Dear Jayme:

I'm a remodeling contractor and I'm competing with what seems like a million other contractors in my area. What can I do to stand out with all this competition?


Dear Woody:

If you ask customers, “What’s your biggest frustration with contractors?” you’ll get a thunderous response: “They’re flakes! They don’t show up when they promise! They don’t return calls! They’re not dependable!” Is this a universal truth? Certainly not, but this is the perception in the market and perception, as they say, is reality.

Once upon a time, June Cleaver had nothing better to do than hang around the house and wait for the electrician or remodeler to show up. Nowadays, your customers’ schedules are jammed, they get justifiably irate when their time isn’t respected, and they have power to blacklist (or recommend) a contractor via the Internet that June never dreamed of.

“But, hey,” you say, “We may be late, but we do really good work when we get there.”

“Doesn’t matter,” says your market. “You may do good work, but it infuriates me to stand around waiting for you.”

“But, hey,” you say, “there are lots of really good reasons why we can’t stay on schedule.”

“Sounds like a personal problem,” says your market. “We want you here when you promised.”

There are lots of other “yeah, buts,” and they don’t matter either. Read my lips: If your market values punctuality; being punctual better be No. 1 on your Hit Parade, too.

I know that being on time is often tough: Surprises never make the job run shorter. Craftsmen take pride in doing a good job first and worrying about the clock second. Nonetheless, your market is screaming for dependability and on-time performance. If you’re the one who can deliver it, you’ll have a leg up on your competition.

So how to do it? First, you need to make punctuality and on-time performance important in your mind and the minds of your people. That means tracking phone calls, callbacks and arrival and completion times, setting tough standards and monitoring/publishing the results. It also means tweaking your compensation systems to reward on-time performance.

Second, see if you’re the biggest culprit. If you’ve built an owner-dependent business, it means too many tasks, from estimates to returning calls, are on your shoulders. As the business grows, there’s just too much to keep in your head, and inevitably, things start falling through the cracks. That translates into missed appointments, unreturned calls and a reputation as a flake.

The trick here is to be responsible for keeping only a manageable number of balls in the air by assigning as many tasks as possible to others. This is one of our mantras at Contractor’s Business School® because (done properly) it forces you to identify and document your Key Business Processes, create measurable performance standards, and create excellent results through your employees without you having to be around every minute. You’ll find it much easier to provide stunning on-time performance if you’re not busy ordering the cabinets, signing the paychecks and having the trucks washed yourself.  



Construction Business Owner, October 2007