The business of being a builder is as diverse as the business of fine dining is to the business of fast food. The key is to distinguish custom-home building from the others, writes Mark Richardson in his latest Custom Builder column.
As a speaker and author one always tries to think of ways to communicate a message or a concept. This can be difficult, but I’ve found that thinking about things from different perspectives can be a powerful way to communicate and have light bulbs go off.
Most of you have heard the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. It is also said that a metaphor is worth a thousand pictures. The metaphors in this column are not intended to be taken literally, but rather to help add some clarity.
The title “builder” has many different meanings. The business of being a builder is as diverse as the business of fine dining is to the business of fast food. Both are about feeding a customer. Both are about getting a customer to come back. Both are about making a profit. Both have guidelines and regulations. However, we all know they are dramatically different businesses.
When I take my son for a “happy meal” I’m not a happy dad if it takes 10 minutes to get the meal. If I take my wife out for a fine-dining experience (away from the kids for the night) she gets frustrated if the waiter serves us too fast or clears our plates too quickly. In one case (fast food), speed is essential to the client experience. In the other (fine dining), patience and a slower pace win high marks. Both are about a meal, but the rules of the game are dramatically different.
This metaphor can be applied to helping you, your team, or your clients understand the difference between a custom builder and a production builder. Both are about building a house. Both have windows, toilets, and roofing. Both are about creating a raving-fan client. But how you get there is quite different. A friend of mine once described custom building or remodeling as having a suit tailored while the client is still inside it. As a custom builder you need to be as much of a therapist for the client as a craftsman for the house. You need to build client decision making into your process and budgeting. While changes during construction can be frustrating in a custom home, they need to be embraced and made an integral part of the construction process.
Going back to my fine-dining metaphor, the employees and staff for the dining experience are also dramatically different. Most fast-food team members are short-term, whereas a five-star restaurant generally does not want part-timers interacting with their clients. When you order a Coke in either setting the basic product is the same, but a five-star restaurant will not ask you to get it yourself from a soda machine.
As you savor this analogy try to think about the differences and commonalities of a custom builder versus a production builder. One is not better than the other. One is not necessarily more profitable than the other. They are different businesses. Naturally, you know the differences between the two, but do your clients know? Do your team members know? What about your trades, suppliers, and other strategic partners? Do they know the difference? If you can articulate these differences you’ll not only have a smoother process, but you’ll also have everyone in the process singing in harmony with each other.
Mark Richardson is co-chairman of Case Design Remodeling Inc. and the Case Institute of Remodeling. He is a member of the NAHB Remodeling Hall of Fame and a Fellow at Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Richardson is the author of the best-selling book, How Fit is Your Business?, and a forthcoming book, Business Themes to Live By, to be published this fall. He can be reached at email@example.com.