Several years ago there was a study done based on exit polling from model home visitors on what they thought builders make on each home. This was done in the context of a national survey by the NAHB (National Association of Homebuilders) on what builders actually make. Most people believe that builders make over 20% on their products. Nationally, builders were actually making between 0 and 5%. The cost of running the business was 10% of gross revenue. Recently, another such study was done. The cost of simply running the business has risen to 12% of gross revenue, and overall profitability dropped those same 2%. What this means is that building companies, nationally, are under tremendous pressure to stay profitable while still satisfying their customers. We see this pressure every day. Since we started Myers Homes in the early ’90’s, most of the builders that existed when we started are gone. Their staffs scattered, their customers orphaned, and their vendors cast off. Since 2005, nearly 70% of the builders in our market have vanished! We, though, are still here. Our customers still get a return call if they need information or help with something, our vendors are still here, and we’ve retained most of our staff over the years. Often, especially in a bid situation, we are asked to change our business model to accommodate the pricing structure of others. We’ve recently lost a few jobs because we wouldn’t/couldn’t get low enough in our pricing. I’ve found that price is paramount only for the shortest moment of the transaction- right up until the contract is signed. For the rest of the duration of the transaction- which may last for a year or more of plan development, construction and more years of warranty support, price isn’t an issue at all, but service becomes the most important thing. In fact, most of the people I meet that had bad experiences building or remodeling with another company never talk about the pricing choices they made and are only reflecting on the bad products or service they received in exchange. Maybe that’s why we still work for our customers many years after the initial sale. Call us- give our way a try. It’s much more relaxing!
This week I had the chance to tour a few of Washington DC’s iconic buildings. What struck me was the fantastic detailing and craftsmanship in buildings built during the country’s infancy. The British burned down the Capitol Building during the war of 1812, and craftsman began immediately to rebuild it. Using strictly human powered hand tools, they built brick arches, groined ceilings and domes and trimmed them out and glazed them with the most meticulous attention to detail. Structures that today would be simply covered in drywall, they covered in hand-made millwork of massive size, carved plaster flowers and plants of intricacy and realism, and handcut glass that was made to fit individual domes and windows. Massive marble and sandstone columns with custom carved capitols and bases reflecting the things of importance to our countrymen from that period add to the gravitas of the structures. Inside the building are sculptures and artwork reflecting master artists from the past and reflect the weight of importance placed on people and events from that time period. Of course, more recent works reflect more recent events and people. Someday, people from a future United States, will marvel at the workmanship and care taken from even these more recent works, and will reflect on those that crafted this crucible of freedom. The permanence of what we build is something I think of often. What will people in the future think about what we’ve built, and what kind of people we were that built what the future will, hopefully, value and embrace. The homes and projects we build are a reflection of ourselves, and the times we live in, and will be a sort of time machine that future generations can look through to see us as if they were looking through a time travel looking glass. I hope they like what we’ve crafted as much as I now admire the work of these long dead and nameless craftsman that painstakingly sweated the details back in 1814-
I often take snippets of bad movies that have made an impact on me, and use those as analogies for things that happen to us every day. One such snippet comes from an obscure Gene Hackman/Keanu Reeves movie called The Replacements . There’s a scene where Hackman and Reeves are talking about outward calm vs. inner turmoil, and Hackman says that “we’re just ducks on a pond”- above the water, little to no movement, below the water line, where you don’t see anything, little duck feet moving furiously. Often, construction is like that. Seemingly little getting accomplished, and then all of a sudden massive progress. During that quiet time, though, the groundwork for later work is happening. Pipes being laid, ground being prepped, foundations being readied. Then, BOOM, seemingly all at once a project is close to completion. This summer, we had many “ducks-on-a-pond” times and now, as projects are making great progress, BOOM, we’re getting close to finishing. Seems like all at once. Yet, all of us working know just how furiously our feet were moving all summer and fall to get us to this point- check out one of these projects- Poolhouse Progress
For at least 20 years that I can remember, the purveyors of technology have promised us thinking, automated homes. From the ’90’s until today we have been inundated with promises of automated thermostats, self stocking refrigerators, and an easy-to-use remote control that would allow us to easily select from about a thousand channels from multiple sources. Well, the truth has been that for every new control gadget we got, there were a ballooning number of sources that required yet another gadget to control. Sure, HVAC firms have remote control thermostats, but up until recently, you had to use a separate remote to use them. Smartphones and apps have helped a lot lately- at least now you can download an app for that thermostat or toaster that could allow you some degree of control, but the universe of controllable things has, so far, dwarfed the the solar system of controllers. And, most of these things require some degree of technology savvy on the part of the end user, who may be required to drill through a list of FAQs on a website, or, worse, an instruction manual folded into about 7 different languages shoved into the box. All, my friends, is not lost, though. Last fall one of the industry leaders in this sort of technology, Crestron, rolled out a game changing piece called Pyng. Pyng acts as a programming hub for pieces designed to be integrated into the technological landscape it creates, and that’s a lot of things. Lighting, Audio, HVAC, security, and as we move forward, video. Crestron is the gear that’s used in robust, automated buildings such as Apple’s headquarters, or the new Goodyear World Headquarters building in Akron. Brought into the home, Crestron finally created an easy-to-build infrastructure around its wireless gear, with Pyng as a hub, so companies like our sister company K+ Audio and Integration (www.k-integration.com ) can easily retrofit homes and install nearly any subset of sources and control for the family. Want sound on your back patio? That’s no problem at all. Best, the control is as simple as an IPhone app. Crestron is not a do-it-yourself system-like any other system with a simple interface, the gear and set up behind the scenes is fairly technical and complex. But the gear is bullet-proof. It just works.
I lost a friend last week. Truth is, I lost him several years ago when he contracted cancer and a rare brain disease and had to withdraw from working. Kenny Kassouf Jr. and his firm Permanent Floors have installed the floors for nearly everything I’ve ever built. When I first met Kenny I was in my early 20’s and knew absolutely nothing about building anything, and so nothing about flooring. Kenny patiently and over a period of years and projects brought me up to speed on his industry and his trade. Different woods, different carpets, different tiles, vendors, grouts, underlayment, trim pieces. Things I came up with that he hadn’t seen, he researched and helped me to work with those vendors or materials. Kenny, like all my vendors, was a true expert in his craft, and was willing to share his knowledge and expertise with me. None of us are born knowing about butt-joints, binding machines, schluter moldings, or thinset. As a builder, I need to know a lot about a lot of things like this. I need to know about different kinds of insulation, roofing underlayments, plumbing materials and where and where not to use them, different fasteners, adhesives, wires, connectors, pipe, codes, integrated building systems, deflection coefficients, dew points, span charts, wood species, and much much more. I can learn these things only by asking someone who knows about them to share that knowledge with me, and I’ve been fortunate that those I’ve had the great chance to meet over the years have been willing to share that knowledge with me. It’s helped me to help them to move in and out of my jobs better, more efficiently, and with less waste, and it’s helped me provide my customers with much better finished projects. Each of these people is pretty darn hard to replace. In Kenny’s case he had brought his son-in-law on board and now I have a great relationship with Ryan. But I owe Kenny a debt that I can’t pay for all his help over almost 30 years of working together. My homes are a tribute to Kenny, and all the great people that work with me to build them. Thank you all!