In the past few issues, we’ve talked about the benefits of offering installed deck sales at your lumberyard, and we’ve included some of the pros and cons of hiring out that install work to subcontractors. This month, let’s continue that discussion, but with focus on those dealers who may want to take that install work in-house.
A lot of lumberyard owners view deck installs as a profitable way to gain share of a market that is seasonally in demand. Every spring, these dealers see a surge in customers coming in and researching designs and manufacturers, buying products, but often also asking for advice on either how to install the deck, or how to hire someone to do it. Increasingly, as our economy recovers, these dealers are finding that their pro-builder customers are already full and aren’t taking referrals. It’s understandable then that these dealers feel like they’re leaving money on the table by not having an install solution for their DIY customer. That’s often what leads a dealer to turn to internal staff to take on deck installs.
In order to make it happen, I can’t recommend enough that first and foremost, you have a project manager on staff. A project manager will play a key role in your success as an installed deck sales company. When looking for a project manager (you may already have the right person within your organization), you need someone who is analytical, who can oversee budgets, and who can manage the relationships between the salesperson, the homeowner and the crew. This project manager will let you know when it’s time to add subcontractors and/or temporary help during the busy months.
As I’m sure you are aware, during the Great Recession, many dealers were forced to cut staff. In order to save on added costs such as Social Security and unemployment, they hired contractors to take on any install work that came up. But now that the economy is improving and dealers are able to bring more staff on board, it becomes even more important to manage a build team’s performance, to determine the cost for the year with a certain number of employees.
One downfall of having in-house staff work on deck install projects is that you can’t figure the labor as a fixed cost.
If a project takes a little longer than you anticipate, or if there are changes to a project that require more work, then labor becomes an unknown cost and you’re responsible, obviously, for the extra wages in getting the project done. In a subcontractor situation, you’re paying the price of the project, and that’s it. If it takes the subcontractor longer to do the job, then those extra hours are on them.
During winter months in many markets the deck installation process slows down. Even though The Deck Store is located in Minnesota, we still build decks in the winter, but we build fewer. We have a staff dedicated to building year round, and we ramp up during the months when our business picks up.
We’re also able to manage overtime well with our employees who are full time. They know that in summer months, they are bound to get quite a bit of overtime, and I’m OK with that. The same team members also understand that they’ll be guaranteed hours in the slower, winter months, but they know not to expect any overtime during those months. Many of our staff members take vacations in the winter, because they are extra busy with work during the summer season.
Down Season Benefits
A big benefit of having in-house crews is that they are there to help with other projects around the store in the deck-building downtime. A dedicated staff can also work on trade show exhibits, they can build loads for other projects, and can perform routine maintenance on your equipment and around your store. You can’t tell a subcontractor how and when to work, but you can certainly work with your own employees to make sure they are maximizing the use of their time and working to benefit your organization as a whole, beyond just building decks.
We also spend a portion of our winter months investing in training. The slower periods for deck building are a great time to have manufacturers in to introduce new products and to work with your staff. We also work more as a team during the winter months when our builders are in the store more often. Building loads, cleaning, organizing, all these activities are good team-building for your entire staff.