Westring Construction is only four years old, and owner James Westring brought on his first employees just last year. But already the Madison, Wis., remodeler offers a full complement of benefits, including paid time off, health insurance, and a SIMPLE IRA. Knowing the challenges of attracting and retaining talent, Westring says he felt compelled to have a benefits plan ready before he held his first job interview.

“It took up a lot of my time,” he says. “I had to do it where I found an open spot. It took me probably a good three or four months of on-again-off-again research — getting quotes, asking questions. It was a lot of work, but I knew I had to do it.”

Putting together a comprehensive benefit package, as Westring found, is time-consuming and often frustrating. But he isn't alone in recognizing the necessity of the effort: Survey after survey finds that benefits attract quality employees, promote long-term relationships, and advance a company's professionalism. Many remodelers also say that, looking beyond the bottom line, they feel morally obligated to offer benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans. However much they may complain about the legwork, these remodelers find a way to establish and administer a market-competitive benefit package while keeping the rest of the business in order.

Essentially, there are three approaches to setting up and administering a benefit package: hiring a full-time human resources coordinator; outsourcing HR and benefits through a professional employee organization (PEO); or handling benefit administration yourself, or with the help of a bookkeeper or administrator. The first two approaches offer, respectively, a high- and low-cost option for taking benefits administration out of the hands of the remodeler. But each has its advantages and disadvantages, and, if only for the sake of short-term convenience, most remodelers opt to handle things themselves.

ON-STAFF HUMAN RESOURCES It's by far the most expensive strategy, but hiring a full-time human resources professional offers significant benefits. The gain is two-fold: A human resources professional saves everyone else a great deal of time and trouble and at the same time provides expertise in benefits and human resources issues likely unmatched by anyone in the company.

At S.N. Peck Builder in Chicago, co-owners (and husband and wife) Neil Peck and Barbara Rose recently hired Iola Alexander as the company's first human resources coordinator. They decided to create the position after the addition of a Case Handyman franchise grew the company to 50 employees.

Arriving with 20 years of experience, Alexander made an immediate impact. “She's much better at handling the ins and outs” of benefit administration, Rose says. “We now know we're consistent with state laws and that our practices are clean and first-rate.”

Alexander handles every aspect of HR and benefit administration, from recruiting to health insurance to tool and gas allowances. She also researches new benefits, such as telecommuting, at the request of the owners. And Alexander provides an extra layer of management, setting up employee meetings and managing performance reviews. She was particularly helpful when it came time to reassess the company's insurance policies, Rose says.

“We went and got competitive bids for every type of insurance. I wouldn't have had time to solicit those bids and evaluate them the way she did,” Rose says. “She even made a color-coded chart [listing options]. We saved a lot of money that way.”

Unfortunately, for most remodelers a full-time human resources coordinator isn't affordable: Starting salaries for trained, experienced HR professionals generally begin around $40,000 a year. After considering the alternatives, Rose says, S.N. Peck Builder decided that the size and revenue of the company warranted the expense. But at 50 employees, she adds, “we're right at the edge of where it makes sense.”

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