Matt Merrifield has no trouble explaining to prospects why his company's price is 10% to 15% higher than area competitors. Lakeside Exteriors, in Chesterfield, Mo., uses its own crews to install fiber-cement siding and not only has a long record of satisfactory installs but has also won many awards. But when area competitors were selling jobs for 25% or 30% less, “it's much more difficult to sell that difference,” Merrifield says. So he set out to create efficiencies in his installation that would reduce the price difference.

A year and a half ago, Merrifield rented a Chevrolet Suburban and drove with his crew leaders and production manager to the headquarters of the company that makes the climbing equipment his crews use. That would be Reechcraft PowerPoles, in Fargo, N.D., which manufactures a powered lifting system. Lakeside Exteriors already owned the equipment; now Merrifield and his crew leaders spent a day learning how to use it in a one man/one wall application.

TIME, TIME, TIME Merrifield says that before introducing the new production system, a typical installation might involve a five-man crew and take five days. Two two-man crews worked on separate walls, while someone on the ground was cutting. A year later, he says, a three- or four-man crew, equipped with power poles, can get the same size job done in an average of three and a half days. Since the platform between poles holds a thousand pounds of material, installers can carry a substantial amount of board and trim and cut between nailing on siding while the man on the ground prepares the next wall doing trim, starter boards, corners, and window wrap. “We used the poles before,” production manager Chris Sodarsky says, “we just weren't using them properly.” Shane Nickel, of Reechcraft PowerPoles, who worked with Lakeside Exteriors in setting up the system, says it's “many times safer” because it frees crew members of the need to go up and down ladders.

PLANNED START TO FINISH Safety considerations were among the reasons why Terry Stamman, co-owner of Twin Cities Siding Professionals, in St. Paul, Minn., began using power poles two years ago. But Stamman says that the logistics of setup in the types of houses his company works on — walls longer than 25 feet, lots of bump-outs — limits the number of jobs where one man/one wall is applicable. “Every house is different,” Stamman points out.

But, recognizing a similar need for efficiencies, Stamman and his wife, Kristen, who is the company CFO, met with its installers to develop a plan for reducing installation costs. The company created a position for someone whose task it is to just plan jobs. Once the jobs are planned, the crew goes out and sets short-term daily goals. The new system resulted in an almost immediate 10% labor savings.