Murfey Company applies technologies, practices, and procedures from other industries to advance their building business
The building industry has a well-known reputation for being slow to embrace new technologies. This resistance is understandable given the complexity of the building business and the financial stakes. Many builders surmise the safest bet is to continue using tried-and-true methods as long as possible, regardless of the potential payoffs new tech solutions offer.
However, a growing number of builders understand that the key to surviving and prospering in today’s marketplace ultimately depends on their willingness to adopt new business practices and technologies. These practices often aren’t complicated—many are proven and mainstream in other industries. The key is having the mindset and confidence to embrace them.
Case in point: San Diego-based Murfey Company, a 10-year-old developer of single- and multifamily homes and commercial projects. Owners Russ and Scott Murfey say that the careful application of new technologies and ideas has helped them build a thriving business.
In addition to using industry-specific software, such as Procore for project management, the Murfeys look to other industries for best practices they can apply to the business of building. This approach has helped them reduce errors, raise revenues, and improve employee retention—but getting there hasn’t been without challenges. Some of the lessons they’ve learned along the way include:
Going paperless takes time.
Digital communication is the norm in many industries, and homebuilding is getting there slowly. “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 time and money.
Some of the slower adopters have been their subcontractors: “We still get faxes from some of them.” And while the Murfeys try to help subs go digital, they realize that keeping a reliable subcontractor may require an exception. “We’re not heavy-handed. It’s case by case,” they explain.
Simple tools are important.
“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.” They’ve found keeping things simple is key. For field changes on plans, the Murfeys prefer a widely used and well-integrated tool like Adobe Acrobat. Details can be marked up in Acrobat and synced to the framer’s phone or tablet via a cloud service such as iCloud, Google Drive, or Dropbox.
SOPs are superpowers.
Manufacturing companies rely on standard operating procedures (SOPs) to produce consistent and efficient results. In the building industry, determining solutions on the fly is often the norm.
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,” they say.
Letting go is smart.
Pulling a horse’s reins slows forward motion, and, the Murfeys insist, the same goes for people. That’s why they give employees the flexibility to work remotely part of the time. Site managers need to be on the job, of course, but administrative staff—sales, accounting, purchasing, etc.—don’t necessarily need to be at a desk in the office. The payoffs:
- Attracting better talent. Flexibility attracts self-starters. “We want lifelong learners who embrace new ways of doing things and 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.”
- More sales leads. They’ve found that 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 they’re part of the marketing department and incent them to look for business opportunities. “This helps fuel the sales tank,” they explain. 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 Murfey brothers insist that the prerequisite to creating such a culture is for the builder to embrace technologies and processes that attract creative people. They think it’s just smart business.
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