Hiring and keeping good subs is a two-way street. Treat them right, and they're more likely to return the favor. Here are some basic guidelines to remember.

Be prepared. There is no surer way to lose a sub's loyalty than to have him arrive at a jobsite that isn't prepped for his work. “They will put you off the next time you call,” warns Daniel Ashline, who owns a 22-year-old design/build firm in St. Petersburg, Fla. Leo Martineau, owner of LCM Remodeling, Merrimack, N.H., understands the problem. He knows his $500,000-per-year company can book only so much of any sub's work. “So I don't yell ‘fire' unless I have to.”

Image is everything. Subs are a remodeler's field representatives and should follow basic rules while on the job. Ashline prohibits smoking, playing music, and going shirtless. Carolyn McCown, who owns a design/build firm in Culver City, Calif., says her subs can't discuss any technical matters with homeowners. “They can talk about Saddam Hussein if they want to. But any questions about the job itself need to be directed to me,” McCown says.

Lock in prices. Rising insurance costs and increased demand are making subcontracted work more expensive, and that makes estimating any project more volatile. Some remodelers ask their longtime subs to provide them with rates they can use for a given period, usually a year. “I don't bid out jobs anymore, because subs don't get back to you,” says Scott Richards, president of One-Stop Remodeling, Savannah, Ga. “But with my subs' price lists, I'm usually within 5% of what they charge me.”

Know market value. Attracting reliable subs gets harder when remodelers get branded for lowballing to keep their costs down. “I hear remodelers at meetings bragging about how they beat up their subs on price, and then they wonder why they're having trouble finding help,” Ashline says. “The quality of the work is more important to me than how quick the job gets done or the price.” But remodelers also need to know when this price-quality balancing act is approaching a point of diminishing returns. David Tyson and Associates, Charlotte, N.C., started looking for a new plumbing subcontractor after the team it had used for decades began charging double the rates of other subs. “It made me wonder if they even wanted the job,” says owner David Tyson.

Se habla Español? Tradesmen for whom English is a second language are the prevailing construction work force in some parts of the country. Industry consultant Walt Stoeppelwerth is convinced that competitive pressures will push remodelers to hire more of these workers. That, says Stoeppelwerth, could mandate entirely new methods of job-site management and different skill sets for managers.

Main article: Man the Subs

Other sidebars:
Scheduling Do's and Don'ts
The Subway Diet