Robert Ullman

Besides the expense that accompanies the Environmental Protection Agency’s Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) rule (or the potential greater expense for not complying with it), some remodelers are finding that the stress of the new law is extending to their staff. In California, exterior contractor Phil Isaacs recently said goodbye to two sales staff. Keeping up with RRP proved to be too much for them.

More Hoops

“We expected to be up 30 to 40% this year, and we were headed that way,” says Isaacs, the president of California Energy Consultant Service, in Rancho Cordova, Calif. “That was even a conservative number, but one of the sales guys I hired, who I thought was going to pull three or four jobs a month, decided to go into retirement.”

The staff member was a former business owner who was closing his doors. Isaacs purchased the business, and the owner, an older gentleman, agreed to stay on in a sales position. “The lead law was one of the things that scared him away, as well as some other hoops we’ve had to jump through recently,” Isaacs says. “We had a healthy relationship, but for him, who had been working in the industry and had been through plenty of peaks and valleys himself, it was an issue he didn’t want to deal with.”

The Final Straw

Isaacs says that he lost a second salesperson to the lead law as well. “I have to lean on them to help me through some of these business changes because a lot of our salespeople are co-project managers,” he explains. “The RRP rule was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Compliance with RRP has driven up project costs, which has caused the company to lose some jobs, Isaacs says. While his staff understand that the company isn’t charging more because it wants to but because it has to, the consumer learning curve that accompanies the change is a challenging one. “Almost none of our competitors are doing anything about compliance,” Isaacs says. “We’re routinely going against guys who haven’t even heard of RRP, and homeowners tell us that the other companies they interviewed never even brought it up.”

Regrouping & Replanning

Though losing two staff members has stalled Isaacs’ bold growth plan, he says he can’t blame the men for extracting themselves from a challenging situation. “I understand how tough it is,” he says. “I told them, ‘All we need is to not come up clean on one audit and I’ll meet you in the unemployment line.’”

Isaacs says that since the RRP rule went into effect there have been a series of “overnight changes” added to the rule that his company has had to respond to, overshadowing all other business planning. “Whenever one of these changes pops up on the EPA website, we drop everything we’re doing and shift our priority from sales to compliance, as survival trumps growth,” Isaacs says.

While training organization the Connor Institute estimates that just 10% of remodelers are currently in compliance with RRP, Isaacs says that ignoring the new lead law is not an option for his company. “We can’t afford not to,” he says. “We’ve been around for 30 years and we have too much to lose by not complying.

“What really made me wake up and comply with the law immediately was the $37,000 fine,” he adds. “It’s not a question of whether the law is ever enforced or not. The question is, can we take a risk of losing all our jobs and the company? It may be a headache now, but the downside is just too big.”

—Lauren Hunter, associate editor, REMODELING.