In this economy, companies must make cuts large and small. Some of these reductions are painful, while others have turned out to be smart practices that should carry on through the recovery and beyond.
Following are four builders who have reduced their costs while maximizing resources.
Paul Porter, CEO
Premier Pools and Spas
Rancho Cordova, Calif.
We’ve reworked our labor rates with employees. We’re busy now, but during winter we rotated people so they worked three days one week and four days the next, for a total of seven days every two weeks. Then they could supplement that with unemployment.
Our goal was to keep as many of our employees as we possibly could, and keep it fair. It was a little painful, but everybody got to keep their jobs.
The rotation of hours was done primarily with office staff. We gave them options of what they’d rather do — have layoffs for the winter or work a reduced week. An overwhelming majority chose the reduction. Most of our people have been with us 15 to 20 years, so they wanted to do whatever they could to keep the team together.
We’ve had a strong spring and summer so far, so we’re back to everyone working a full schedule.
Dale Overson, president
Barrington Pools Inc.
We’ve emphasized conserving gas to help keep our prices competitive. This has been possible by changing how we use our trucks.
Before, supervisors often took their vehicles home at night, sometimes driving 100 miles roundtrip. Now, trucks must be left at the yard. That has saved a ton in fuel, tires, oil changes, and general wear and tear.
During the day, crews must shut off the trucks when they’re not being used. In the past, employees might warm them up for an hour on winter mornings, and during summer leave them running to stay cool. We use our tracking system on the trucks to monitor fuel usage. It’ll indicate when the vehicle is running for too long, and we can talk to the employee. The trackers also tell us when a driver is speeding.
We’ve also changed the kinds of trucks we use to a certain extent. Some now have dual-cabs, so we can transport up to five men each, instead of two. In addition, we switched out some trucks for others with better mileage.
A few of these are diesel, since I also want to help eliminate our dependence on foreign oil. If about one-third of America were on diesel, we wouldn’t have to import fuel, which would drive prices back down. I’m investigating the possibility of propane vehicles, but you can only get about 100 to 150 miles on those right now, and there aren’t many propane stations to fuel up.
With these changes, I’d say we’ve reduced our fuel costs by about 20 percent.
Cecil Fraser, owner
Lake Forest, Calif.
We’ve taken several measures to cut back the number of trips we make to each site.
Our network now can be accessed online, making it possible for our construction manager to have a roving office. We put him in a fully equipped truck, where he can print, go online, check for billing and the like.
From his vehicle, he now has access to all files, drawings, contracts, photos — anything you’d have sitting in an office. He can move logistically through the day and never have to come back to pick up documents or find answers.
Now, if the manager has to wait at the site for a crew or customer to show up, he can just make his phone calls and do his work until they arrive. Before, he’d have to just sit there and wait, leave to do something else and come back later, or reschedule altogether. It just makes the day a lot more efficient.
We also put more responsibility than before on our subcontractors. It comes kind of naturally and saves our construction manager time. Our subs aren’t as busy as before, so you can ask the excavator, “Could you stop at that job to make sure you’re happy with the access and see if there are any problems from your point of view?”
It’s the same with the plumbers and electricians, as well as steel and gunite crews. We don’t change subcontractors unless something horrific happens — we treat them as an extension of our in-house resources. Right now, they’re proving to be just that.
Mark Ragel, president
Patio Pools& Spas
We’ve linked our scheduling and materials procurement software so we can buy what we need when we need it.
I purchase only what I’ll use the following week. The scheduling software “talks” to the material procurement software and says, “These are the jobs that are going to be ready in the next seven business days.” A staffer fine-tunes a report showing what we need, and then makes the purchase.
Instead of having just-in-case inventory, you get just-in-time inventory. Doing this, I’ve seen about a 30 percent reduction in inventory. Our goal is 50 percent of where we were two years ago.