A Builder’s View: Integrating Technology in to Business

Although many builders shun the very thought of doing something in a different way than they have always done it, other builders are profiting like never before, and don’t know how they would function going back to the old ways. Why the difference? Whether it is emotion, ego, fear, ability, or just guts, knowledge is still power. BuildTopia interviewed 2 different builders to get their perspectives.

Principal Spencer Padgett with Arrisbrook Builders of Catonsville, MD uses technology as a “force multiplier.”

“Our ability to enter information one time, then rely on it for multiple projects reduces the overall hours we have to spend on both data entry and management.  Because our enterprise management system is all-inclusive with regards to capability, we rely heavily on its ability to communicate among its modules and produce reports that require input of several people in a non-technology oriented company. For example, budget accuracy, schedule performance and sales performance can all be tracked by clicking a few buttons, without the need for time-wasting meetings or collaboration of several people in several departments.”

Since Spencer can not yet clone himself, technology becomes a great equalizer.

“Technology allows us to increase our geographic operating area while simultaneously reducing our operating costs.  Our business management system (accounting, project management, sales and service management, document management, etc) is 100% ASP hosted.  We do not have to invest in complicated systems, infrastructure or hire IT overhead to manage our servers.  We spend less time at each jobsite by utilizing our in-vehicle reporting capability which is tied to our enterprise management system.  Less paperwork means more time for a critical eye towards attention to detail, safety and customer service.  We spend more time in the field executing and less time in the office shuffling paper.”

Accurate real time information allows builders to make accurate real time decisions.

“We can operate with 100% visibility of all of our business critical information anywhere there is a cell phone signal.  All of our vehicles are equipped with “Jotto Desk” mobile desktops to which our laptops are attached.  We use wireless “air-cards” to access our internet based management information from any jobsite, anywhere.  When our computers are in the office and we are not, we can use any internet connected computer and “www.logmein.com” to connect back to our computers.

If builders still think trade partners (subcontractors) can’t spell computer, they are underestimating the American workforce and themselves. Spencer confirms:

“Almost 100% of our trade partners enter their own bid information online through our enterprise management system.  This alleviates us from having to prepare bid packages, fax or mail them, verify they have been received and wait for their return before we hand enter them into a spreadsheet.  We can ask multiple suppliers or installers to bid the exact same specifications and enter their prices in the exact same manner so we get real apples-to-apples comparisons between competing bidders.  Reports are automatically prepared and all we do is look for the best value, which of course is not always the lowest price!”

Is it too much effort, or does it cost more?  No. The return on investment is extraordinary. Builders who are struggling to maintain profitability had better rush to compare business processes, or face replacement; their own.  Spencer agrees:

“We have a smaller staff, which accomplishes more, is better compensated, and happy with the streamlined process.  Technology will not remove the everyday challenges that make homebuilding interesting. It won’t make sure your framer doesn’t frame the windows the incorrect size. It won’t make your subs look any better or use nicer language, but it will allow you to focus on the bigger picture while taking over many of the details that can drain time, and therefore profit, from a builder’s schedule.  I buy the cheapest laptops we can find, throw in an air-card and I don’t care if one gets broken or walks away after a year or two.  All of our documents are stored online and our computers are purely a gateway to the internet.”

How does technology impact customer service, in an era when referrals still matter?  Arrisbrook has the answer to the “how” of the profitability question:

“Our customers appreciate the details we don’t miss and the options we are able to accurately price and offer because of our use of technology.  We don’t worry about selling options at a loss because we know our costs and can confidently price our homes and their options competitively.  Knowing our costs, being able to price competitively and having confidence in our profitability is vital in a challenging market.  If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Our options are consistently priced lower than our competitors so while we may not make as much on one option, we net more from options because we can provide more perceived value for each option dollar spent.”

Consider a different perspective.  Marcus Martin is one of the largest builders in the Jackson Mississippi area, and has positioned himself not only for business management today, but growth for tomorrow. He was profitable even before he leveraged a software system. If you are already profitable, what benefit is it to go through the “hassle” of dynamically changing your company?

Marcus Martin offers his insight:

“Systems allow you to set standard processes that are done the same way every time, which has a return on investment. Although you have to be prepared for the initial investment and the time it will take to integrate a system, consider your system like an employee. It isn’t just about installing or implementing the system. It is about feeling totally comfortable with the system. For an all in one system, purchase under the assumption it will be months beyond the implementation until you are completely up and comfortable with the system and training your entire staff.”

Mr. Martin also suggests, “Before buying a system, your company needs to analyze every way they presently conduct business and know what they want a system to do for them.  One of the biggest mistakes builders make is buying software and changing their business to the software.  You need to have a road map for what you want and find a system that fits the way your company works. But also, you should be excited about what the end result is going to be.  You are going to get results and a return on your investment, based on your needs, such as: all job costs are controlled and accounted for through purchase and variance orders. Schedules are accurate and reliable.  Staff and Trades can count on the schedule. All contact information and job specific information are in one place for sales, construction and warranty. You can make money on these types of efficiencies.”

BuildTopia expresses its appreciation to Spencer Padgett, Principal with Arrisbrook Builders from Catonsville, Maryland and Marcus Martin, Owner, with Marcus Martin Builder from Brandon, Mississippi and the over 3500 companies who were not afraid to capitalize on the ability to leverage knowledge by integrating technology in to their business.

Erik Cofield, VP of Sales is with TopBuilder Solutions which provides a construction industry specific CRM system with lead management, marketing automation, branded email marketing and a branded industry newsletter all in one easy to use web based software system with no contracts, training or termination fees, and with features no other CRM on the market has. He can be reached at erikc@topbuildersolutions.com.