FAST Remodeler: Productivity, Profits and Improved Client Experience

More remodelers and home pros see opportunities for business gains through technology solutions. QR offers new research and a tech-solution directory.

by Patrick OToole

Remodeling is problem solving. That’s the essence of this industry. Successful remodeling firms are organized around finding solutions to problems, whether it’s unexpected jobsite conditions or a thorny space-planning issue. When families grow, kids move out, or aging parents move in, remodelers have answers. Thousands of these life changes drive our industry each year. 

The same can be said of remodelers’ approach to improving their business operations. When experienced owners spot mistakes in estimating or in profit calculations, successful home pros look for ways to root out systemic errors. They roll up their sleeves. It’s a hands-on approach. 

During the pandemic lockdown, remodeler A.J. Ballantine and his colleagues at Cornerstone Remodeling in Ellicott City, Maryland found a new way to interact with potential clients. Specifically, they were able to present accurate design solutions and estimates without ever meeting at a prospect’s home, which was counterintuitive to all previous norms. For major design-build projects, face-to-face meetings and in-person site visits had been considered essential. 

The bootstrapped system Ballantine and team invented instructs potential clients on how to properly measure their rooms as well as how to sketch out their initial ideas. Clients perform this work using readily available apps and technology. With those measurements and sketches in hand, Ballantine and team can quickly produce new floor plans and 3D renderings of their proposed design solutions. Technology also enables Cornerstone to quote a remarkably accurate price just from these initial renderings, Ballantine says. 

By the end of 2020, Cornerstone was using its ‘remote-quoting’ system exclusively. For them, it was the best possible way to operate going forward.The old norms had gone out the window. Their demonstration of this tech-based solution for improving business operations was a big reason why Ballantine was subsequently named Fred Case Remodeling Entrepreneur of the Year. 

Later this month, Ballantine unveils a more polished version of his remote-quoting system. He and a team of developers have created RENDR, which will be available to remodelers as a cloud-based solution—a software as a service (SAAS). 

Ballantine is not alone among remodelers who become software developers as a side gig after digging in and solving in-house business challenges. Dozens of remodelers and home improvement pros, not seeing software solutions exactly to their liking, have sat down at the keyboard and written new software for their businesses; some of them have later gone on to launch those solutions as stand-alone products. 

MarketSharp, a popular customer relationship management or CRM software, was written in 1984 on the first edition of a Macintosh computer by Tim Musch, a former window retailer. Similarly, Leap—a popular enterprise software for replacement contractors—was initially written to the specifications of Patrick Fingles of Maryland-based Nu Look Home Design. 

Remodelers not only are problem solvers for their clients, but they also use tech to solve industry wide problems by authoring new software. Many other home pros configure their own tech solutions, using existing platforms in combinations unique to their specific businesses.

Scott and Paul Chatel of Chatel Construction in Commack, New York, tell Qualified Remodeler the father and son duo re-platformed their business after a three-month voluntary shutdown of their business during the initial phases of COVID-19 in hard-hit New York City.

To jumpstart their post-lockdown lead flow, the Chatels boosted their presence with Houzz, Angi and other marketing websites. They also focused on a steady, organic presence on Facebook and Instagram and tied it all together with a new CRM system. The new data helped them realize that social media channels for local community groups in Park Slope Brooklyn and other places were their most effective lead source. So, that is where they focused their marketing efforts.

Another example is Ken Kelly of Kelly Roofing in Naples, Florida. He grew his family business to a $50 million enterprise by personally experimenting with and integrating  a unique combination of apps available within the Microsoft Office ecosystem. Kelly’s success at using his own combination of Office-based solutions landed him on stage with Microsoft’s CEO at the company’s annual meeting. His bootstrapped tech showed the power of the Microsoft eco-system for all small businesses. 

Because of these stories and others, Qualified Remodeler for the second consecutive year asked remodelers to report their use of software and business technology. In particular, remodelers and home pros ranked the impact of software in three key areas: business productivity, increased profitability, and improved client and user-experience, frequently referred to as UX. 

Remodelers Embrace Technology

Of the 326 remodelers who answered some or all the survey’s questions, 52.2 percent saw themselves in the two groups most inclined to try new software and technology. When asked to choose which phrase best described their “approach to adopting business software and technology” 32.6 percent said “quick or early adopter” fit them best. Another 19.6 percent classified themselves as “digital natives” who embrace the latest-and-greatest new business technologies. 

About a third of respondents (36.2 percent) characterized their approach to technology as being “cautious” when adopting software and technology solutions for their businesses. Only 9.4 percent saw themselves as “technology averse,” avoiding technology if they can or “trying to keep things simple.”

When it came to ranking types of technology solutions that offer the best pathway to greater productivity in their businesses, tried-and-true solutions came out on top. Office software for email, spreadsheets and word processing was No. 1, followed by estimating software No. 2, and design software No. 3. 

In terms of how they ranked types of software for positive impact on profitability, estimating software was No. 1, project management software was No. 2, and production or field-management software was No. 3. Finally, when ranking software in terms of gains in user experience, remodelers chose CAD or design software No. 1, followed by project-management software No. 2. Measuring or pre-estimating software was No. 3.

Another goal of the research was to provide an up-to-date technology snapshot of the industry capturing the tech remodelers currently use in their businesses. Presented with 18 different types of software solutions, respondents were asked which they used in their businesses today. Their choices were yes, they are using the solution; no, they are not using the solution; and no, but they are considering using the solution. The percentages for all 18 solutions can be found above. In the top spot, 76.1 percent said they use some type of accounting or finance software. This was followed by an “office bundle” of spreadsheets, word processing (73.9 percent) and design software (65.9 percent). 

The survey also gave remodelers and home pros the opportunity to report on their use of technology in an open-ended way. That is where remodelers shared their creativity and problem-solving approach to using business technology. 

John Newland, co-owner of JOMA Construction Inc. with his wife Marielle in Athens, Georgia, was a software developer prior to becoming a remodeler 18 years ago.

“We use technology to help solve our problems, adapt, and provide value to our clients,” he wrote. “Though there are project management platforms that have features beyond production, we’ve always been quick to diversify our online platforms and have been willing to take the time it takes to onboard and give new technologies a fair try. Over the years, we’ve curated a great combination of productivity platforms that complement our project management system including a powerful CRM, HR tools, cloud-based productivity suite, billing, sales pipeline and reporting, advertising, and more. We use granular permissions, so every user only has the tools they need.”

The question all remodelers and home pros must ask themselves, especially with tech-savvy competitors like John and Marielle Newland, is whether they have all the tech tools they need. QR

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