It’s good to be home

Ruby SlippersIn 1939, the classic American fantasy movie, The Wizard of Oz, made its debut.  In the movie, Dorothy, was mystically transported from her home in Kansas to the magical world of Oz.  As the movie progresses, Dorothy, continues to meet new allies that attempt to help her accomplish her goal of returning to her home; while all the time facing difficult trials and tribulations. The young Kansas girl and her faithful little dog, Toto, dreamed of returning home, and did not let little set backs slow the journey down.

As many of you are aware, we vacated our Adams Street location for an extensive remodel.  The office staff assumed a temporary home in a small building located near downtown Hutchinson, while others used warehouses as their offices.  Although we were not whisked away in a tornado like Dorothy, the challenges of temporarily moving a 45 year old company presented some interesting logistical hurdles for all.  (Things that were normally just taken for granted, suddenly were gone or missing…or in some cases just misplaced!)

The experience was good for our team.  The tests that we faced exposed us to struggles that we had not anticipated, and forced us to look for alternative ways to solve the issue at hand.  The adventure made all of us think outside of our comfort zone, and as Dorothy experienced, empowered us to realize who we really were, and what we wanted to accomplish.

We are home.  We have moved back into the Adams Street location.  Sure, we still have things to do, finishing touches to apply, but we also have customers that need assistance solving their problems, and, as we did throughout our remodel, have placed the needs of our committed customers in front of our own desires.

Yes, we are home.  It definitely feels good.

 

Oh no….a change order. Now what?

As our project enters the second month of construction, and we continue to “walk in our customer’s shoes,” I am once again reminded of another element that our customers must endure with a construction project; the often misunderstood, change order.  As a general contractor you make every attempt to assure that your bid is accurate, and that your subcontractors have completed their homework.  However, remodeling can be notorious for surprises, some small and minute, while others have a way of creating an elevated stress level.  Either way, the change order is a segment of the construction process that most of the time gets a bad reputation for a doing a good job.

What is it:
By definition, a change order is a legal document that protects the customer and the general contractor when there is a change to the original contract.  The contract is the original, or in legal verbiage, the governing document for the project; any changes from the terms of that document, must be mutually agreed upon.  That agreement is summarized in the terms of a change order.

The Negatives:
The biggest worry with a change order is the costs associated with it.  Homeowners have read about the nightmares associated with a change.  The perception is that the general contractor will victimize his/her customer and take advantage of the situation to add to the bottom line of the project.  While I must admit, unfortunately, this type of misdirected project management still exists in our industry, most of the worries on the consumer’s end of things are just urban myths.

The Positives:
The change order allows both parties to “reset” their plans and objectives.  If a contractor finds serious mold or rot issues; now is the time to address it, instead of hiding it from the customer and just burying it in the job.  Furthermore, if the customer changes his or her mind about aspects of a segment of the plan, the change order again promises the opportunity to revisit a concern.  As an example if a homeowner opts to upgrade the counter-tops of their new kitchen to granite, the change order protects both parties from a financial aspect, and allows the general contractor the contingency plan to proactively assure that all structural aspects are not compromised.

Each aspect of our remodel project has helped redefine the continued need for over-communication between the general contractor and the customer.  The shoes we have walked in through this process are a reminder of the potential negative perceptions that our customers can have with a project of this magnitude.  As a professional contractor we must keep these negative perceptions of a change order in mind, and plan accordingly.  Otherwise, I can assure you, the journey will be painful one.

What happens when “base” is gone.

Prior to the electronic age, children would actually go outside to play.  The older kids would choose the game, and the younger group would just follow in line.  The common tie between the two age groups was a simple little thing called base.  It was a place of safety, comfort, and loaded with the knowledge that no matter what was happening in the game, you were safe.  It was home.  Venturing away from base was risky and uncomfortable.  To journey outside of the “safety net” could involve feelings of insecurity, and for most, a step onto somewhat slippery ground.

As we approach the conclusion of week two of our remodel, our “base” is gone.  Our home looks terribly different.  The feelings of comfort and safety have been replaced with “what in the world have I done,” as well as opportunities to question the overall thought process of the project.

 I was again reminded of the parallels of our project and what our customers must obviously be experiencing.  This “walk in my shoes” challenge has opened some doors, and shed some light.

Realization:
For most home owners experiencing a remodel project, this is the make or break point.  Walls are removed, debris is scattered….life as they know it, their base, so to speak, is upside down.  There is no turning back now.  Realization truly is the foundation of what is to follow.

Acceptance:
If the homeowner has completed their due diligence, this is a fairly easy step.  If not, there will be issues with the project and with the general contractor.  

 

 Progress:
At this point in the project allow the contractor the opportunity to do what he/she said they were going to do.  This aspect is significant to both the client and the contractor.  It is during this stage that relationships are cemented together, or ripped apart.  It is imperative that the homeowner allow the contractor the opportunity to succeed.  Direct communication between all invested parties should be a mandated issue at this point.  All communication needs to be relayed first hand, and not through a third party.  Important interpretations can get lost or mis-communicated.

The “shoes” feel a little different after two weeks.  The trials and tribulations of our clients seem more tangible, and realistic.  The journey continues, with our eyes wide open, always looking for opportunities to enhance the Larson Experience.

 

Walking in their shoes……

As young children, I’m quite confident that we’ve all heard the same message over and over again.  A couple of little variations here or there, but in the long run, I’m sure each of us can recall the resounding words of our parents, “Don’t make me repeat myself,” or the quick three word answer, “Deal with it.”  Of course, there is one that still makes me laugh today, “Stop hitting your sister,” or the ultimate parenting answer, “What did I tell you?”  Most of the time, those wise parental sayings just slid in one ear, and quickly out the other, falling into that deep pit of ambiguity called the teenage years….never listening to a voice of reason, experience, or common sense.

We as contractors sometimes make the same mistakes.  We talk to our clients about planning, delays, change orders, budgets, and schedules.  Unfortunately, when the contractor becomes the customer, and starts walking in someone elses’ shoes, it can be an eye opening experience, and failing to listen, like the teenager mentioned above, can result in some interesting surprises.

We recently started a major renovation on our offices and showroom at our Adams Street location.  There was nothing structurally wrong with our building; it served our purposes adequately. There were areas that needed updating.  There were opportunities for increased efficiencies within our organization, and the management team felt it was an opportune time to re-brand ourselves as the premier remodeler/home builder in central Minnesota.

For the most part, we did practice what we preach.  A plan was derived with input from all members of our team.  A budget was established, and like most projects, was re-established. Financing was secured, and a time line for the project was submitted.

It was interesting, however, to actually walk in our client’s shoes.  In order to complete the project in a timely manner, the building had to be vacated.  Which meant a new location for the office staff at Richard Larson Builders had to be secured, and then of course, the ultimate challenge…..the move.  It is not easy picking up an organization and moving it to another site.  Logistics, change, challenges, and more change have dominated everyone associated with our group. 

One week into the project, and I’ve already learned that listening to experience is invaluable, and that every now and then, it is good for a business owner to walk in their customer’s shoes for a while.  Please accept this invitation to join me on our renovation journey and experience the highs and lows of a substantial remodeling project.

Larson Builders