Technologies and business practices from other industries can be game changers for home building
Brought to you by JELD-WEN
It’s easy to criticize some builders’ resistance to new technology, but given the complexities of this business and the huge financial risks, their hesitance is understandable. Established methods can seem safer and more predictable than changes that may or may not pay off.
However, a growing number of builders understand that their survival will ultimately depend on their willingness to adopt new business practices and technologies. These practices usually aren’t complicated. In fact, they tend to be proven, mainstream, and even obvious. The key is having the mind-set to embrace them.
Case in point: Russ and Scott Murfey of San Diego‒based Murfey Company, a 10-year-old builder/developer of single and multifamily homes and commercial projects, say that the careful application of new technologies and ideas has helped them build a thriving business.
1. Going paperless takes time.
Digital communication is the norm in many industries, and homebuilding is getting there.
“We still need paper plans, but we also give our supers tablets and digitize everything,” say the Murfeys. “Our projects are cloud based, with all documentation available online.” Getting the system in place has taken a few years, but it’s saving the Murfeys time and money.
The slow adopters have often been their subs. “We still get faxes from some of them.” And while the Murfeys try to help subs go digital, they realize that they need to take it slow for those subs less open to change. “We’re not heavy handed. It’s case by case.”
2. Simple tools are important.
Plan changes offer a great example. “Markups can really get out of hand,” the Murfeys say. “For instance, if you decide to change a smaller JELD-WEN window for a bigger one, the framer needs to get the correct new rough opening.”
For these types of field changes, the Murfeys prefer a generic tool like Adobe Acrobat. The details can be marked up and then synced to the framer’s phone via a cloud service like iCloud, Google Drive, or Dropbox.
3. SOPs are superpowers.
Manufacturing companies rely on standard operating procedures, or SOPs, to make sure work gets done efficiently, whereas builders tend to lag behind here.
The Murfeys are big believers in SOPs, which they develop and reinforce through weekly, monthly, and quarterly meetings. “We strive for a Henry Ford approach, which means looking for ways to do everything the same way, every time.”
4. Letting go can be smart.
Pulling a horse’s reins slows forward motion and, the Murfeys insist, the same goes for people. That’s why they allow employees to work remotely part of the time. Site managers have to be on the job, but office-based staff—sales, accounting, purchasing, etc.—don’t necessarily need to be in the office.
The Murfeys have seen two big payoffs in allowing remote work:
1. Better talent. Flexibility attracts self-starters. “We want lifelong learners who embrace new ways of doing things, and we have no problem attracting people of all ages and experience levels who fit that description,” they say. “We give them direction and opportunities to excel, but we don’t micromanage. This empowers them.”
2. More sales leads. Employees who spend more time in the community and less time in an office tend to meet more people. To leverage this, the Murfeys make it clear to all employees that they’re part of the marketing department and incentivize them to look for business opportunities. “This helps fuel the sales tank.”
And it seems to be working. “For example, one of our supers has good relationships with a few architects, which has brought in work. And we have a project manager who consistently brings us new deals.”
The Murfeys insist that the prerequisite to creating such a culture is for the builder to embrace technologies and processes that attract creative people. It’s smart business.
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