Running a successful remodeling business necessitates two major skill sets: craftsmanship and a business-oriented mind. Success on the business end often comes down to how organized one is and how well procedures and systems are implemented.
Recognizing the importance of learning business operations, Steve Shinn, CR, CKBR, UDCP, GCP, co-owner of Phoenix-based Tri-Lite Builders, hired a consultant to teach him systems such as estimating, bookkeeping, job costing, etc., when he first got into the remodeling business.
Shinn and the consultant ended up working together five years so Shinn could learn about and fine-tune business operations. “One of the biggest challenges to remodelers is a lot of them are very good craftsmen but don’t have a lot of business background,” Shinn says. “That side of it is probably the most important, though.”
Shinn weathered the recession relatively well and finds himself primed for growth. “We’re in growth mode now and that could be more dangerous than the other way around,” he says. “You can’t grow without having systems in place to ensure everything is going the way it’s supposed to be, in regard to production and finance.” In the past year, Shinn has made strides by hiring an office manager and someone to help on the design and estimating side. “Early on, the consultant was teaching me systems that serve me well today, but in those early days I didn’t have the staff.”
Having more people in place has allowed Shinn to focus his efforts on improving his business. For example, he’s been able to tighten and fine-tune his Excel-based estimating system. “If an owner is so busy doing all of the necessities, you really don’t have time to alter a spreadsheet to work better for you.”
Shinn also focuses on producing a job book for project managers. “We now produce a binder that has all of the job specs and what fixtures are going where,” he explains. “Many remodelers would tell you that’s just baseline of what you should do, and I agree. But again, you have to have enough hours in the day to be able to do all these things.”
Meetings to encourage communication and conversation help Shinn’s team work well together and with its clients. He also has improved operations by using a cloud-based data and file storage system, investing in quality computers and becoming involved in industry associations such as the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and Remodelers Advantage.
“The biggest part of why I joined Remodelers Advantage was to improve my business systems,” Shinn says. “If you join their peer groups, I think a lot of what that is about is holding each other’s feet to the fire on systems and what it takes to do things the best way. Right now my priority in my own company is to get more focused on the financials. That, in turn, will make my company more profitable and be better for everyone concerned.
“Now that things are growing, it has become more important for me as a leader of my company to be analyzing everything,” Shinn says. “You can’t have growth willy-nilly because the stakes will multiply themselves. If they’re costly mistakes, you can dig yourself a deep hole that is very hard to get out of. One of my main focuses right now is looking at systems we have in place and at the jobs I do every day; I’m trying to delegate those tasks so I can redouble my focus on the business side of things. That’s one of the most critical responsibilities I need to be doing.”
Shinn’s key piece of advice for effective business management is knowing the financial side of business, which encompasses estimating properly, executing projects properly, staying close to estimated numbers and tracking everything. Then, one should be able to analyze the numbers so adjustments can be made as necessary.
“I think an awful lot of remodelers are just doing it on a wing and a prayer,” Shinn says. “The problem is they don’t know what they don’t know. Ignorance is bliss until everything falls out from under you. The financial side is the most important part because the production side is a given. If you’re going to be a professional remodeler, it’s a given production needs to be really good. The clients are going to want that quality work and you’re going to produce it. But, there are plenty of people producing quality work that go out of business because they don’t look at the other business side. That’s what I tell other people, and that’s my mantra to myself.”