“Stop the smoke and mirrors. Stop the commodity play. Stop the game. Let's how about we just deal in reality and we take care of people.”
Welcome to another episode of Builder Nuggets, the show where builders and remodelers discover how to build thriving businesses while working less. I'm Duane Johns and together with Dave Young, we share the elements of success that have helped hundreds of contractors like you build better lives. [00:24.6]
Dave: Today, we're digging in with Jeff Smith, a custom builder in blowing rock, North Carolina. Now right off the bat you'll notice Jeff's voice sounds huge. There is a very good reason for this. Jeff Smith is huge, but I have to tell you it's to accommodate a giant heart. So welcome to the show, Jeff Smith of JS construction.
Jeff: Hey Dave, thanks for having me on. I appreciate those comments.
Dave: Well, you're welcome. We're glad to have you here. I distinctly remember the first time I met you, it was in a parking lot in some small town in North Carolina, somewhere in the Blue Ridge, it was one of those giant contractor trucks. I remember in my little rental car being parked behind you. I saw you get out of that car and right away, I knew we're going to need bigger shirts. So you make a heck of a first impression, and we're looking forward to the impression that you're going to make on other builders today, as we work through your discovery of the unsolvable problem. [01:34.6]
Duane: So Jeff, before we dig in and talk about your unsolvable problem, you've got a pretty fantastic initiative for investing in the youth that are the future of our trade base. So take a few minutes to tell us about what you're doing. Who's collaborating with you? What you've got going up in the high country.
Jeff: The idea came up with our, within our local HBA chapter through through many conversations around unskilled labor and skilled labor issues within, the construction industry, everybody is struggling with the youth coming into the industry. You've had a generational gap. It's amazing to me that today, sometimes people struggle changing a light bulb, the handyman that you think of just being a good husband, a good father, Hey, can you fix this? Can you fix that? A lot of folks can't and to me, that's a problem. We need to know how to do stuff. [02:24.8]
Fundamentally, knowing how to do things with your hands is really important. So anyhow, we have put together a program called trade up and we've researched all the programs available through our local and state governments, in terms of grants, we've been awarded a couple of grants. This is a joint effort, of course, with HBA. I'm sitting on the board of directors for our local chapter and Caldwell community college here is also involved. So what it is is coursework through Caldwell community college. These high school kids can go immediately start accruing credit hours. And they're being taught, you know, fundamentals curriculum along with soft skills and personal skills. And then part of the requirement to complete the program is 192 field hours and an internship program with a local company, whether that be a general contractor, it can be a landscaper or it can be a mason, electrician. So this is the pilot program. We don't have as many students as I would like this year. There's five to me, that's just a solid start, we hope it grows from there. [03:29.5]
The more students we get, we might even be able to request some grants at a federal level. So, and at the end of this program, once they complete the requirements and all the hours, the grant money that we were able to raise, allows them to choose any school in North Carolina, Trade school and we've been able to pay for that for them. So it's just a tremendous opportunity to get these kids thinking in a different direction and not feeling inferior that they might not want to go to college. Because let me tell you something, these skilled craftsmen, just because you might not have a college education, that means nothing in this world. These skills are being lost at a rapid rate. I kind of told my team a lot, you know, hang on there. We'll we'll get paid more than doctors someday. [04:20.1]
Duane: Ha ha…I was taking some continuing education classes earlier this week. One of the topics was hiring and of course it had quickly turned into the struggles that we're all having and how, how weak the workforce is getting here. And they had a stat that, especially in particular to plumbers and electricians for every five that retire right now, only one is entering the market. And it's something that's near and dear to my heart too, so that's… We, we commend you Jeff, for what you're doing, it's such a great cause.
Dave: You're taking action too. You can either sit by the sidelines and complain about it or you can dig in and be a leader and take action. And it sounds like I know that you had done a radio interview. You garnered some of the attention of your state government. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the influence that you've been able to, or the influential support you've been able to gain through this program and maybe touch on how others could get involved? [05:14.9]
Jeff: You know, it's raising that awareness and the fact that it is being hosted now with the home builders association, of course, that spans nationwide and we're gonna make sure that all this information is passed throughout that organization. On that radio program, that was our fifth, we're in the fifth district and Congresswoman Virginia Fox was listening. She's become aware of this program and very, very interested in supporting it in any way she can. So she's also mentioned, you know, some of these grants in a federal level and a state level that might be available once we get the participation rate up just a little bit more, I believe the minimum is going to be 50 students, which I don't see why that's obtainable quickly. This is just the pilot program. Like I said, I think it's a great idea. It's been very well thought out and very well put together. And as soon as we can show that success, I really do think it will become contagious in other areas, other regions across the country. [06:13.4]
Dave: We give you a lot of credit for getting involved and stepping up. And it's pretty remarkable because this also leads nicely into the discussion around the unsolvable problem. It ties back to what your unsolvable problem was and we're going to walk through that in a moment here. But first, when we first connected with you a couple of years ago, to talk with you about making some changes in your business, you were operating Jeff Smith or JS Construction. You know, you're a family guys running your own business. Tell us what your business was like. Walk us through JS construction two and a half years ago. [06:50.8]
Jeff: Now going back just a little bit further started my company back in 2006, just very passionate to roll the dice. I love the building industry. I love working with my hands. I had an opportunity to work with a seasoned veteran, a builder who was also a craftsman and coming out of the gate, I had so much respect for this gentleman's ability to solve problems in the field quickly rapidly, his ability to figure out the cuts. I mean, he was just a great carpenter to learn from, and it was very much the old school way. So it was just a invaluable opportunity to work alongside of him to develop that skillset early on as a carpenter. And then eventually is a builder as well. So right out of the gate, I had modeled my company after him, which is who I learned from. And that is, you know, I like to refer to it as a romantic ideal of a builder, which is a craftsman model. [07:49.8]
When you hire a builder to build your house, that guy builds your house. And typically has a crew that he maintains, uh, we do a lot of work in house and unannounced to me, this was pre economic collapse there in 2008. But as I got my business off of the ground, that particular model is actually what I attribute to saving me and not collapsing my company because we were, we were very lean and mean. My overhead was mill. We were doing a lot of work in-house. A lot of the grading foundation work, the framing, all the carpentry work. One of the members of my crew was also a licensed electrician. So we were going down that path of just trying to be that romantic idea. However, you know, there's, there's problems that we'll get into and talk about after doing that for almost a decade there more than a decade, I began to hit walls really rapidly. [08:46.7]
Obviously that model is fantastic to survive a recession because we're, we're doing one or two projects. We don't need volume. We don't need anything to crack the nut of our overhead and our margins. It's enjoyable. We're out in the field, but as you try to grow that model, you start rapidly running into system problems. There's no way to delegate properly. And so if you fall victim to any type of entrepreneurial business, there's many books written about this, you know, you're just, you're wearing too many hats. You know, I was effectively; the project manager was working during the day, doing things at night, trying to keep the books. I did have an office manager at the time, it was an excellent accountant. She kept my books with an iron fist, but again, it's very difficult to scale. So I built myself my own bottleneck when I was thinking of trying to grow a craftsman model and I knew I needed to do something, but I remember I was having conversations within my team that I'm stuck. [09:50.4]
They didn't see it, but I saw it. And I felt that responsibility of having to solve this immediate problem, which is I want to ensure that this business is sustainable. And at the time I felt like, yes, I can keep grinding this out. We can, we're going to figure it out. I always used to say, Hey, if I had 30 days to sit in my office and put together policies and procedures that I could work my way out of this, but it just never happened. I never made the time. I never took the time to iron out a plan. So that kind of gets us up to the point where, where Dave, you had contacted me. I was very, I was at a crossroads. The timing was couldn't have been more perfect to run into somebody like you. The same token, I was already looking at all kinds of technology, continuing education courses, just searching out ways that I could grow this business to something that would be here long term, because look, I had survived a recession. We were in a good market and it was bothering me that, Hey, we're in a great time, great market, but I am unable to scale without further extending myself and causing my family to suffer. You only have X amount of hours in a day and I was using way more. There's no margin in my life whatsoever. That kind of gets us, caught up to you, Dave. [11:13.1]
Dave: We started talking and it became clear that you have built yourself, your own giant treadmill. And we're having a hard time finding the time to do stuff. You were looking at the different investments that you could make to put that structure in. Like you mentioned, taking 30 days to go and figure it out, but it seemed like you didn't know where to start for each of the pieces. And when you start doing the math on all the pieces and the things that you need to have in your business, it starts to become overwhelming. So it's a combination of, of the time and the financial resources to make that commitment. So when we started talking about some of the things that you would need to put in. The words I remember most when we, when we went through your, your biggest blockage was, “That won't work in my market.” Why did you feel it wouldn't work in your market? [12:08.6]
Jeff: I was worried that I might out price myself, you know, cause all I could see is if I'm going to try to put all these systems and processes in place, I'm going to tremendously increase my overhead and I will be knocked out of my market. So I was thinking about, I was still very much a commodity in my market and I was really concerned about price. Wasn't thinking about value, we'll dig deeper on those things. My, my thinking was just incorrect and, and also the trade resources that I had to scale a business, obviously in 10 years I developed a real good team. But we're in a small area. We're in a very small area. We are resource starved. So when I started thinking about scaling a business, how can I do that? How can I solve that problem? And to me it really felt like it was unsolvable. And I think that, I think that answered your question for this stage. [13:01.9]
Dave: You were making a living and not living at all. What I remember most was walking through, looking at making an investment in putting in the structure of the marketing, the things that we had talked about in our earlier discussions and when it came down to it, it was ‘that won't work in my market’, because I just can't find good trades here.
Dave: So tell me how this impacted your business. [13:26.1]
Jeff: Part of the reason was fundamentally as a craftsman model I had, I was relying on in house, carpentry. I mean, we were, we had our hands, we were touching everything. So I, there was fear. Again, it comes back to fear that, you know, I can't think of one good trade and, and you know, every, all of my friendly competitors within within my circle here in the community, they're having the same problems, you know? And my, my secret weapon was I don't, I don't need to rely on subcontractors. We do that in house. So we also cover the elect electrical, you know? And so it was a little bit of pride of a little bit of ego involved. And, and again, like I said, I can't emphasize enough that I was just scared to go out and really build relationships with people that do exist. They're out there, but you have to carve out the time to find them, to build those relationships and to secure those resources because otherwise there's no growth, you know? And, and I refuse to believe that they existed. [14:28.9]
Dave: That's right. You told, shared with us some of the experiences you would have in trying out a random new trade.
Jeff: I just didn't have any faith. You know, I'd, I'd make a phone call, get somebody out there and they're not going to do it as good as I can do it. And instead of looking at that as something that is a coachable moment, something that I can take time to train somebody up to our standards of quality. My default reaction was to, you know, Hey, they prove my, they prove me right, I'm going to get rid of them and I'm going to go back to doing it myself.
Dave: Yeah. And so in doing it yourself, you were starting to build an unsustainable model because, and one that has had a lot of high risk associated with it, because now the onus is back on you. It's more people to manage internally. You're doing it because you don't have confidence in the trades and you're doing it because you want to make sure that if you call them, they're responsible to you, they can come to, or they're going to respond because they're employed by you. So it was a measure of control and it was, you were actually trying to solve the wrong problem. So what would your business have looked like if you had the best trades working for you, the most reliable trades and the most sought after trades were working for you, how would that have impacted your business? [15:50.0]
Jeff: That was so stifled because it was layers and layers in years of wrong perception, you know, wrong thinking. And it was difficult for me to start peeling those layers back to even be able to see what that might look like and what kept me intrigued and actually talking with you, Dave, is that I knew fundamentally I was wrong. Obviously what I was doing was very, very painful and it was not, you know, again, from the outside, it looked great on the inside it was a pressure cooker. And so this is what I needed to push me. It took me, it took somebody pointing these things out for me to take a real hard, look at myself and admit that I needed to learn. I needed to open my mind. I needed to think about what is it, what, what could this look like if I opened my mind and really changed my thought thought process and made time to do this, made time to invest in me so that I can see and bring those ideas back into my business and implement it. [16:53.1]
So going back to when I sort of always had 30, if I had 30 days, obviously that never happened and it's going to take a lot longer than 30 days, but you know, you can't ride a ship overnight, but what you can do is you can wake up each day and you can set aside some time to move that needle a little bit and overtime on that trajectory, you're going to ride that ship. And that's what I realized I had to do. So I started carving out chunks of time to focus on these weak areas and, and read and study, and then ask you questions and make sure that these things were implemented properly from the foundation up so that I had a fighting chance of keeping that ship on its right course once I got it turned around. [17:38.7]
Dave: Yeah. That's interesting because through your unsolvable problem, you discovered the real problem, but I want to go step back for a second.
Dave: To the trade based problem because we, through all the negative things that resulted in your business or that were happening in your business because of a lack of access to the type of trades that you're, you really need in your business to grow and thrive. And then we looked at, we did a comparison to, well, what if the best trades worked with me? What if I had access to those and my competitors may not have, what would I be able to create with that? And it, I think you started to feel like maybe you could live to your, to a higher potential. If that particular piece was solved, did you start to feel that way?
Jeff: Oh yeah, I started to envision what that might look like I still didn't know how I was going to get there. [18:27.6]
Dave: We then said, you know, Jeff, walk me through. So you got this problem on one side, this is what your business looks like now. This is how you're suffering. This one thing, this one unsolvable thing, if you could just change this thing, it results in this. And it was you expanding your potential, talking with me about all the different ways that your business would grow and that you didn't have this anymore. And then I kind of punched you in the face, so to speak and said, okay, so Jeff, walk me through what you're doing about this problem.
Jeff: And at the time I wasn't doing anything.
Dave: Yeah. And that's what….I remember we laughed, there was a big silence on the phone. It was dead quiet. And it kinda like, hmm.
Duane: Well, there would be a lot of dead quiet if you punched Jeff Smith in the face.
Jeff: Yeahhhh. [19:17.4]
Dave: One dead and a whole lot of quiet. What happened next was really cool because we started to dig through what you need to do about your own solvable problem. It became clear how much time were you spending, finding exceptional trades, developing a relationship with them, teaching them the way you run your business and educating them as to how you guys could partner together, understanding them what was important in their businesses. Walk us through how much of that you were doing at the time. [19:52.9]
A quick reminder that the best way to get the most out of this podcast is to engage with the Builder Nuggets community, visit our website at BuilderNuggets.com and follow along on Facebook and Instagram. [20:06.6]
Jeff: Yeah. I can say, you know, the trades that I did have in place at the time I was doing that with just them, but in terms of filling those voids, you know, going back to the craftsman model, the trades that I hadn't built any relationships with, I just was not spending any time developing that. And you're right; I jumped ahead of you a little bit with things that I have realized and things that I've implemented now. But at that particular time, I just was not committing any, any time to developing my business because I had put myself in a situation to where I was just completely reactive. I was nothing but a giant fire extinguisher putting fires out every day behind the eight ball. I was not in a position of leadership or control. It was survival. And it was painful.
Dave: Walk us through what kind of response you would get when you would request a bid from a trade you didn't know. How did that go down? [21:06.7]
Jeff: You know it’s, and now that it's been, it's been so long and I'm doing things completely different, you know, typically back then, and it was just either silence or if they wanted to work, it was just a, you know, it was, there was not much personal to it. You know, it was just a quick phone call. Yeah. What are the parameters? Here's our price, because that's what they're used to, you know, they're used to getting treated like that. So, you know, it was just very, very stale, not a whole lot to do with knowing about them and who they are and who their families are. What's motivating them. What can we do to improve your business and those types of things, which I'm, which I'm very much doing now. [21:46.1]
Duane: Jeff just to, just to chime in a little bit, I, I, I could say it from experience. There was a time where I was in that craftsman type model as well and. Yeah, there's parts of it that are, that are romantic and exciting. I mean, it's a group of guys and gals yourself, your immediate team, that tight group of really good trades around you.
Duane: And all of us are in the same, we're in the same predicament where we're working furiously, we're doing great work. We know we can count on each other. The problem is none of us can scale. The trades are struggling to scale. We're struggling to scale as, as business owners. And that's, I think the big thing that falls back to this, this unsolvable problem is there's never any time or effort left to finding more of those really good people.
Jeff: That's correct. Yeah.
Duane: Yeah. [22:32.0]
Dave: Duane, you talk about this a lot. It's, it's getting out of the weeds. You didn't have the time at the time to focus on it. And it was just a big shift that was even blocking you from making that investment. But we powered through that and ultimately you did decide to invest in the systems and the structure, the things, and in coaching and a whole bunch of different aspects of your business to free you up. So you can work on your highest and best use things, but as it applies to the trade unsolvable problem that you had before, walk us through your advice or to all the other builders out there, how to expand your trade base and what it's meant to you and to your team. [23:14.3]
Jeff: First off. I mean, there's, there's a lot of layers to this and it's very, very much connected. You know, obviously I can go very, very deep into the subject, but just for the trades regarding the trades, you know, understanding, taking the commoditization out of it, which, you know, again, I know you're going to take a deeper dive on that later, but taking the commoditization out of it and really focusing on who these people are in alignment of visions and understanding the ethics that are involved in that. I want to take care of them and there's no smoke and mirrors, this not, you know, I scratch your back, you scratch mine. It's no... I want to align myself with somebody who is thinking at a higher level, who wants to grow their business for the right reasons. When I say say right reasons, I mean, building something that's going to last, that's going to be sustainable. That's going to benefit not only them, but also the community that they're in. [24:07.3]
So it's building you, you even mentioned this way back then that's building a fire that others want to come sit beside. Not, not because it's dispensing money, but because it is the right thing to do and that that synergy can grow. And it's something that, that spins into other facets of the community in terms of goodness, you know, instead of being right now, the industry as a whole has a has a bad rep, and the rep is be really, really careful because most contractors are shysters. They're gonna, they're gonna, you know, take advantage of you. They're gonna; it's like dealing with a used car salesman. And that's that, that couldn't be further from the truth. I mean, one of the things that you really caught my attention with was how can we restore builder's back to a state of nobility, because if you're a skilled craftsmen, you know, you look at some other cultures in the world, these, these folks are held in a high, high esteem because of their skillset and what they're able to do. [25:14.1]
And by assembling all these people and getting things done that are just way bigger than any one individual. So that's a long winded answer to your question, but, you know, going at a trade from a personal level and then understanding their ethics and understanding what they want to accomplish and finding that alignment, and then saying, you know what, we're going to sit down together. I'm going to draw up a very, very clear scope of work rather than just tossing you a set of plans and saying, “Hey, can you give me a close? I just need a budget number.” And then, Hey, we get into construction. And those of you who are in the industry understand this completely. The first day your trades that's put on the site, they're behind the eight ball because there was no scope of work. There was no detail around their price. And so now you're just creating a domino effect of problems. You just rolled a slow ball off the hill of that's not what I priced, and now suddenly you're at each other's throats. Now, the homeowners involved and it's just, it gets nasty, nasty, nasty, and that's where all these horror stories come from. So it's all, it's all connected. I'm trying to answer a simple question, but, but it's hard for me to disconnect each little individual piece because it really comes down to the big picture. [26:33.1]
Dave: Yeah, there’s a couple of different approaches that you can take and both work, or we can talk about both of them right now, but you mentioned the attraction strategy. You've done some amazing things in your community to build your level of attraction, to show who you are. We believe that that is one of the, you know, in our builder nugget community, we believe that that one of the best ways to attract key people to your organization is to really show them who you are in a genuine way. So tell us some of the things you've been doing within the community or within the industry that are working from an attraction standpoint and bringing some of those best traits to you instead of you going to them. [27:15.4]
Jeff: So when I started getting very focused on carving out time and having that discipline, you know, I joined the Local Chamber of Commerce. I got involved with you know, they just simple things like they had a, they had a polar plunge, which was sponsoring the Western Youth Network and, and you know, that's, that's something I can really get behind. So I started participating in some of those events, you know, in the community itself, you know, Christmas time we gave back just some special gifts to a few individuals here. And, you know, we kind of tied that into our platform of social media, not, not as opportunistic, but as to show, you know, what we wanted to put ourselves in a position of, of leadership for again, the right reasons. And before there was none of this, none of these pieces were in place for me to make any kind of an impact. And so when I started making time, I started putting these pieces together. [28:12.1]
When I started advertising and started getting more involved in the community. And I started creating this little, a fire of synergy, I started driving more and more people to me that puts me in a position to pick and choose the clients that I want to work with so that they can, they can also align with who I am and, and the ethos that I have. So it's, it's a multifaceted again, I know that's a really long winded answer to your question, but I hope that makes sense Dave.
Dave: Yeah, it absolutely makes sense. [28:44.4]
Duane: Just back to the trades, Jeff, something you and I talked about early on, challenging each other. I mean, I talked to a lot of builders, remodelers all over the country, all over North America for that sake. And I can say that, you know, you never run into one that says I have so many great trades in my market, I don't know what to do with. You know at one point, you and I challenged each other, you said, Hey, I'm in a rural area. It's really tough. You only have so many. I wish I was in a place like Charlotte, an urban market. Place like Charlotte has this many challenges too, because now we've got twice as many people fighting for the same resources. And one of the things you and I kind of came to through in that conversation was, and I think of the Shirk Brothers from the Money Pit, you know, I mean, there's contractors out there that are not necessarily treating trades very well at all. Those conversations with these trades and understanding how they run their businesses, how we run our businesses, what we expect of each other. I remember early on when you started doing that with a few folks, it was, it was pretty enlightening around, there were some folks that man, they totally got it. They wanted to dive in. They wanted to be a part of, of some change. And then there was others that just man, they could not get away from the commodity mindset and almost helpless, so to speak. [30:01.4]
Jeff: Yeah, absolutely Duane and you know, I, I kicked this kind of like my campaign in terms of developing new trades. You know, I started out with, you know, having just a, just a cookout here at the office, you know, and it was like a trade appreciation day. All the guys who fought my corner for years and we also invited some new ones as well, and just to let them know, you know, that this is really a family atmosphere and it's not, it's just not been on money. You know, that same builder that kind of trained me and I'll never forget. He told me, he said, Jeff, there are no friends in this business. The minute the money stops, you don't have any friends. And while I'm a realist and I want to believe that that's a really negative way to think about this because it doesn't have to be that way. [30:51.7]
You know, we're all busy, everybody's busy. But if you take that time to take that commoditization factor away, how can I take a trade and make their life better? You know, we're all trying to accomplish the same thing and we're trying to grow in our business and you know, what are the little things that you can do? You know, so starting with, how about a clear scope of work instead of saying, can you bid this out? I'm going to stack you with four other people and I'm taking the cheapest bit. You know, how about let's look at value over price and Hey, the market's only going to bear what it's going to bear. And it's my job to protect my clients. Nobody wants to get ripped off, but that's not who we are is ethically. This isn't about money, this is about creating value. And so what are these little things, these little extra things that we can do to increase efficiency, scopes of work, when that trade shows up on site, are they coming in at the right time? Are they coming into a clean job site? [31:52.0]
Some builders just don't think about they don't care, but it's like, Hey, we're, we're sticking to a cheap price and we've got to get this done for this amount of money. Well, that's fine. But if you back cuddle all the way back up to where, you know, I'm talking to my clients right out of the gate, what kind of experience do you want to have? Do you want your house to be here long-term? We're going to look at things from a big picture perspective. Are we the cheapest in town? Absolutely not, but we're going to bring value to the table here and guess what? You're going to build some amazing relationships along the way, not just with me, but the tradespeople as well. So if you can start creating that community, imagine going to work and having some great people to be around. Your job site is clean. Your day is efficient. So those are the things that I'm doing now that's creating a synergy to where I am getting calls almost daily, several times a week from new trades who have caught wind of how we treat our sub-contractors. And so when we do pull a new one in anything they can do to stick with us, that's what they want to do. [33:01.1]
Dave: You know, in following you on social media, we've seen some of the things you've been doing. The community events, where you've been collaborating with trades, and there's a word we'll touch on again in a second. Featuring trades who have done exceptional work on your site, valuing them. What have you got in return from the trades for the appreciation that you've shown them? [33:22.6]
Jeff: Really a lot of loyalty and also appreciation back. I mean, it's reciprocal. This is not rocket science. This is just being a good or better human being and striving to be a better human being. So, you know, for example, I've got a new trade on board is doing our, our carpentry work and all of our framing. And at every step of the way, he's constantly turning down other opportunities because of how much he feels appreciated and how he feels like he's growing his business with us. And, and so that relationship is just solid, but the foundation is not money. It's not just price. It's not, there's stability there in terms of, you know, long-term, I'm going to take care of you. I'm going to make sure that your days are efficient and that you're growing your business alongside of us in a way that's sustainable. So it's just a, it's pretty neat to see it's definitely different from from the past, for sure. [34:22.3]
Duane: This is not a sub that is simply going to bid on my project. This has become a Trade-parker that literally wants to do all of your work.
Jeff: That is very correct. You're going to lose battles along the way. You know, there's going to be battles every day that you might lose, but if you're, if you're in this for the right reasons and you're treating people correctly and you're focusing on yourself and how to improve yourself, you're going to win the long game and that's definitely what I'm playing. Before I had put myself into the short game to where I was trying to survive day to day, week to week. And when I was able to detach from that and change my mindset and come up with a strategic plan and really start focusing on mapping that out. What is that long game? What does it look like? Where do I want to go? What do I want to achieve? Then you can start taking these strategic steps in all facets of your business to really instigate that, that growth. [35:19.9]
Dave: I've been making some notes here as we go Jeff. The key takeaways for me right now from you are this is an anti-commodity play. You cannot treat the trade like a commodity, and it has to start with a relationship. That relationship has to be based on respect and appreciation. What would your advice be to builders who decide that they're going to invest more time in developing trade partners? How would somebody get started? Walk us through what your advice to someone would be in carving out the time and how much time should they spend on this? [35:56.0]
Jeff: It really comes down to discipline. It's also having a plan, right? I mean, you want to have a strategic plan of what are you trying to achieve? Where are your weak points in your trade structure? What really needs to be worked on and where are those relationships? And then get out there and meet folks, you know. Don't just cold call people. Don't email people; figure out, you know, I found myself a lot of times, you know, seeing them guys working. And I just try, I just stop in and catch them. It might be on another job site, you know, but I just talked to them, not to undercut them, not to say, Hey, I'm going to give you a couple more dollars an hour if you come over and work for us, it's just like, Hey, I see you guys are doing some really good work here. Can we set up a time to have some lunch? I'd like to get to know who you are and more about your company. [36:41.6]
You know, I've seen builders roll around my jobs, It's happened to me. They've rolled around my jobs and it's always, Hey, I'm going to give you more money, if you come work for me, especially in a hot market. And that works sometimes, you know, some people are just bent on money, that's their only game. And you know, I'm of the philosophy and you taught me this, Dave, you know, if you, you taught me this back in the beginning and I believe that I just didn't know how to articulate it. It's, you know, if you invest yourself into someone else's success, you know, your success will naturally follow. And what does that mean? It means everything we've been discussing up to this point.
Dave: Hey, Duane, you've had a few breakthroughs and some success in developing your trade base for your offices as well and Jeff touched on inclusion. Talk about maybe a share some of the, when we're looking at strategies or tactics that we can use to get more involved with the trades. We think of events, social media, industry, collaboration, Duane, maybe walk us through some of the things that have worked for your office. [37:44.6]
Duane: Yeah. I think some of the things for our office is just really making them feel like they're part of the team. If we have some kind of small gathering, get them there, we've done things where even at a monthly meeting, you know what, some of my carpenters, a few folks, maybe they want a few tips on electrical. Let's bring in an electrician and having talked to the group about what could we do to help get the job a little bit better prepared for when that electrician and his crew step on site. Encourage a trade to come to a, an HBA meeting or, or a NERI meeting. Ask them what they're struggling with in their business. And it's, it's really the little things. I mean, Jeff said it, I think one of the old fashioned things was, Hey, I just, I pay my trades on time, you know? And we were like that as well, but we really started taking things way deeper than that. A simple thing, like having your site ready for when a trade shows up is so huge. You hear it from trades all the time that they get on a job and this wasn't now they have to make multiple trips and they've got to do something that was somebody else's. And at the end of the day, they can recoup those dollars, you know, so it hurts them. [38:41.8]
So really just making them feel like part of the team, including them early, when you're quoting projects, bring their expertise to the table, they can, you know, maybe they have some suggestions when you're doing a walkthrough with a client, for how things are, things can work. Good trades are going to be on the cutting edge. I should think that my hard wood floor guy is going to go way, he's going to know way more about the latest and greatest on hardwood flooring than I do and I want him to have that voice. So I think that's the biggest thing is really making them feel like they're a part of the team they're included and that they've got a voice that they're being heard.
Jeff: Yeah, I agree. I agree a 100% with you, Duane. And you know, another thing is asking your trades directly you know, if it's a new trade, what are they struggling? You know, I mean, how many times does somebody who has a commodity mindset care enough to ask their trades? You know, what can we do better? You know, what can we do to increase the efficiency of your business, to make sure that you're making your margins? What are the things you're struggling with and start the conversation that way so that you can learn, how can we work together? How can we collaborate and make both of our lives better? [39:47.5]
Dave: That's so important, that's total gold there. True collaboration to build the type of trade base that makes an investment in your business. And the reason they're making that investment in your success is because of the investment that you have made in theirs. So it's clear that you've been doing that Jeff. It's clear that you've put the structure in your business to allow yourself the time to do that. It's been great, having you on the show here to share some of that. Do you have any other parting words or advice? [40:18.7]
Jeff: You know what, I've, what I've learned and seen in my own business within a very short period of time is when I took the time to invest in myself and really increase, broaden my perspective, get my head off out of the weeds for a little bit, and started looking at the big picture. It put me in a position to lead without being somebody that's barking orders or aggressive or anything like that. It's more of a, Hey, this guy, this guy is walking in this path and he's doing it confidently, and he's doing it in a humble way. He's checked his ego and he actually cares about what we're doing and who we are. And I don't know about you, Dave, but I mean, that's what we should all be striving to do because that's somebody that I want to get behind and follow. You know, if I see somebody stand up with an egotistical attitude and they're arrogant and they know more than me, and they know more than everybody in the room, you know, that's not somebody you want to follow. [41:13.9]
In sideways, I mean, I hate to say this or make this stereotype, but a lot of builders, you have a big ego. I mean, it's just, you talk to them and Hey, there's a difference between ego and confidence, big time, you know, you can be a confident builder, but that ego is such a killer. When it comes to leadership, there's something you can learn from every person, whether it's that painter out there that looks like, you know, he's had a hard life. Things have really hit him hard, spend some time with that guy, cause you'll probably learn something that's going to make you a better person. It's just that personal investment; I want to make sure that's clear because that's really what I had to see any growth in my business whatsoever. And I had to be committed to that. And I had to focus on that. I had to study that, read that there's nothing easy about growth, growth hurts, you know, it's still painful. But if we're not growing, you know exactly what I said earlier you're going to hit that point where you think you're going to coast, or you think things are going all right now, you're going backwards whether you realize it or not. [42:16.2]
And then things happen you know, the industry gets out out ahead of you and all of a sudden what happened. I'm not even close to being competitive anymore. I mean, things are constantly shifting and changing. So you owe it to yourself to carve that time out, to really change your mindset and look at the big picture, then start building your team around you. [42:33.4]
Dave: Jeff, you talked about leadership and being a better leader and how you do it. One of the things we've noticed in the businesses that we coach is the best leaders are the ones who can accept leadership. And if you can get to the point where, when it comes to a specific discipline, a specific trade, a specific element of your builds of your client’s build, and you allow or create an environment where the trade can be a leader to you, a trade can be a leader to your project manager, and you're receptive to that leadership because you've got that trust with that trade, you've made that commitment to each other. You've got excellent communication. You've got clear expectations set. Now you're creating an environment of leadership where you can be led and the impact that that has on your team, your clients, you, your outcome, even the other professional partners who are the architect, the designer who are expecting a successful product, output experience, whatever, whatever you want to call it, that only happens if you have two way leadership. So thanks for raising that point, because that is crucial. If we could, all as builders create an environment where the best resources within our communities were leading us in the areas where they're the ultimate expert, that's where we need to be. [43:57.0]
Duane: I've had the pleasure, privilege and pleasure of knowing Jeff over these last few years. And he has just made tremendous strides in both personal and professional growth. And it is all due to his, his level of dedication. He's putting the time and he's putting the effort in. He said it earlier; he's got his head on the long game. Jeff kudos for what you've done and, and best of luck to you going forward.
Jeff: Really appreciate that Duane. Never out of the fight, man, gotta keep grinding through it. [44:22.2]
Do you have what it takes to transform your business? It's time to take action. Join the Builder Nuggets community to experience the life changing breakthroughs that the most successful builders and remodelers have already discovered.
Subscribe to the podcast now and follow along on Facebook and Instagram. Got elements of success to share with other builders, let us know at BuilderNuggets.com so we can amplify your story. [44:48.5]