When business slowed in 2002, David Tyson and Associates all but stopped using subs so it could keep its own staff employed. Even after business recovered in 2003, this Charlotte, N.C., design/build firm used its own crews to do all trim, tile, and built-in work, and called on subs to handle about one-quarter of the 25 construction phases — mostly exterior materials, mechanicals, and the products that require licensed installers. “We employ subs in a way that allows our own guys to do what they do best,” says owner David Tyson.

Dutchess Building Specialists (DBS), in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., has also moved away from relying on trade partners. Three years ago, the company used subs on virtually all of its projects. Today, DBS' 15 employees handle the majority of the work. President Brian Altmann disparages what he calls the “production mentality” of subs, where “they think that getting the job done is the end. They overlook that they've ruined a customer's bushes and have flicked cigarette butts all over the place and didn't show up four out of seven days. I can't get subs to act like DBS employees.”

Of course, Altmann concedes, not all subs are bad news. In fact, he's been trying to convince a few of his plumbing and electrical subcontractors to join DBS as full-time employees.

Main article: Man the Subs

Other sidebars: Subcontractor ABCs
Scheduling Do's and Don'ts