I saw a van at Home Depot yesterday that said “We Show Up” It was the name of his company! My first reaction was “how ridiculous”. Then I thought a second and could appreciate the angle this guy was taking. It also tells us volumes about the contracting business, that a guy is going to name his business something that highlights the main flaw of contractors! It would be like a car dealer called, “We don’t rip you off” or a dentist practice named, “We won’t hurt you!” It seems a little silly, but the point is not lost on me.
Dealing with contractors sucks. I am in the business and I hate it, so I can only imagine how difficult it is for homeowners to try and wade through the chum infested waters of residential building and remodeling. There are so few that have the total package. Guys that “get” the business from the inside out. Not just the building and remodeling side, but also the administrative and customer service side.
In baseball they use the term “5 Tool Player” to describe someone who has all 5 of the main strengths that make up a great player. They are: speed, arm strength, defense, hitting for average and hitting for power. The 5 tool baseball player is very rare and they do not come along very often. Ken Griffey Jr. was my favorite and he is someone who would fit in this category. Having Ken Griffey, Jr. or any other 5 tool player on your club, gives you a better chance of winning day in and day out. Having a 5 tool contractor on your team is no different. Whether they are a small time operator like a plumber, electrician or a large remodeling company with a dozen employees. Are they rare and hard to find? Absolutely, but if you can find one, you will have the best chance of getting through your project on top.
Here are the traits that make up the 5 Tool contractor
Hands On Experience– A top notch contractor should have at minimum 10 plus years in the field. This means time in the trenches getting his hands dirty and doing the work. This is the foundation of a 5 Tool Contractor. Whether it be carpentry, pipe fitting or gardening, it’s simply impossible to understand all the nuances of a trade unless you have been immersed in it for decade or more. While it’s impossible to know and learn everything, this time and experience forms the bedrock of your contracting business.
Communication– Probably the most underrated and under utilized skill that a contractor can have. As a group, contractors are notoriously poor communicators, whether it be written or verbal. They spend most of their time in their own head and few have learned the basic skills of effective communication. This includes not only with homeowners, but other trades, employees, vendors and officials. The 5 Tool Contractor understands the power and effectiveness of good communication and is always trying to learn and improve as well.
Design– Along with the ability to put the building blocks of a project together, The 5 Tool Contractor understands how to design and implement that into each project. He can work both with the designs of other builders and architects, but can also perform and deliver effective design solutions for his own projects. This does not necessarily mean that he can create perfect hand or computer drafted plans, but it does mean he can do basic drafting that is effective enough to convey his vision and build the work he or she imagines.
Administrative– The 5 Tool Contractor understands that without this skill, his business will fail. Contractors have also developed the reputation of being “bad businessmen.” You will often hear this refrain, as clients lament about a past experience with a contractor. “He does very nice work but he’s a terrible businessman.” is a comment I often hear. Now that can be fairly general, but I am referring to what we call the paper side of the business.
These are the 5 administrative skills that every contractor should have:
- Budgets– Knowing your numbers and making sure the budgets for not only your projects but also for your business are balanced and doing what they are supposed to do.
- Schedules– Creating, maintaining and USING construction schedules for each project
- Specifications– Creating and organizing detailed specifications for every aspect of a job and managing the changes throughout the course of a job.
- Office- The 5 Tool Contractor keeps a fully functioning office that is organized and enables him to perform all the tasks that are required.
- HR– The final skill in the administrative tool box is the most complicated and therefore the most overlooked and ignored. HR skills include keeping current with all the rules and regulations that are required to run your business, including: insurance, payroll, taxes, licenses, legal compliance and employee management.
Just Do It– Like the old Nike slogan, the final tool for the best contractors is their ability to get the job done as promised. That means in a timely manner and with the best quality possible. You can have all of the first 4 skills and fail at this last one and everything is worthless. This is the finishing skill that many contractors don’t have. They often start strong, but soon fade away as the project moves into the middle and latter stages.