Mark Sass of Sass Construction, in Excelsior, Minn., is cutting his overhead and adjusting his staff to survive in an economy where his volume dropped 50% from 2007 to 2008, and 2009 started off slow. “I’m busy, but it’s small stuff,” he says. Sass Construction had just one $100,000 whole-house remodel this year, a few $40,000-to-$80,000 jobs, and multiple $5,000 projects.

Sass let go a few employees on his office staff, which left him with unused space in his 3,000-square-foot building. He leased a section to an electrician who had downsized from 20 to five employees.

He negotiated lower fees with his computer support company. Sass also met with subcontractors to negotiate pricing that would help him to win projects.

The most difficult adjustment has been staffing for smaller jobs. His production manager, who was accustomed to a few large jobs, quit because he was burned out from the busier schedule.

Sass says that he initially thought he could get by doing the production manager’s job by himself. When he couldn’t, he asked for help from his salesperson, assistant, and carpenters. “It was killing all of us, and I could not find time to bring in new business,” Sass says, so he hired a former contractor to take over production and some estimating duties.

It has been a challenge to keep Sass Construction’s full-time salesperson busy. “I’ve asked him to help me build new leads beyond what comes in through the company’s regular marketing efforts,” Sass says. “He has to be more creative to generate contacts to turn into leads to turn into jobs. We all have to be.”

The salesperson has 18 years experience, but since he is new to the company and new to selling small jobs, Sass sent him to Sandler Sales training — something he has found helpful for other staff. Sass and his production manager team up to sell small jobs. “We quickly put together a contract and get it in the system,” he says. “We want to get it through fast so we can keep our guys busy.”

—Nina Patel, senior editor, REMODELING.