Monday, September 26, 2011

Ain't No Double Wide!

Courtesy of Connor Homes / Jim Westphalen Photography
"MANUFACTURED HOUSING!" Conjures up the worst of images in your mind doesn't it? Two halves of a mobile home driving down the highway, backing up traffic. Cheap, vinyl paneling lining all of the walls. Tornado magnets. Hound dogs sleeping under the porch. But the home above 'ain't no double wide' and it is by definition...manufactured housing!

Seeing is believing so last week my business partner and I went to Middlebury, Vermont to kick the tires at Connor Homes. This was not completely unprompted - our new clients, Cozy and Mark Palmer have dreamed of a New England clapboard home for years. We are thrilled that they not only selected us to help fulfill that dream, but also wanted to help us understand the Connor Homes building process by taking us to the factory. It was a truly spectacular and amazing tutorial!

You really can't believe what we saw!  Imagine 110,000 feet of warehouse, roughly three football fields, where entire homes - and I mean big homes, were being assembled. The efficiency was staggering! How about only 1.6% waste from all of their manufacturing processes! Heck, we will haul off fifteen or twenty 40' dumpsters full of waste from any one of our jobsites! Connor is "green" REALLY GREEN! What they don't cut up for blocking goes into bins for the local compost company to turn into chips for the compost pile.

Maybe the best adjective to hang around Connor's Homes neck would be "semi-automated." We watched in amazement as a 10' tall by 14' long, 2 x 6 wall section was completed in about five minutes! But then when you have automated tables that pre-determine where the studs go; when those same tables roll the nailed wall section on to the next station where the wall is squared up and plywood sheathing is tacked on; where doors and windows are cut out of the wall section sheathing with two man routers; and finally where that sheathing is face nailed with a power nailer that has twenty nail guns firing simultaneously, you can produce wall sections that fast.

Connor's manufacturing software is so good that each wall section is numbered, and stacked according to when in sequence we will need that part to assemble on-site. The Palmer's 3,800 square foot house frame will be completely produced in about seven to ten days!  Could this be the changing face of the home building business?

We will supply the foundation, roofing material (metal standing seam), systems (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing), as well as necessary labor. But even all of the interior cabinets and trim will be supplied by Connor - by flatbed, later in the building process. In a world where really fine homes are usually built in 18 - 24 months, is it possible that the Palmer's will be living in their home five months after Connor Homes shows up on our jobsite? Those timelines used to be reserved for small tract houses, and - you guessed it - DOUBLE WIDES!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Work Ethic? What's That?

In his bestselling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey re-defined the term "paradigm shift" to describe a change in basic assumptions about life and the workplace. After visiting with several of my younger friends who have been very successful in business I have come to realize that we are undergoing a substantial paradigm shift in the work habits, and work ethics of the next several generations. 

My Dad steadfastly worked thirty-five years for Eastman Kodak. Every day he would get up, and suit up for the challenges that lie ahead at the office. He had a place to go - usually needing to be there around 8am, and generally heading home sometime after 5pm. It was expected that he would give Uncle Eastman 40+ hours a week under the watchful eye of his superiors. Dad never complained - that generation just expected to be working those kind of hours at a place other than the comfort of their own homes.

A lot of that obviously rubbed off. When I entered the workforce it was already ingrained in me that I would be giving the homebuilding company I was working for at least forty hours a week. Anything less would be considered stealing from my employer! Come to think of it this is the same template that was thrown back at me when I asked my lead trim carpenter how he got his guys to work so hard (UPS has nothing on these guys - think Everready Bunny on steroids!). Simple he said, 'if they take a lazy step they know that they are stealing from me; that means I am stealing from my Contractor; which means he is stealing from the client; and NO ONE  is going to steal from the client!' I love that guy.....

Fast forward to my young successful friends. Everything seems to be results driven. Is this the paradigm shift Covey was talking about? This next generation appears to be happy with workers who might only work 15 hours a week so long as they are "hitting their numbers." The expectation has become performance driven, and their accountability extends only to the achievement of their assigned goals. What ever happened to "extra credit?" Can we really build homes spending only 15 hours a week so long as we meet our target objectives for budget and time efficiency? Somehow I don't think that will fly!

But I have become concerned that future generations don't really understand the value of hard work. When you are achieving your boss' expectations by only working fifteen hours a week, how will you respond later in life when the demands of work and family require sixty to eighty hours a week? My son-in-law, a twenty year veteran of the Navy has mentioned several times that the young recruits are incredibly "soft!" Could it be that they really don't know how to work hard and have majored instead in video games? Suddenly I am not liking my chances of being protected by the up and coming generation!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Can't "BEE" True...

To say that you meet some facinating people in the building related trades can often be a enormous understatement. Any time you mix creative people together with the big money required to build a home, hilarious things are bound to happen. 

Take the time I was making a routine jobsite visit and found one of the lead framing carpenters with a big old cotton wad in his ear. 'Jeff, what in the world happened to you?' "Ear ache" was Jeff's reply - "absolutely killing me, must be a wax build up!" You could tell the poor guy was in a lot of pain. As faithful and loyal a framer as you could ever want, he was thinking about going home.

For several days Jeff suffered along. When asked about why he wasn't going to the Doctor, he mentioned that he felt his ear was improving. 

Then one day the cotton was gone, and Jeff was whistling and working away. 'Jeff, what happened - the cotton is out of your ear?' Reluctantly Jeff replied, "...ahhhh I was sitting around at lunch and decided to clean out my ear with a sixteen penny nail (not recommended for the best of personal hygiene!) and I'll be dad gummed if I didn't pull a dead honey bee out of my ear!" He surmised that a bee had crawled in there looking for the ear wax without him knowing it, and had stung his eardrum! These guys are tough - I believe I might have heard the bee before it stung me!
A Sixteen Penny nail - the Framer's version of a "Q-Tip!"

Monday, September 12, 2011

Passion Drives Perfection!

Nothing worse than hating your job! It's miserable to get up every morning knowing that the "ball and chain" known as your job is right there ready to weigh you down. Oh, and that feeling you get on Sunday night as you contemplate the week depression!

I know! in my former life I took a corporate job in downtown Dallas. Coat and tie on the twenty-eighth floor just wasn't for me. Save for a few All-Stars that really had fun running the business, everyone else seemed to have this hopelessness about them! I asked one guy how much longer he had before retirement, his answer - "six years, 192 days, three hours, and 42 minutes!" How's that for loving your job?

When my girls were young I encouraged them to find something in life that they were passionate about and pursue it. My reasoning?  If you are passionate about something, more than likely you can figure out a way to make a living pursuing that passion. They have! And, me too!

Years ago in a weak moment I found myself confiding in one of Dallas' most prominient business leaders (also a client and friend!) about how bad a salesman I was. I'll never forget his answer, "...quite to the contrary - you are one of the best salesmen I have ever seen! You are passionate about your work so you know everything there is to know about it, and that translates into an ability to handle any objection someone raises!" That never occurred to me. Must have worked pretty well on him though - we have built three homes for him and his family!

Passionate people tend to do their work better. Since you love what you do, often you become dissatisfied with mediocre performance. How many times through the years have I torn something apart on my time, at my expense because I just wasn't happy with the result?

Come to think of it, this blog illustrates my point perfectly. I love writing (my mentor said "it knocks the fuzz off your thinking!"). So here I sit, writing and re-writing this blog just because I want the content to be perfect!  Go ahead, call me passionate - but please don't ever ask me how long before I retire - I really have no idea!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Aesop's Fables...Revisited!

I hate losing! Worse, I hate losing to someone who has told a big story to convince a potential client that they can do a better job than we can! In previous blogs I have ranted and raved about the bid process being 'a collection of stories, all designed to influence the buyer into selecting your version of the story.' The process know as "bidding" should be punctuated by that old proverb "buy the truth, and sell it not!" It happened again this last weekend, they bought the wrong story.

Let's see now: our insulation bid was cheaper; our roofing bid was cheaper; our window package was significantly cheaper; even our air conditioning package was cheaper (see 8/23 blog, "You Said You Wanted Air Conditioning..."). Ahhhhhh, but the price to fix the wood rot around the windows, and under the stucco was significantly more? No way - you can't even see the damage! Why underbid the potential expense when you don't really know, and you're supposed to be protecting the client? Never mind that our bid was accomplished by bringing our supremely talented guys together on a Wednesday so that we could respond to the client's needs for immediacy two and a half days later - not two and a half weeks later like the other guy! Oh come on, forget that my partner and I bring a combined 70 years of experience to the equation - he having framed houses for twenty-four of those years! Doesn't that account for something? Chalk it up to a bad burrito! 

If you truly are going to live the "let go, and let God" lifestyle, you can't get upset when He doesn't give you the work you have been praying over. Certainly there was something there that didn't work with our skill set. Most probably He protected us from something - that's they way it has always been in the past! The ones we have forced against His will have gotten us into a world of hurt. But in our flesh, we hate to lose! 

By definition a fable "...illustrates a moral lesson which may at the end be expressed explicitly in a pithy maxim."  Further to the definition it also says, "...a fable may be a deliberately invented or falsified account of an event or circumstance." So....who is telling the fable here? Is it me or the other guy? I like our chances on this one! Let me offer the moral then - "don't believe everything you hear - particularly if it takes two and a half weeks to make it up!"