Legacy Custom Building & Remodeling of Phoenix, Ariz. is well known in the remodeling industry for several reasons. First, it is a big company by remodeling standards. Last year, the firm had revenues just under $10 million with more than 30 full-time employees. Second, company founder Rosie Romero is one of a handful of remodelers around the country that helped build their respective firms by gaining respect and notoriety hosting home-improvement radio programs. But if Mark Olsen, CEO, and Brian Shaurette, the company’s general manager, have it their way, Legacy will also become well known in the industry for its leading-edge information technology platform.
A conversation with Shaurette — a former executive with a giant, Phoenix-based production home builder, T.W. Lewis Inc. — yielded the following gem. In describing the productivity gains that have accompanied Legacy’s multiyear investment in technology, he asserted that the company really does not have estimators on staff.
“Our estimator is not so much a physical person anymore. It is a database. Ours is proprietary, is managed and it works,” Shaurette explains. “Mike Daniel, our VP of construction will do the final proofing of it. And it is managed by input as far as pricing by trades by our purchasing manager, Tracy Libridian.”
In an industry where estimating is the cornerstone of all core competencies needed for success, the fact that a firm has made estimating consistent, scalable, efficient and significantly less labor intensive is worth noting. Perhaps even more remarkable is that there is no magic to what Legacy has done. They have simply made a strong investment in Information Technology, believing that it would make them more productive and profitable. And it has. Legacy is one of the very few remodeling companies who work within a single database in real time. If one of the company’s sales designers or project superintendent logs into the network, all of the files — reports, drawings, scopes of work, draft invoices — relating to his projects are synchronized with one central database on one server. It is called a SQL server and in the world of geeks is pronounced “sequel.”
“So if purchasing is saying that we have new copper prices, it gets updated across the system, We used to have to go around and update each laptop to make that pricing change,” says Shaurette. “Then, after the copper pricing was updated on all the laptops, there was the question of what to do about the scopes-of-work that were already in process, and how to get those updated. Now Tracy just inputs the copper pricing changing into the system; and the minute a laptop signs on to the network, it is synchronized. Bam! The pricing is up-to-date on all files.”
The price of a SQL server (about $50,000) and the price of having technology experts write software that allow the creation of the single database at the center of a network (hundreds of professional hours) is presently cost-prohibitive for many remodeling firms. Yet some of the steps that Legacy, under Shaurette’s direction, have taken can be applied by most firms.
Learning from a larger builder
Shaurette admittedly had a bit of culture shock when he left T.W. Lewis Inc., a large production home building operation to take a stake in one of the area’s largest remodeling firms. Despite the firm’s size, Shaurette was caught off guard by the small size of most remodeling companies. At nearly $10 million in revenue in 2006, Legacy is among the largest full-service remodeling firms in the country, but it still felt small coming from the production building industry where $10 million is a pretty commonplace volume of activity.