K-Designers, headquartered in Sacramento, Calif., will celebrate its 35th birthday in August. Founder, president, and CEO Larry Judson says that one thing he has learned is how to set and meet a backlog goal. K-Designers’ current backlog averages 32 days. The goal is 30.

Short-cycle jobs such as roofing, siding, and windows need to be scheduled and installed quickly so that money flows in and customers are satisfied, but not so quickly that work runs out. “We try to manage three to four weeks,” says Tom Higgins, owner and president of Denver–based Superior Products. For sizable contracts, Higgins notes, “we obviously want to please,” so the company rotates crews to ensure timely completion.

Managing It

Much hinges on crew availability. “We don’t subcontract our work out,” says Marc Rapchak, general manager of A.B.E. Doors & Windows, in Allentown, Pa. That can make backlog management a bigger challenge.

For example, Rapchak says, if sales slow, the company fills backlogged orders quickly. But if sales exceed projections, A.B.E. has to take the time to train more installers. “If subcontractors are only a phone call away, a company can control backlog more easily,” Rapchak points out.

A.B.E. aims for a four- to six-week backlog in garage doors, general remodeling, and doors and windows. Installers at the company specialize in each product category to ensure smooth workflow.

The Seasonal Factor

Seasons also affect scheduling. At 1 Call Bath Solutions, a division of Anthony Home Improvements, in Elkins Park, Pa., backlog shrinks in summer and expands after Labor Day. There’s another uptick from March to June, president Steven Klein says. Holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, which become family events, also pack the schedule. But seasons have little effect on the company’s aging-in-place work.

K-Designers puts much managerial effort into avoiding seasonal backlogs. “It’s better, in managing our work crews, not to have huge peaks and low valleys but to stay even,” Judson says. “Crews are valuable and difficult to find today.”

K-Designers pours on the marketing during traditionally slow seasons — December through February — and is sometimes willing to compromise on margins, Judson explains. That way the company doesn’t have to spend the time and money each spring to find and rebuild teams.

Diane Kittower is a freelance writer-editor in Maryland.