A Simple Recipe For Contractors Part Two:

Referrals, Websites, and Social Media, By: Bobby Parks

In part one  of “A Recipe For Contractors” I shared views on the importance of a contractor’s building philosophy, choice of project deliveries, and messaging.  In this second segment, I’ll share my thoughts on additional ingredients with referrals, websites, and social media. It’s a combination of what I did as a former contractor and what I’d be doing in today’s market.

Prior to entering the business I had no sales or marketing experience, but yet I was able to sell and build a lot of projects with an emphasis on margin growth versus traditional production growth. It involved an effort of maintaining an awareness of what was going on in my market, but also what was not being done and where I could gain an edge. It was an effort to help set the trend instead of following it. For me, it was about laying simple but effective groundwork and creating the layers of credibility with a business recipe that allowed for success. This included implementing a strategy that provided leads through a combination of a website, referrals, and later utilizing social media. 

Leads Equal Opportunity 

The upside potential for contractors is directly affected by leads generated, the profit contained in each job, and production capability. The better the lead, the better the opportunity.  It’s also a numbers game involving a balance of quantity and quality of leads along with closing ratios. Although some brag about high closing ratios, for design-build contractors this can be a bad thing in that you’re likely leaving money on the table. It also comes down to production as most contractors have a certain “buildout capacity” that’s based on their labor availability. No matter how much they sell they can only deliver so many jobs in a year’s time. Depending on how well these projects are priced from a profitability aspect determines how well they do each year. Some stay busy, some make wages, and some are operating profitable businesses. 

Referrals, Website, or Social Media?

When it comes to customer leads and jobs sold, what is your best source? Website, social media, referrals, or another source? Of the first three, referrals are typically the best quality because they’re coming from someone that you’ve already satisfied that provides an actual testimonial referral to a friend or coworker. The fact that you’ve proven yourself to this past customer means this referral carries more weight than any other source. This provides you credibility going in and lowers the sales resistance walls that most prospects have. It also raises the prospects confidence level in you earlier in the game. To an extent it can lessen the depth of this potential customer’s due diligence efforts if they trust the person that referred you as they consider part of that process already completed. On occasion you may be their only proposal. The closing ratio is generally higher so from a lead quality aspect, all of us prefer good referrals over any other lead type.

Good and Bad Referrals

The good referrals come from past customers that you charged in a way that provided good profit margins. These customers communicate to the new prospect that although they paid a premium they consider it a sound value investment. They verify that the quality of the project and the delivery experience made it worth the price. This new prospect understands they’re going to have to pay so they’re not expecting any type of discounted deal therefore allowing you the potential profits you should be striving for.  

The bad referrals come from those where you lowballed a price and profit was limited. Some contractors who count on referrals only may have several quotes out there and they need a job to move to. They have to keep people busy and cash flowing. In order to assure they’re not going to come to a stop they contact the prospects with quotes and offer a discounted deal. This means that not only will you not be profitable on this project but the referrals that come from this customer won’t allow for good profit as well. If this  customer refers you they’re likely to communicate that the contractor works cheap and they should call them. This new prospect expects a deal same as the first so there’s no upside potential for profit. It’s another job you have to give a deal on and the process repeats itself. 

Referrals Only Can Limit Upside Potential 

Even with good referrals your companies profits can be limited if you work off “referrals only”.

On average, most organized contracting businesses that produce significant volume get 30% of their leads and jobs from referrals. This means that 70% of the leads and jobs come from other sources most of which are website or internet based. It also means that those working off referrals only are working off a fraction of the lead and quote opportunities compared to those with effective websites and internet presence. Because the ones with websites have this lead surplus they can afford to quote at higher margins and work off a lower sales closing ratio compared to the referral only leads. If you’re running referrals only you have to have a higher closing ratio as opportunities are limited by two thirds or more. Because the opportunities are limited the built in margin is likely to be lower.

The effectiveness of referrals can depend on the types of projects you deliver. For example as discussed in “Part One” your building philosophy regarding the kinds of jobs you’re known for factors in. If they’re lower end wood deck jobs that have weathered, your effective referral rate weathers with them. Whereas higher end projects with better performing materials that stand the test of time allow for longer referrals periods. 

Of course there is an argument over quality versus quantity which applies here but counting on the phone to ring and run a business by “word of mouth” from referrals creates an unpredictable aspect of reliable leads. No doubt many operate this way and many “stay busy” while some actually hit good profit numbers. A lot depends on your desired volume and the amount of buildout capacity you have.

Website Provides More Opportunities 

A website is the gateway and billboard for a company that communicates what you do and the types of projects you deliver. It’s your online headquarters that allows a display and communications of everything your company is about.  If done properly it establishes a strong layer of credibility prior to having contact with a prospect. Because online searches have become a standard process for today’s customers, without one you can be overlooked and unknown. Again, it’s a numbers game that funnels potential customers your way that far exceeds the numbers referrals only bring. 

My website for my former company focused  on two main aspects which were first impressions created by photos and simple messaging. The interior behind the scenes aspect was on optimization. It’s kind of like looking at a sleek looking race car. As good as it looks it’s what’s under the hood that makes it competitive. So regardless of your company size its important that most invest in one and that you use a professional to build and manage it.  You’ll compete with others that do so to try and go cheap or manage this yourself will likely result in an ineffective site that won’t have potential to accomplish the objectives. 

I Stay Busy and Don’t Need a Website

In my opinion many contractors that “stay busy” and don’t see the need to have a website are missing out. Why not provide yourself more leads that allow you to quote at higher prices? Why not add the layers of credibility that separate you from others? When you’re quoting from word of mouth only,  you have to be careful with the price tag as you could exhaust all opportunities and not have enough work on the board. If you have a surplus of leads that allows you to add to the price tag you have a better chance of filling up your job schedule with more profitable jobs. Because you couldn’t build out everything you quote, you can afford to take 2 out of 10 or less compared to having to hit one or two out of three from referrals. It more than covers your website investment as well as adding to your annual earnings. It does require an efficiency in terms of creating quotes which I’ll cover in a future piece.  

There are always exceptions and it is true for some that realize their value, charge good margins and fill their job board with profitable jobs. But in many cases this approach imposes a limitation on upside potential. There’s also the time aspect of being able to run more leads and provide proposals. If you’re working within the crew every day, how do you find time to do both? I’ll cover this in more depth in another piece but a lot has to do with creating a quick quote system so you avoid doing takeoffs to quote every job. It requires models for expedited pricing that allows you to do several quotes in the same time period it may take to do one. This is a necessity to operate efficiently. 

Social Media

Although FB and Instagram can produce leads and can show up in searches, in my opinion these serve more as an expanded internet presence providing social media content and secondary branding purposes. They work in conjunction with a website which is the foundation and mothership for localized leads and prospects. Social media is an enhancement tool and pathway to a site and not the same as having a truly optimized website that shows up in local searches that displays your work and messaging. It’s more likely your peers and followers who are spread out across the rest of the world will see you on the social media platforms but it’s the website that provides you a set up that communicates with local prospects. It’s where your messaging and galleries are.  FB and IG can produce feathers in your cap and add another layer of credibility. It’s a way to directly communicate with others but at the end of the day it’s the prospects in your market that you must connect with and illustrate what your company is about.  

Many businesses such as millworks, subcontractors, and other trades can be connected with builders and remodelers as FB and IG serve as a networking portal. It’s an advertising platform within the building community. It’s like a national builders show compared to a local home show. For the most part they have different audiences. I’m sure some do obtain work through these outlets but counting on social media alone is likely to limit the upside potential. To grow and be selective with jobs and attach a premium price tag, the percentages are going to favor a website.

Work With a Blended Approach

There are exceptions for every aspect here. Some contractors can hit their numbers and maximize profit off referrals only. Some may actually do the same with only a social media presence. A lot depends on the volume required and an individual’s effort in each area,  but in most cases these two aspects alone won’t provide the necessary upside opportunities. Neither replaces an effective website that allows for a better sharing of messaging and photos with local search advantages. Even if you’re a one crew operation with limited buildout capacity you can benefit. It’s not about selling more but more about filling up your job board with more profitable jobs and providing the necessary opportunities to accomplish this. It’s about not operating on hope and prayer. Most will benefit from a balanced three pronged strategy because one day the referral leads that have always seemed to arrive in time to keep you busy may slow to a point that even staying busy is a challenge. Having this balanced plan will produce more opportunities with better predictability providing for a smoother operation and better profits. It’s an investment that some may believe they can’t afford but I would argue you can’t afford not to. It’s an investment in your business and should be part of the plan. For me it was a key ingredient of my recipe. 

Bobby Parks / Instagram: @Bobbyparks007

Copyright Bobby Parks – March 11th, 2020


Question & Answer with NADRA.org

An on-going series of inquiries from consumers & industry professionals sent to Info@NADRA.org.

Question #1:

“I am planning a deck on the back of my home. I am wondering if I am missing something. 

I want to use 6×6 post and notch them for my beam and rim joist as one, then just carry it up to be my hand rail posts also. Other than maybe cost and the extra work of dealing with the heavier pieces this seems like the way to go but I don’t see anyone doing it. Am I missing something as a non professional as to why this would not work?

Other details: Deck height on one end will reach 36 inches. Total deck size will be about 24 feet along the house and a max of 12 feet out away from the house.”

Answer provided by Glenn Mathewson, NADRA Technical Advisor:

Thank you for reaching out to us for assistance.  The NADRA membership supports the organization to offer commentary to those seeking a better understanding of the deck and railing industry.  The International Residential Code (IRC) is a model code developed by the International Code Council.  Government authorities very often reference this document for the regulation of single family homes, but they often make amendments to change the rules.  The guidance herein is only in regard to the unamended model code, as we are unaware of your locally adopted building code.  The subject of guards may or may not be amended.  have reached out to our advisors to provide you assistance.

What you are proposing is not unusual in anyway and can produce a very sound and beautiful deck and guard.  Being a technical subject, it is important we clarify that you are referring to “guards” and not “handrails”.  Handrails are only the graspable rail found beside stairs and ramps to assist in ascending and descending.  A guard is a feature at the edge of an elevated walking surface meant reduce the likelihood of a fall off the edge.  Presuming you are speaking of a guard, we will continue.

According to the 2018 IRC, guards must be designed to resist a 200 lb load placed at the top of the guard, currently in any direction.  To achieve this design load through testing, an ultimate strength of no less than 2.5 x the load must be resisted.  This is a 500 lb test load.  Research has been done on this load for guard post connections and found that a 4×4 post could not be notched at the point of connection.  No testing occurred on a 6×6.  In the development of the next edition of the IRC, the 2021, much discussion was made by industry professionals on the subject of notched guard posts.  A proposal was submitted and approved for this code, based on the research and engineering analysis, that prohibits the notching of 4×4 posts.  In the discussion for this proposal, 6×6 posts were brought up.  When notched to retain at least 3.5 inches of material in the “flange” it was agreed that notching a 6×6 should not be prohibited by code at this time and without further research.  No code provisions were approved with relation to 6×6 posts.

In the absence of prescriptive design methods or provisions provided by the code, a design professional is necessary to validate structural performance. Therefore, we cannot provide you any definitive answer, as there is not yet an established accepted and generic practice to notching 6×6 guard posts. We can tell you that it can be achieved sufficiently, and is a design seen in the industry.  Here are some things to consider as you make your decision:

  • 1) Determine if there are local design standards required by your local building department.
  • 2) Discuss the design with your local building department.
  • 3) The design of your guard assembly as a whole can have an impact on the load resistance the post to beam connection must resist.  Evaluate this.
  • 4) Notching of material must be done with consideration to any knots, wane, or damage to the member near and at the notch location.
  • 5) Do not overcut your notches with a circular saw, as this equates to a deeper notch.
  • 6) If it is preservative treated lumber, you need to field treat the inside of the notch.  If cedar, you do not.
  • 7) At a minimum, do not leave less than 3.5 inches of material remaining in the untouched portion.

We hope this information will be helpful to you in your project.

Home Show Season is Here. Are You Ready?

Tips from NADRA.org

March is right around the corner, and that means we’re entering “Home Show Season”. It’s the end of the winter, the early customers are calling and inquiring. Now is our last chance to button-up any policies, procedures, and give our companies one last “spring cleaning” before the rush!

Home Show Tips:

  1. Market the event ahead of time. Ask your family, friends and fans to share a post about the show. It’s human nature to want to help. Your family and friends will want to share your post and tell people about it! If you’re feeling shy about it, offer a free prize to a random fan that shares your post. That way everyone wins!
  2. Pull the crowd into your booth. Try something interactive: Corn hole, giant size connect 4 or jenga.
  3. Two things everyone has a hard time saying “no” to! Hand Sanitizer and Candy. Do yourself a favor and stock up!
  4. Collect Potential Customer Contact information. Grab a fish bowl, use an app, anything! Have your prospects fill out their info and be sure to get permission to contact them. Run a content to entice them to fill it out. Simple ideas might be: $100 gift card to a local pub, Target or big box store gift card, maybe a free lighting package to name a few. Just make sure to give them reason to pass along their contact info.
  5. Ask the crowd to pull out their phones, bring up your social media platforms and follow you. Reward them with some branded promotional merchandise. Who says no to a free Tshirt, stickers, sunglasses or Trucker hat?
  6. Guys. C’mon. Put the phone down! Stand tall, shoulders back, make eye contact and be present. Greet your potential customers. Smile.
  7. Avoid clustering together and having staff discussions. Don’t turn your back to the walk ways. Look approachable.
  8. Wear comfortable shoes!
  9. Don’t dilly dally when it comes to follow up. Follow up right away. Most people can’t remember what they ate for breakfast yesterday! Don’t wait too long before following up. Make it a priority.

Good luck at the show. Be sure to post photos and if you’re feeling up to it, tag your friends at @NADRARocks, or at least use the #NADRARocks hashtag so we can find your home show photos!

Preparing for the busy season ahead. A few questions to ask yourself:

  1. Is there any last-minute education to wrap up?
  2. Are all of our vendor agreements in place?
  3. Are your trucks and trailers lettered and in good shape?
  4. Are you displaying the NADRA logo and pledge on your marketing materials? (stand out from the competition!)
  5. Are your business cards printed with updated industry certifications and social media information? Do you have any awards to add to these?
  6. Are you utilizing NADRA’s Deck Safety Month® Marketing Tools?
  7. Do you have marketing pieces ready?
  8. Job site signs in good shape?
  9. Crew T-shirts and hats stocked?
  10. Do you have a good camera for your before and after pictures? Or is this the year to consider adding a drone?
  11. How is the website, email signature, and voicemail greetings?

If you don’t have these things ready, you have time, but that time is now! Go get it done. You’ll feel better prepared, and at the end of the day, you’ll know you did everything you could to be ready for the season.If you’re wondering where to get the best job-site signs, or you’re not sure where to order your T-shirts, don’t forget to reach out to your fellow NADRA members to ask. That’s what we are here for! Ask away. Use NADRA’s social media platforms to ask questions, hop on LinkedIn to start a discussion, Tweet! Instagram seems to be the most active these days. @NADRARocks. Use whatever platform makes it easy for you to ask your question. It’s human nature to want to help. Someone will answer you. Use your NADRA network to better your business. We are here for you. Your NADRA Board of Directors, and Home Office staff are here to help. Feel free to call or email any of us, if we can assist in any way.

We will have more tips coming your way in future issues of your industry brief.

Sincerely,

Your friends at NADRA

Are You Charging Enough for Deck Features?

By Bobby Parks

Today’s Outdoor Living Contractors

In today’s deck building market, radiuses, borders, inlays, outdoor lighting, and mitered stair tread details have become the trend.  I have friends that deliver amazing award-winning creations utilizing some or all these elements and most have figured out not only an efficient way to deliver these options, but also how to price them. I know from price tags I’ve seen on jobs and through conversations as I travel around the country that some could be charging more than they are for their projects and especially upgrade features. These operators are producing impressive work, but at compromised prices. In a best case scenario, this limits their profitability. In a worse case scenario, this weakens their financial health and lessens their chance of riding out the next economic downturn as there’s likely no buildup of reserves!

Reasons for Underpricing 

Many deck builders begin businesses with stronger building skills than sales abilities. While most  develop the balance with both, some don’t and often provide quotes without proper presentation or follow up which can handicap margin. They can sell jobs as long as the price is “low enough” but for varying reasons, they struggle to sell at needed margins. 

Underpricing or selling at minimal margins is often a result of one of the following: Not understanding the real cost of delivery. Not understanding the cost of overhead. Undervaluing ones worth. Underdeveloped people skills and sales ability. 

Generally, it  occurs with newer contractors that are trying to establish themselves, but lack confidence in their ability to sell or in the value of what they offer. It also occurs with many who worked as subcontractors that have not fully understood retail pricing or struggle to mentally overcome the “cost” aspect when quoting a customer. It even happens with veteran operators who undervalue their worth and lack the development of confidence to mentally overcome price. 

Motivation, ambition, and what’s considered as satisfactory profitability varies with contractors. At the end of the day it’s what you are satisfied with that matters. I’ve met with contractors that weren’t charging enough for basic jobs and I’ve met with some who charge appropriately for most jobs but don’t charge enough for added features.  Let’s touch on some of these.

Radiuses Are Premium Features with Premium Price Tags

Radius decks provide a great look and delivering them can separate you from competition as you’re offering options that many don’t. But as good as they look on website galleries and social media, it’s only a good option if they’re profitable deliveries. The process for layout, framing, jigs, material, heating and bending borders, and taping takes extra time and requires an investment in equipment. From a sales and production standpoint you’ll spend more time on the site compared to simpler designs, so the project should be priced to produce comparable margins as other jobs from a production aspect.  Giving a deal on the first couple of jobs to create projects to leverage off of makes sense, but otherwise these works of art are opportunities for added profit. 

Mitered Stair Detail Feature Options

Stairs are a necessity for function and can be a “feature” as well. When I built in Georgia most deck projects averaged being at 10’-12’ elevations with 15 or more treads a common occurrence.  Often a landing to redirect the stairs was needed, so by the time railing and lighting were added in, this was a pricey component costing the customer several thousand dollars before the deck dollars even factored in. This left less in the budget to create the usable space, so I kept it simple with stair systems that included riser boards, stair treads, and continuous pvc side skirt trim but not mitered surrounds. It was a clean and functional finish but not a “feature”. If I were operating today, I’d give the customer a choice for more deck space with “nice stairs”, or less deck space with really nice stairs”.

I discuss stairs here as I do for three reasons. One I know from conversations that some have been charging for custom treads similar to what I was charging for my standard ones five years ago. Secondly if the stringers are not stiffened and the treads not installed correctly, potential issues may show up as stairs are tested every time someone walks them.  The push off when weight is applied traveling upstairs and the downward impact pressures on tread nosings walking down is different than typical deck surface travel and can rock the miters over time. You must think about what these will look like 5-10 years down the road and not just for your one, three, or five 5-year warranty. And third, if flat blocking is used and not taped there’s potential for rot issues as well as framing swell which can open up the joints. So, if you’re installing them, take appropriate measures to ensure they’ll hold up and price accordingly. 

Lighting Features 

 Because code requires stairs to be lit in some fashion, I always had a standard lighting package priced in and offered the customer an option to add more for the deck. I know some contractors that throw in a lighting package as a “special offer” effort to help sell the job. If you have priced the project where you believe you can absorb this without affecting your real desired margins or you’re willing to take a hit on some jobs, then I see the rationale. I realize some basic packages can be done at a low cost, but in my opinion, contractors should see “lighting” as an opportunity to add to profits, and not provide for free. Why give something away that most will pay for and that could potentially create callbacks? 

Price it so the Customer Pays Now and You Don’t Pay Later

I’ve learned from over 30 years as a builder that products don’t always perform as advertised. Wood rots, fasteners corrode, and manufactured products can fail. Years fly by and not everything stands the test of time. Incorporating high building standards with pricing that guard against problems is a good approach. Taping pressure treated lumber in certain applications is a good example. But charge for your work and educate the customer why it’s a good idea to do it. If you’re going to experience rot, it’s likely to show up on cut stair stringers, planed down joists, and flat blocking areas used for inlays and borders, so taping is a wise investment. Even if your structural warranty has expired, your reputation can still be harmed with wood or product failures. And if you didn’t follow exact installation guidelines and set the customer up to be “in compliance” and a failure occurs as a result, regardless of your warranty; you may very well be liable. 

In Summary

So, understand my efforts here are not to offend anyone because of how they operate. I know some markets are more challenging than others and there are always low-ball contractors that factor in. The points I’m trying to make are: Value your gifted abilities and worth and charge accordingly. Have confidence in what you do and require customers to pay for the skill you bring to the table and the art you create when it comes to upgrades or don’t do them. Limit the deals you give and only award that “upgrade discount card” for those rare projects where it will be worth the investment. Leverage off those jobs and off the reputation and brand you build and maintain because you possess the skill for such offerings. Create sales models and track cost of delivery so you’ll be able to accurately charge moving forward.  Give your customers options with an upgraded price tag so they see the difference and value, so you come out ahead either way. Realizing markets vary most can charge their worth. It’s a builder’s market in most regions and if you’re a quality operator, you are in the driver’s seat. And although profit margins vary slightly from job to job when job-costing is done what’s important is that it averages out at the end of the year. 

Selling jobs at the right price will always be challenging and requires several aspects working together.

The key is to separate yourself from others by creating layers of credibility. Gain confidence in who you are and what you offer along with generating the right kind of leads that provide the opportunities needed to hit your numbers. There are ways to position your company to increase success in sales and increased margins and I’ll share my thoughts on that in upcoming pieces. 

Bobby Parks / Instagram: @Bobbyparks007

Copyright February 12th, 2020 – Bobby Parks





If Customers Were Always Right, We Would Go Broke

By: Bobby Parks

 “The customer’s always right”. It’s a common saying that some may believe, but fortunately it’s not true or we would all go broke. We would throw in the towel whenever a customer claimed something was wrong, make fixes that had nothing to do with us for free, or give them at no cost what they mistakenly thought they were supposed to receive. And we would be firing our people once a month because the customer claimed they did something wrong. Imagine the cost drain that would occur. Restaurant and retail store managers may be able to give away meals and smaller items to make a customer happy and go away, but because our servings are more costly, we as contractors can’t afford to do the same. The trick is how you explain to them why they are not right without offending or losing them in the process.

It’s not to say we as contractors don’t make mistakes or create issues for ourselves, we do.  But often when issues arise or potential confrontations exist it’s because of a customer’s mistaken perception involving the scope of work, project options, or installation procedures. In rare cases, it’s a customer trying to get something for free. They see an opening and push the boundary to see if you will cave and donate to their project.

To be more specific, these undesirable communications occur when customers believe they are supposed to be getting something different than what they are getting or they believe something that is not included should be included. Often, it can include an existing condition or repair they believe should be part of the job. For example; they contracted for a deck and they believe the rot discovered after the job started at the attachment and around the fireplace bump out should be included.  Or it can be technical aspects about an installation. They’ve read something or someone told them something that makes them believe you are going about it incorrectly. In any case, how you respond matters.

Communication and Documentation

Most job confusion issues result from a lack of communication, documentation, and improperly set expectations. We all know there are plenty of legitimate issues that pop up; so why allow avoidable or mistakenly perceived problems to enter the mix?  When issues do occur, the objective should be to obtain a quick satisfactory resolution for all parties without relationship damage and keep the project moving forward. And without sacrificing profit!

Minimizing the potential for such adventures to occur should be a standard practice. Setting realistic expectations when contracting is much easier than setting them after the fact or while you are on the job. Writing up a contract agreement with a description of all relevant details as well as general operational clauses as to what a customer should expect and what you are responsible or not responsible for is a simple basic business practice.  Typically, I had 21 standard clauses in my contract before specifics were added. These standard clauses covered everything from delays due to weather, existing rot, unforeseen conditions, lawn damage responsibility, that material left over belonged to me, measurements are approximate, and even “rights to take and use pictures”. The list goes on and there’s a reason for every clause.

There’s A Lot Discussed & Less Included

Although lots of options and details are discussed during the consultation and designing phase, specific details and final elements that are included and agreed on must be documented as later it all runs together for most customers. So, in addition to the standard clauses of a contract, numerous specific details such as rail types, decking choices, and any pertinent choices are documented. For me, a design drawing that also included some details was signed off on.  Honest mistakes in memory occur with both parties, so having details benefits everyone and this alleviates or resolves a high percentage of issues when referred to. It should be comprehensive enough that a third party should be able to review a job file and know what’s being done. I also made it a point to include and attach photo examples of certain items and details to the package like rail types and trim finishes which I could refer to as well. I did this because customers don’t understand our assigned product titles or lingo, so this provided a visual that was an addendum to the contract and often used as examples when requesting HOA approvals.

From a technical and product standpoint most customers do their due diligence online. This should be expected and is good in that they can become somewhat educated regarding their investment. But it’s not good if they get bad information or interpret something that doesn’t apply to what you are doing. Chances are, the better the contractor is from a written detail and communication standpoint, the less likely these issues will come up and the more likely the customer is mistaken if it does. Now, the lesser prepared contractors will likely experience not only more issues, but the ones that come up will be trickier to resolve.

Customer confidence in who they choose as a contractor alleviates some potential issues as they trust you. If something does come up, my experience has been that they are more likely to believe you and assume they are mistaken. This comes from established credibility as a contractor and the relationship you have built with the customer.  This only carries you so far. I have learned that no matter what you do and how much you cover up front, problems can arise. On occasion we or our people do stumble, which compromises us and that is challenging to recover from. Acknowledging the obvious if you are wrong is the best way to begin to recover confidence and get the relationship back on track; but if you’re in the right…then standing your ground in a professional, confident, cordial, and unemotional way is how I’d handle it.

Managing the Conversation

So, for me these conversations always included an acknowledgement that I understand they believe something was included that they are not getting, or our technical approach is not what they expected. Often the first part was resolved by referring to the detailed notes or photos we all signed off on or what was on the drawings.

If a technical issue or question came up, I’d explain why we do what we do, why we can stand behind our building methods and why we might not if we did it another way. I did not let them engineer or dictate how I was going to structure a job or approach it from a technical standpoint as my warranty only applied if it was built to my own and code standards.  This assumes you have solid ground to stand on and you have not compromised yourself from a technical standpoint. Know what is required from both a code and the manufacturers aspect. For example: Customers find lots of information online with common searches involving pressure treated wood use, including, treating end cuts and stringers, or what voids a manufacturer’s warranty etc. Surprisingly, many contractors do not have a proper understanding of what is required with this aspect which can come back on them. To be caught on the wrong side of  obvious technical mistakes are not only embarrassing, but really does compromise you with a customer from a confidence standpoint. You should know that everything is just a “Google” search away for the customer.

There’s a Cost Either Way

Again, you can’t give away things just to make people happy, but for me if there was a gray area with minimal cost items or a slight repair that they thought was included and I believed they genuinely believed it, I looked at it like this. Sometimes there can be a bigger long-term cost if you do collect versus absorbing the hit. So, there can be a cost to you either way even if you collect money from a customer for a disputed item. The key is to determine which is the costliest. For example, you could stand your ground and charge a customer $300-$400 for something they disagreed was owed but would reluctantly agree to pay for. How will that $300-400 compare to the cost of having an unhappy customer you’re creating in the process? How will the rest of the job go now that they have an attitude? What kind of review will you receive? How many referrals will you receive from this customer? In the long run which choice cost you the most?

But let’s say it was a $1000, or some larger dollar value. I might take the pre-mentioned approach, but instead of absorbing the full amount I might offer to discount the work or split the cost with them. I would stress again that it wasn’t part of the job, but I realize they believe it was. Just to show an effort of good faith I would make the offer. But I would not give away the $1000. My experience has been that it’s the things you give away or give a deal on that are often the problem items on a job, so I don’t take these offers lightly. Also, I know that every percentage point matters, and small amounts multiplied add up over time so what you agree to from a dollar figure depends on the size of a job and what the percentages are. For example, you wouldn’t give up $300 on a $3000 job as that would be 10% of the project. But on a $30,000 project it would only be 1% and might be something you could live with.

Reasonable People and Reasonable Solutions

I’m a believer that reasonable people listen to reason and make decisions and reach conclusions based on reason, logic, and the practicalities involved. But I believe unreasonable people or the ones that are working you for something free are not fair minded and will not reach the same decision or conclusions. That’s where firmness, backbone, and written specific details and inclusion as well as exclusion cards must be played. Standing your ground in a professional and unemotional way at this point is just part of being a business owner and required for long term survival. Some customers are more difficult than others and how to deal with difficult and unreasonable customers is an article all to itself.

But my experience has been that if I listened to the customer first and then discussed a situation professionally with a reasonable and genuine effort and attitude to resolve it, my customer relationship was strengthened. For example If I made the decision to go ahead and do a minimal cost item even though technically I could get out of it and charge, but I knew the customer truly believed they were in the right, I’d do it in a way that had value. It might be “Look I’m sorry there has been a misunderstanding and I can understand you think this was included. It honestly is not but I want you to be happy and for this not to be a problem-we are going to handle it”. And I said it in a positive way. I didn’t say it with an attitude or in a reluctant resentful way. If you did the latter, you might as well have charged them as there is no gain.  I believe these customers often look back and remember that you did something that they often come to realize wasn’t part of the scope, but you did it anyway and you were nice about it.

Resolving Issues Properly Can Strengthen the Relationship

Ethical contractors strive to be fair and to satisfy their customers. Most customers are reasonable minded people just wanting us to meet their expectations that hopefully we as contractors have properly set. So, we must be fair to them but also to ourselves and to protect our businesses and livelihood and maintain a balance between the two. When practical and reasonable approaches discussed here are made and agreed upon, result in a cordial resolution; I believe these customers often give you the best reviews compared to the ones that had an uneventful experience. They have a more in-depth belief in you because the fairness and integrity test were passed versus a non-eventful delivery. Therefore, my experience has been that the contractor /customer relationship can become even stronger when an issue arises compared to a project that runs smoothly. I’m not saying you want more eventful jobs, only that if you take all the upfront precautions to cover yourself and it still happens, handle it in a manner that at the end of the day more than overcomes the few dollars you may have given on that job. Consider it an investment on your reputation and brand that creates fans of your company and may produce even stronger referrals compared to your typical jobs. And consider it a lesson learned and in some cases, an added clause to your next contract.

Bobby Parks / Instagram: @Bobbyparks007B


NADRA Code Update

July 3rd, 2019

By: Glenn Mathewson

To finish a marathon, you’ve got to push through the last mile.  Such is the same with developing a new edition of the International Residential Code.  Thousands of people are currently running a marathon toward the 2021 IRC, and though they are halfway through, there’s no telling who (or who’s proposals) will make it to the finish line.  While it’s too soon to start cheering, it’s not to soon to feel confident and strong, and that’s how the NADRA and Deck Code Coalition proposals are looking.

With the publishing of the final report from the Committee Action Hearings, the public can not only see the results of the hearing, but also a summary of the comments made by the committee.  There are three result categories, but since those aren’t “final” results, the comments should be the focus.  The committee comments could be looked at as spectators cheering on or booing the runners.  They provide direction, encouragement, and suggestions, much like “you got this! Keep going! You’re so close”.  Unfortunately, sometimes the comments can feel more like “you’re never going to make it! Give up now!  You look so tired!”

The race is not over until you pass the finish line, and sometimes people get a second wind.  That’s what the next phase of the code modification process can offer—a second chance.  Regardless of the committee result, every proposal can receive a public comment modification, and if received, the proposal will be heard again at the final hearings, where a final vote will be made…but not really.  The final vote is actually made online a few weeks after the hearing.  In this vote, only governmental ICC members can cast the final thumbs up or thumbs down.   These members could vote down a proposal approved by the committee, and likewise, the members could turn around a proposal disapproved by the committee.

Public comments to the committee results are due July 24th and these will be the catalyst for the next step in the process.  A proposal that does not receive a public comment is almost certain to be finalized as-is in the “bulk vote” where the governmental members vote for the entire package of proposals.  Having not received any disagreement from the public, the assumption is that the committee opinion is good to go.  Here is the part to pay close attention to:

If the committee result for a proposal is not challenged by July 24th, consider it done.  If there is something you don’t like, silence is equivalent to support.

So let me put it this way…  “Speak now or forever hold your peace”.

Okay…that’s not exactly true, but you would have to hold it until the 2024 IRC code development hearings where everything is on the table again.

Thanks to select NADRA members that have financially supported NADRA representation in the code modification process, I am working alongside other professionals in the Deck Code Coaltion and we are preparing public comments.  We are running this marathon until the end.  I hope you are on the sidelines cheering us on.  Here are the results and comments from the Committee Action Hearings that have us in a runner’s high.  You can view all the Group B ICC documents and the live video from the Group B hearing at this link:  https://www.iccsafe.org/products-and-services/i-codes/code-development/

RB184: Disapproved

Committee Reason:  There were multiple corrections expressed in a modification that the committee felt was too extensive. The wording in Section 507.4 is confusing. The committee urges that the corrections should be brought forward in a public comment. The collaborative effort, and inclusion of engineers in the effort, was a positive aspect for this proposal. (Vote: 10-1)

RB185: Approved As Modified

Committee Reason: The modification to Section R507.10.1.2 removed ‘approved’ because this adjective cannot be applied to manufacture’s instructions. The modification to Section to R507.10.2 reworded the two sentences for clarity. The modification to Section R507.10.4 removes ‘approved’ because this would be confusing to the homeowner. The proposal provided good general prescriptive language for guards that will reduce the need for engineering of guards. The committee had several suggestions for better wording that should come forward in a public comment: Add ‘also’ to Section R312.1.4; ‘design’ instead of ‘construction’ in Section 507.10; revise ‘prevent’ to ‘limit’ in Section R507.10.1.1; joists are part of the deck framing, so the language in Section R507.10.1 is confusing. (Vote: 9-2)

RB186: Approved As Modified

Committee Reason: The modification restores rivets and puts in the term ‘glulam’ to be consistent with the term used in ASTM F1667. Adding the Class D is appropriate for this product. (Vote: 11-0)

RB187: Approved As Submitted

Committee Reason: The committee felt that the overall proposal is a good reorganization that add clarity to the code requirements. Item 3 in Section R507.3.3 is an alternative means that is currently allowed in Chapter 1. (Vote: 11-0)

RB188: Approved As Submitted

Committee Reason: This revision will clarify the engineering option for deck beams where fastened together. (Vote: 11-0)

RB189: Approved As Submitted

Committee Reason: This change clarifies the cantilever limitations. (Vote: 11-0)

RB190: Approved As Submitted

Committee Reason: The proposed footnote allows for a design that does not use the full cantilever, which will allow for a more efficient design. If you do not use this option, the table is more conservative. The commentary should include an example. (Vote: 11-0)

RB191: Approved As Submitted

Committee Reason: The revisions add clarification to the code and allows for better design practice for wood decking. (Vote 11-0)


Four Best Practices of A/R Automation That Cut Costs

My family has a clear, giant flower vase—I’m talking 2 feet high—that sits in the corner of the dining room. Every day, family members put any spare change we accumulate into the vase rather than bury it in dresser drawers or lose it. These quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies are both valuable and somewhat of an afterthought at the same time. In December each year, our kids love going to the local grocery store where we can dump the vase

intthe change vase where we save our spare changeo the Coinstar machine. The clink of the coins going in the machine is like a slot machine in reverse and the kids’ eyes are glued on the digital display rapidly rising with each pour of the vase into the machine. Every time, we’re flabbergasted to find our daily change amounts to hundreds of dollars. It feels like free money and quickly turns into a new book, a new toy, or new apps for their Kindles.

Most companies try to increase profitability by selling more or cutting expenses or both. Usually, expense cuts are about taking something a

way, which can often hurt customer experience, add to risk, or make the task of winning new customers more difficult. Your A/R program, however, is a gold mine of opportunity to delight your customers while saving you money in the process. It’s your own giant vase of hidden money.

The key to unlocking the money is to make it easy for your customers to pay you quickly. The following four best practices of A/R automation will lead you to significant savings while delighting your customers:

Enable Self-Serve with Online Customer Account Tools

online account tools help customers be more efficient

Your customers should have the ability to view purchases, download statements, dispute charges, and yes, pay online. It’s old hat for consumer purchases but strangely uncommon in the B2B world. Every action a consumer can take to self-serve means you aren’t paying someone to answer the call, research what they need, mail a statement, etc. By enabling them to pay online, you make life easier for your customer’s AP or bookkeeper, and you’ll get paid more quickly. By making all of their purchase and payment detail available 24/7, your customers will never be able to hide slow payment behind “I never got the invoice”. Finally – any question that can be answered within the customer portal means they’re not using your sales reps for help. And that’s where they often go first, isn’t it? Keep your sales reps selling, not doing customer service.

Accelerate Collections with Automated Notifications

Everyone has an email address and a smartphone. We look through these dozens of times a day. Why are you relying on the US Postal Service to drive your payment collection process? Set up automated email notifications to let your customers know what’s due and when. These can be statement due reminders, past due notices, account alerts, etc. With a click of a button, you can do for every customer what would take hours or days with phone calls. If you include a link to online account tools where they can pay – you made it simple to do what you need. An email isn’t intrusive or confrontational the way a collections call could be and it’s viewed by most as a helpful reminder. For those that don’t like them, make notifications configurable.

Improve Risk Reads and Account Set-Up with Online Instant Decisioning

Most merchants have a manual, judgmental underwriting process for B2B customers, if they do credit screening at all. The customer fills out the application and then someone manually pulls a credit bureau file, evaluates whether the applicant is creditworthy, and then decides whether to grant credit and how much. The whole process can take hours to days. Here’s an important insight: the vast majority of all applicants can be more effectively risk evaluated, instantaneously, with the right credit risk scoring models. Think of how much easier it is for the customer and less expensive for you to have the customer complete the application online in 3 minutes, get instantly approved, and have the account ready for any purchase right then and there.

Quickly and Accurately Allocate Payments with Algorithms

Matching payments to specific purchases occupies a TON of manual effort and cost for most merchants. It doesn’t have to be that way. Build algorithms to help match payments received to the lockbox with the proper customer and invoice they belong to. Over 80% of payments will likely be matched through this automation. Another win-win. These best practices will find advocates in the CFO, the credit manager, and the sales and marketing teams. They work in favor of what everyone wants, rather than desired by some and resisted by others. All of these best practices can be built yourself if you want to spend the time upfront to do so. Better, in our view, is to take advantage of the solutions that already exist in the marketplace and tailor them to your needs. Some are software providers where you can plug in modules compatible with your ERP. Others, like BlueTarp, build your customized program and manage it for you. Whatever you choose, I’m confident you’ll find that incorporating automation in the right areas will save you a lot of money while attracting new customers and keeping existing ones.

BlueTarp Financial

About the Author: 

BlueTarp helps B2B suppliers fund the growth of their business by paying them upfront for their sales and protecting them from credit risk. Customize your program by choosing to manage customer interactions as you do today, while we stay behind the scenes. Or, select a full-service option where we handle customer service and collections for you.

Learn more about NADRA members, Blue Tarp here

Manufacturers share highlights from International Builders Show

NADRA Vice President, Heath Bowman attended the International Builders Show alongside President, Matt Breyer & several NADRA Committee members and NADRA ambassadors.

“It was great spending time with all of the NADRA members who participated in IBS.  Each booth we visited told stories and showed excitement about growth in sales, as well as, in new products coming.  I am personally excited to have accepted the VP position as it will allow me to be part of the industry in a more hands-on capacity.” Heath Bowman

NADRA Bronze level members, Screw Products, Inc.:

Three days can be a long time to stand on a trade show floor, but this year’s International Builders Show kept a steady pace and truly brought out the “International” for those interested in Screw Products, Inc. With growing interest from South America and even genuine interest with new friends in Africa!

From the moment we left the airport en route to our hotel, we knew this years show was going to be different. Different indeed. The IBS Marketing Team really stepped up their game this year with “Welcome” signage at the airport, as well as billboards along the way to the convention center! Well Done Team IBS!

Attendees were engaged and eager to learn. While we continued to have considerable interest in our overall Fastener line, our C-Deck Composite Deck Screws and DeckLok really caught the attention of many contractors. Several of which were proud members of the Great NADRA Team! Thanks for the continued support!

With hundreds of solid leads from contractors, dealers, distributors and fellow manufacturers, we are poised for a great 2018 at Screw Products, Inc. You won’t want to miss it! In fact, I hope they add an extra day to next year’s IBS! See you in Vegas!

AZEK® Building Products, NADRA Gold Level Members: 

AZEK Building Products had a great showing at IBS with a stunning new booth, showcasing more than a dozen new products.  AZEK® and TimberTech® each released three new colors to their premium decking lines.  AZEK’s Vintage Collection® launched Coastline™, English Walnut™ and Weathered Teak™ while TimberTech added Sequoia™, Espresso and Whitewash Cedar™ to its Legacy Collection.  TimberTech also announced an upgrade to its warranty, growing from a 25-year to a 30-year limited lifetime warranty.

AZEK also ran various demonstrations, highlighting a new and expanded line of Adhesives & Accessories for cellular PVC trim and moulding. The company also released various new deck fasteners, including additional color options for TOPLoc® by AZEK and a new hand-driven option of FUSIONLoc®.

Finally, AZEK® Trim & Moulding showcased 6 new surrounds for windows and doors, providing contractors even greater architectural options to present to homeowners.

Check out AZEK’s highlight reel on their YouTube channel!

 

CAMO Fasteners, a Bronze member of NADRA had a great show at IBS.  We interacted with a lot of fabulous deck builders and demoed our CAMO products.

The International Builders’ Show is THE trade show of the year — and a great way to start 2018 says NADRA members, Feeney, Inc.! This year was especially big for Feeney, as we unveiled our new brand evolution: new logo, new booth, all new packaging, and new literature! We got great feedback from contractors, architects, retailers, and other vendors. Folks were WOWed by our new look! We also unveiled two new products:

DesignRail® Kits: a complete modular aluminum railing system

CableRail Conceal Kits: a low-profile alternative to our original CableRail Kits

Optimism was high at the show, folks were positive about the year ahead in the building and remodeling industries. We noticed more VR games and displays in booths: you could tour a model home or a sustainable quarry in Brazil, and even smash up an old water heater with a lightsaber! We had a great time touring the show, talking to folks at Therrawood (who had our CableRail on display in their booth!), Camo Deck Fasteners, Home Advisor, Houzz, Use Natural Stone, Architectural Grille, and 84 Lumber. We even did some live streaming on Facebook at our booth on Day 3. Thank you to all who stopped by!

Heather Marchand, NADRA’s National Programs and Marketing Director, walked the show visiting members.

“I so enjoyed walking the show floor and having the chance to stop and speak to as many members as my feet would allow! The IBS show is gigantic! I needed more time! It was a blast getting to sit down with so many familiar faces- and new ones. The weather was beautiful for the outdoor exhibits. Bob Heidenreich and The Deck Store crew did an outstanding job! I loved the little touches – such as the custom picnic tables. The highlight of my trip was probably the warm, welcoming running hug I received from our members at AZEK. I love my job! I loved having the chance to see our members hard work pay off at this fast-paced, packed show. You all put a lot of time & resources into coordinating booth personnel, Facebook Live events, the displays, handouts, trinkets & novelty items & so much more. It showed! Job well done, friends! Now let’s get to work building, and get folks playing outside more… one deck at a time!”  Heather Marchand

The NADRA team met with members and prospective members at IBS. As you know, it’s a HUGE space to cover, and we missed many of you! We hope to see you throughout the year at various NADRA events and shows. Please stay in touch! If you’d like to send us photos and a brief recap from your experience at the International Builders Show, please send images, links and recap to Info@NADRA.org. We will keep this blog post updated with posts from our members that exhibited at the show! 

Take a look at members we saw along the way!

Reminder to all Handrail and Guard Manufacturers

Reminder to all handrail and guard manufacturers, in June 2017 ICC-ES approved significant revisions to AC273, Acceptance Criteria for Handrails and Guards.  NADRA recommends if you have an evaluation or code report for your product in accordance with this acceptance criteria you should contact the agency providing the report on how these changes will affect you.

In addition, due to these changes in AC 273, your Code Committee is interested in your input for discussing possible similar updates to AC174.

If you have feedback and information on your positions please send into: info@nadra.org where it will be forwarded to the NADRA Code Committee.

2018 Education Opportunities with NADRA

As we enter 2018, we want to be sure you know about your opportunities for growing your business. NADRA and ASHI have partnered to bring you the best and only of its kind, deck evaluation certification! NADRA, the North American Deck and Railing Association is a 501 c(6) non-profit that works to educate and grow the outdoor living industry. NADRA is dedicated to deck safety and bringing awareness to the importance of deck inspections.

Not only is this an ASHI approved class that earns you 4CEU’s, this class will expand your portfolio and allow you to tap into an industry that needs your services. There is an estimated 50 million decks in the U.S., 50% which are 15-20+ years old. The need for professional deck inspections is at an all time high and its not slowing down. NADRA has already certified ASHI inspectors in NOVA ASHI, St. Louis ASHI, Metro NY ASHI, and INASHI.

In this four hour class, you will be taken through NADRA’s 5 page deck evaluation form. Expert and educator, Jim Mailey will cover:

– Stairs
– Footings and Posts
– Joists
– Joist Connections
– Girders
– Ledger Connections
– Deck Boards
– Handrail Assemblies and Guards
– Recognize proper and improper fasteners
– Assess hardware or material corrosion & Review of the safety standards of all (decks, stairs, guards) structures

Special Pricing for ASHI Members:

Did you know, ASHI members can join NADRA for only $100.00 annually instead of the regular rate of $350.00? Additionally, NADRA has the following membership / Deck Evaluation Class combos. (Minimum attendees required)
Option 1 – Certification with a one year ASHI Branch membership with NADRA: $199.00
Option 2 – Certification with three year ASHI Branch membership with NADRA: $299.00 (includes one free year of membership)

Learn more about the class, special pricing for ASHI inspectors, and requirements by clicking here. Contact us today with questions or to schedule your class.

NADRA’s ASHI branch membership includes:

– Listing under “Find an Inspector” on the NADRA site
– Participation in NADRA’s Deck Safety Month® Campaign – free marketing toolkit to promote deck safety and inspections.
– Code representation – ask your code questions and get answers from the experts!
– Monthly enewsletter with all upcoming education and networking events

– Learn more about membership benefits by clicking here.

To schedule a class or get more information please email info@NADRA.org your specific needs or call us at 215.679.4884.