The Pivotal Role Played by the Project Manager

In the kitchen and bath industry, sales designers may get all of the glory for bringing in the business and having their creations splashed across the pages of America's shelter magazines for all to drool over. But just as critical, if not more so, is the pivotal role of the project manager. A competent individual filling this position can make a sales designer look good, quarterback a smooth installation for the client and make a night and day difference in the profitability of each job.

Greater Productivity & Service

Most operations are going to want and/or need one individual dedicated exclusively to project management when revenue reaches between $750,000 and $1,000,000. The alternative - having your sales designers perform this task - will prove counterproductive.

Weighted down with this assignment, sales designers won't be able to produce as much in the way of new sales orders. More importantly, as their business grows, they just won't be able to furnish the customer service as quickly and effectively, thereby affecting your firm's reputation and profitability.

There are so many parts and pieces in a kitchen or bath project, coming from such a wide variety of vendors, and so many trades to coordinate, it makes good business sense to fix the project management responsibility with one person as soon as a company can afford to fill the position.

Think about it for just a moment. The more reps a sales designer has in doing what he or she does best (i.e. consulting, designing, selling), the more effective he/she will become and the more sales will be made. The same holds true for a project manager. The net result is your firm is in an excellent position to market itself as providing superior customer service over the competition where sales designers do everything from soup to nuts on each of their projects.

Qualities & Skills Needed

So what should you be looking for in a project manager? Contrary to popular opinion, having a construction or installation background is not the most important criterion. However, it would be a bonus. From my experience, the three most important qualities of a successful project manager are communication skills, scheduling ability and respect for detail.

My concept of a project manager is as an inside quarterback: somebody who is the "go to" person on scheduling and technical issues…a Mr. Answer Man. I say "man" because there will be times when the project manager will be needed in the field to help haul in place a 650 lb. built-in refrigerator.

But most of the time, the project manager will be in the office. Indeed, with a showroom business model where there are a fleet of sales designers, many of whom may be out of the showroom on appointments, having a project manager nearly always available to answer the questions of various cabinet manufacturers is a tremendous asset. Having those cabinet order questions answered quickly could make a real difference in whether projects get produced on time or delayed a week or two.

I have found and developed capable project managers from design assistants, middle corporate managers and subcontract installers. Because they become so familiar with a firm's cabinet lines, and acquire such a respect for detail in their current job of designing and estimating kitchens and baths, design assistants can have a distinct advantage over the other two sources for becoming good project managers. However, they must demonstrate superior communication and scheduling skills to be truly effective.

Job Description Duties

Here then are the key primary duties of a project manager who functions like an inside quarterback:

  • Has introductions with key prospects and retained clients; explains what his role will be in their projects.
  • Answers technical design and/or installation questions (if capable) of sales designers as they are developing the design and specifications for projects.
  • Reviews all plans and cabinet orders after a sale is made (when fully trained) to catch errors, thereby preventing oversights, mistakes, delays and profit leaks.
  • Writes and releases all purchase orders for materials with net costs.
  • Writes and releases all purchase orders for subcontractors with net costs.
  • Answers order/delivery questions from cabinet manufacturers and other vendors.
  • Serves on two-person team (with sales designer) to check cabinet acknowledgments against original order and floor plan.
  • Schedules all projects either using software or a manual system.
  • Sends out job start letters to clients along with a "Relax During Remodeling" consumer information booklet so clients are prepared for what to expect.
  • Holds pre-conference meeting (in the office) with assigned subcontract installer, briefing him or her on the project.
  • Schedules deliveries to the job site.
  • Notifies the sales designer when the job will start so he/she meets with the subcontract installer onsite to introduce him/her to the client and orient him/her to the project.
  • Monitors progress (and gross profit) of the job, coordinates other trades, answers questions from clients, subs and sales designer.
  • When necessary, holds meetings at the site to resolve design or installation issues.
  • Notifies the sales designer when a job is finishing so a "substantial completion" meeting can be held with client and installer, a "punch list" agreed to and signed off on by all parties, an invoice is delivered and a final check requested.

(Note: the new kitchen can be used and the "punch list" represents warranty work).

Project Manager Value

From this list of key responsibilities, it should be quite clear just how critical the role of a project manager is to the job satisfaction of the client and the gross profit of the company. From our group's periodic compilation of staff compensation, most starting project managers with little or no experience are in the $30,000 - $45,000 pay range plus benefits. Major urban areas will always be on the higher pay scale. Seasoned pros in this position will command $50,000 - $80,000. Some owners offer programs with more moderate salaries with bonus opportunities based upon project gross profits, paid quarterly.

A good project manager should be capable of comfortably producing about $2,000,000 to $3,000,000 worth of business (that includes installation), depending upon the company's average project size. From my perspective, the project manager's position is the most difficult to execute well in the kitchen and bath industry. Burn out can become a real issue. When you develop a productive project manager, you will want to craft a compensation plan for the long term - one that is fair and commensurate with the value this individual can add to the organization.