technology lies not only in the varied software and apps his company employs, but also in how he uses it for his canvassing. Canvassers for Quality Home Exteriors use an app called Spotio, which lets them track information about the doors they knock on. From there, Diamond and his team assess the data to determine how many times they have knocked on that door, whether the person living there was a renter, whether to try a different time of day, and whether to remove the home from the canvasser’s route and cold-call the homeowner.
Once he gathers enough data, Diamond plans to use it to his advantage. Knowing this data will allow canvassers to either knock on more value doors per day or be able to hit more doors in any given day, which means one canvasser can cover a larger area. This will also reduce labor costs, hopefully by as much 50%, Diamond says.
The technology also allows Quality Home Exteriors to quickly contact homeowners for an appointment. Once canvassers visit a home and speak with a homeowner, the homeowner will receive a call from the company's call center within 10 minutes. If homeowners voice an issue with the fast turnaround, Diamond says, the call center representatives respond by saying the company is growing quickly and it cannot always accommodate everyone into its schedule. Employees tell the homeowner that if they are seriously looking to get some work done, they should get on the schedule now.
Gathered data has also indicated a nine-month rotation is a sweet spot for the company. The team uses software called MapPoint, which tracks when canvassers last visited different neighborhoods. Over time, the map will change colors based on when the neighborhood is ready to be visited again. Diamond says the nine-month period is enough time for people’s situations to change and thus they might be ready to pursue work. His team can now approach those customers with an established relationship, which can make the customer feel more comfortable with the company.
It’s All About the People
Technology gets a bad reputation for making people feel disconnected from others. Diamond makes the most of technology by putting his people and his customers at the center of all he does.
“Our true mission when I started this company was to provide people with the absolute best products and customer experience that I can,” he says. “If I’m putting processes and technology in place that allow my staff’s activity to be as easy, simple, and as automated as possible, that creates a ton of head room to focus on the customer experience.”
If Diamond feels that experience is slipping, he will “pump the brakes hard” until he and the team can assess and fix those issues. Diamond builds up his employees to think for themselves, consult him if need be, and constantly re-evaluate their procedures to see if improvement is needed. “I want them to be responsible for the development and direction of their position and their department,” he says. “I don’t just want worker bees. You have to be a thinker.”
The seemingly constant adjustments to create a perfect business has raised questions from staff members in the past. From introducing new processes to new technology, Diamond says that buy-in from his staff can be an issue, but he’s got a perfect response.
“You have to get people excited,” he explains. “I remember my office manager said, ‘Who else is doing this? [How do you know this] is going to work?’ And I said, ‘Nobody. That’s why we’re going to do it. We have nobody to compare ourselves against, so we have nothing to be but awesome at it. Let’s go for it.’”