If your kitchen and bath firm is evolving from small, single-room remodeling jobs to larger projects involving multiple rooms, additions and whole-house remodels, you’re faced with many new challenges. Going from the initial contact with a client to a signed contract and then on to a finished project is a much more complex process than a simple kitchen change out. This month, we will look at how to control the costs and work flows associated with these larger projects.
Such projects can be broken down into several distinct phases: initial client contact and preliminary feasibility review, design development, final design and specifications and post contract administration.
It all begins with the initial review. At this stage, both you and your client are evaluating whether a particular project makes sense. Since your business is incurring costs to perform this evaluation, it’s important that you’re able to get to the point where you can bring the client “on board” with a retainer agreement as expeditiously as possible.
Encourage the clients to come to you initially to describe what they have in mind for their remodeling project (there are some compelling personal security reasons for the first meeting with clients to be at your showroom). Have a strategy for qualifying a potential client; this should include a series of pre-rehearsed questions that can be worked into the initial meeting.
Ideally, you can come to a mutual conclusion with the potential client within an hour or so of discussing what they have in mind. It’s important that your designer/salespeople take qualifying seriously, since time spent on “dry holes” is lost forever.
Assuming that you and your clients agree that your company is a good fit for their project, the next step is to perform a site visit and prepare a rough estimate of the cost that will be involved. It is at this time that you should be looking for a financial commitment from your client. Some design/build remodelers will ask for a retainer payment prior to this first field visit, but it seems more reasonable to establish a realistic budget before entering a design retainer agreement with a client.
The site visit should include the gathering of as much of the information as possible that you will need to develop the design of the proposed project. For relatively simple projects, enough measuring should be done to allow for the production of accurate as-built drawings. Additionally, digital cameras allow us to gather a vast amount of information about a project during this initial site visit. Here again, it is important to have a plan of what information and photographs to gather during the site visit. Develop a checklist of information to be gathered that includes structural and access issues.
Once you and your clients have agreed on a broad concept for the project, it’s time to sign a design retainer agreement. On smaller projects, the design development and final specification phases may be combined and you will go directly to signing a construction contract. On more complex projects, you will likely reach a point where a “letter of intent” will make sense before proceeding to plans and specifications.
It should be your objective to make sure that your client is committed to the project before your staff expends substantial time and energy. In that regard, the amount you ask for in a design retainer should be large enough to make sure the client is committed to the project.
Since, however, the objective is to ultimately sign a construction contract, covering all of your design and specification costs is not absolutely necessary. A reasonable amount for this retainer payment is 2-3% of the rough estimate of the cost of the project.
On larger projects, particularly involving additions and/or a considerable amount of structural work and engineering, it may make sense to add an additional decision point during the design process. On such projects, it’s likely that you will have to commit a significant portion of your staff resources to the project and you want to make sure that it’s going to develop into an actual project. In this case, a “letter of intent” would be appropriate, agreeing with your client that your firm is going to execute the project. This sort of agreement allows you to begin the permitting process and allocate start dates and construction resources.
Such large projects require careful scheduling far in advance so that they do not overwhelm the other jobs that have to be worked around them. The letter of intent, along with a substantial deposit of 5-10% of the project, allows you to do this scheduling with confidence that the work will actually materialize.
Final Design & Specs
Regardless of the size of the project, it’s important that the basic design concept be as final as possible before devoting a great deal of time to detailed plans and specifications. This part of the process is time consuming and tedious and you do not want significant changes to the basic design to cause this final phase to be started over.
The design development stage of this process should have included a general outline of the type of products that were going to be included, i.e. stone tops, so that the actual specification selection will not drive the final cost of the project out of the budget parameters that were established earlier.
It’s also important that the details and specifications be as complete as possible prior to starting work on the project itself. Every effort should be made to complete all specifications and selections prior to actually signing the construction contract.
There is a natural tendency for both you and your client to experience an emotional letdown upon signing a contract and have the urgency of completing selections disappear.
After signing the contract, the next step is to prepare to execute the project. Ideally, you will have several weeks to get materials ordered, finalize schedules with field crews and subcontractors and meet with your clients to prepare them for the experience.
Finally, it is highly unlikely that any project will go start to finish without complications, surprises or changes. Include your client in the process of dealing with these and being involved in the solutions.
Design your customer experience process to flow smoothly, in a planned atmosphere, and you will end up with a happy customer and a future referral.