Perfecting schedule, budget help manage client expectations

This article originally appeared in NARI’s Tuffin’ It Out series.

A remodeler can tell right away if their new client has gone through a remodel before. New clients assume they know the answers when really they need more direction. The most common misconceptions deal with price, timing, permitting or the designing process.

What if you could get past all that? Bruce Meller, president of Home Forge Remodeling Inc., set out to do so by guaranteeing all client’s kitchen and bathroom remodels to be completed and ready to in a specific timeframe.

“We sell all of our kitchens and bathroom projects to be 18 business days long, or 3-and-a-half weeks, from first nail to frying eggs,” Meller says.

To promote the 3-and-a-half-week guarantee, Meller took 18 photos of an actual kitchen remodel at the end of each day and posted a time-lapsed slideshow on his Web site. Each photo is accompanied by a brief description of what was accomplished that day.

The slideshow has become a very useful tool in promoting his company and managing client expectations.

Doing the homework

Meller is a former corporate engineer and marketing professional, who comes at remodeling from a different point of view.

Meller studied logistical models of different industries to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each and create his own unique remodeling model based off his findings.

“I looked at the manufacturing process of Mercedes-Benz and found that unlike other car companies in the U.S., which build cars on an assembly line full of different people, Mercedes builds each car individually with the same group of people from start to finish,” Meller says.

Meller also studied how log cabins are built in America. “Log cabins are actually built in the warehouse, having each piece measured perfectly and then numbered,” he says. By the time the materials are shipped to the location, everything is ready to be built.

To mirror these processes, Home Forge remodeling dedicates one team to work at the same home every day until it is completed. The teams consist of three full-time employees who each bring a broad range of functions and experience to the project including tile, cabinetry, drywall and plumbing.

Teams are comprised of a working lead manager, who both works and manages simultaneously. The rest of the team members have certain areas of strength, but overall, every member can perform all of the functions necessary to build a kitchen or bath.

It also uses the log cabin process in terms of preparing for the remodeling project before it actually touches a wall in the actual house.

Turning the model into a business

The Home Forge team spends an average of 45 days in the designing phase of the remodeling project. Meller says the majority of the 45 days is spent with the homeowners, coaching them through designs and product selections.

Before work begins, the project is designed, materials are ordered, cut and measured, and the work schedule is planned down to the day. By the time workers are in the home, the planning is so exact that all that’s left to do is execute.

“The model takes the burden of the logistics off of the homeowners and alleviates their fears and concerns,” Meller says.

The photo slideshow on Home Forge’s Web site is proof that what Meller is selling can be done. It also serves as an insider’s look into what homeowners can expect during a remodel. This is especially important for homeowners who have never gone through a remodeling experience before.

“People love it because the photos help explain exactly how it happens, and it reduces the stress of having people in their homes,” Meller says. “The other positive aspect is that people love to know that they can schedule their remodel around big events.”

One homeowner scheduled her kitchen remodel in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Another family scheduled their kitchen around their son’s bar mitzvah.

In the last six years of being in business, Home Forge signed 150 contracts, all of which have been completed within the 18-day timeframe and price that was agreed upon when the contract was signed. If a project goes over 18 days, Meller promises to pay the homeowners a penalty for each day the project is late.

There have been situations in the past when a more complex project, for example one with structural changes, required a specialist. In these cases, the 3-in-a-half-week limit is extended, and most homeowners are agreeable. Also, many homeowners change their mind on product halfway through the project. Meller ships the materials FedEx to accommodate the project schedule.

Unexpected things can and do happen once the house is opened, and the Home Forge team always finds a way to clear them up within 18-days. “We’ve opened up flooring to find that the entire floor structure was eaten by termites 20 years before,” he says. To Meller, that’s only an 8-hour problem, and not a two-week problem.

“Logistically, most kitchen remodels can be done within three weeks, so I tag on the half to give myself extra cushion room if something were to happen,” Meller says. He adds that he’s either a day ahead or a day behind but never any more than that.

The key to Home Forge’s three-in-a-half week magic is careful planning and a lot of communication between everyone involved. He says that the designers spend as much time as they need with the clients to make sure everything is perfect. By the time the various components come in, they, too, are examined to ensure perfection.

Regardless of how long the designing and planning takes, Meller insists homeowners appreciate efforts to plan ahead, especially if it means that the project is done on time and on budget. And the slideshow makes his job a lot easier when it comes to alleviating a homeowner’s fears and managing expectations.—Morgan Zenner

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