“Collaboration over competition as Tom Silva says”
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. [00:19.8]
Duane: So, today's guest is the founder of NS builders and award-winning custom building and remodeling firm located in Boston, Massachusetts. He's also a co-host on The Modern Craftsman, a very popular podcast, one of my personal favorites that focuses on relatable and real-world stories in our industry.
Dave: Aimed at the high-end residential market with a creative approach that focuses heavily on providing quality craftsmanship as well as value for his clients. This modern craftsman is a lifelong carpenter with a background in both residential construction and high-rise construction. He is what we call here in the builder nuggets community, a noble builder.
Duane: So, it's my pleasure to welcome Nick Schiffer to today's show. Nick, you and I have talked previously.
Nick: We have. [01:02.4]
Duane: Give us a quick backstory on how you went from carpenter to business owner to broadcaster.
Nick: Man, first off, I want to thank you guys for having me on that was probably the best intro I've heard. I might steal that. No, so, I mean, I started mine. I feel like my life as a carpenter, as a, as a young kid, I was just always working with my hands. And I've told this story on a couple of different channels where I sat on the floor in my grandma's kitchen and slamming nails into the floor cause they were going to do a renovation and I just went to town and I feel like ever since then it was just, I gravitated towards carpentry. My father owns a residential fence company. I started working for him when I was 11 years old, you know, just being or whatever, you know, sweep the floors, pack the bins and work there for 11 years until I was 22 years old, I had went through, put myself through college. At that time, I worked my way up to running the wood shop. I actually handled a lot of the metal fabrication, got into cars and fabricating cars and carpentry was always something I said that I'm going to make money at. [02:07.6]
And you know, even when I worked for my dad, I would, you know, take on small carpentry jobs on the side. In high school I, I built sheds everywhere for anyone, from my teacher to friends, to just people that needed to shed. They come into my father's friend shop. They thought they sold sheds, they didn't. Saw our market opportunity, I took it and went with it and then got to a point where I was prefabricating them in a one car or a two-car garage. [02:34.3]
Duane: I totally get the building shed venture did it myself.
Nick: And, you know, part of me every once in a while, especially with like stress, I'm like, man, I'm just gonna go back to building sheds. They're just like many houses. Like I always made them like many houses, they were like way overbuilt but.
Dave: There was a show up here in Canada, and one of the characters owned a business called Shed for Brains.
Nick: Nice. So, after college I actually got hired by a, you know, national, a national developer and they do a lot of garden style, but they had a high-rise division in downtown Boston. And I went in and I think the role was like a temporary Assistant Superintendent. Essentially, I was babysitting. I was literally standing in a room while guys work in these furnished apartments, making sure that the work got done, making sure that the client, the people that live there, stuff didn't get touched or got protected, whatever the case was and worked my way up to, you know, they hired me full-time as an Assistant Super and kind of jumped into Assistant Project Manager where I was the APM on a brand-new high rise. And we were essentially, you know, I was brought in early on where we called it, the enabling phase where we were essentially relocating underground utilities, excavating and demolishing an existing parking garage and part of a department store, so we could fit this 10,000 square foot plot to go out 32 stories. And I had like a ton of fun. [04:03.5]
It was super, it was super interesting and looking back, it's like, I remember dealing with like contract values, millions and millions and millions and went like it was over a hundred-million-dollar project and being, you know, I was essentially the point contact on that project. The project manager worked out in New York, so I was essentially the point contact on site. We hired a CM, so I'm owner rep assistant project manager, but I had a lot of fun. I didn't go into it with, I think a lot of guys get tripped up where they're an assistant project manager. They know more that, you know, that clip like walking around with a clipboard. Like I know more than you, you know, attitude. I didn't, I was like, I just want to, I want to soak in as much as I can. Became friendly with a lot of the trades and just watch the building process go up. And I got involved with more than was necessary. [04:55.0]
Like, you know, for instance, MEP coordination, I'd sit in this room. I'm just going to say, I remember his name being Blake. And he worked, he would work in the dark with techno music blaring and he would just work in, in, in coordination software. And he was like the crazy, it was literally like a nightclub, but, and he was just like immersed in these like graphics on the, on the screen. And I remember being involved in just trying to understand it. Cause I wanted to understand as much as possible. Long story short, fast forward, I was there for three and a half years and I chose to leave because it wasn't like it wasn't gratifying to me. And I started taking in more and more side work, doing more and more projects on the side, carpentry projects, small, I was doing a kitchen renovation at night. There were times where I'd work from six to six and then I leave grab food on the way and go work until midnight on a project. And I was dating this girl that is now my wife at the time. And it was just not a life for her and nor should it have been. And I told her I was going to quit my full-time job, and I did. [05:59.5]
And I went off on my own, I started my company it was kind of just a carpentry company. My first project was a kitchen renovation. I got, you know, the architect on that high-rise project. We became friendly. He, we did a full gut renovation on his house and it was, it was a small company at first. And I thought that that's how it was going to always be. And I had hired friends, family members, things like that. My brother and my cousin, a couple of my friends that were kind of choosing another career, but working there navigating their way through it. So, I kept, you know, I needed help, but it was really when I bought, I got married, I bought my wife and I bought a house. We needed a full gut renovation. So, we stripped it down and took a little time off from work. I'm not sure how. Looking back, I still don't know how we really afforded to do that, but we renovated it. And that's really where I think my career started jumping forward. I was immersed in the Boston market. [06:57.0]
We had bought a house in Boston. I started showcasing the work through the use of video. Doug, who does all our video for social media. At the time I was hiring him part-time cause I thought it'd be cool to film the renovation of our house. And that started getting a lot of traction. And I was seeing the benefits of promoting us through social media, to the point where people were reaching out, wanting to work for me. And you know, maybe looking back, it may have, I may have portrayed that the company was bigger than it was through the eyes of a lens, but it since have, has grown to 15, 20 people in this company that have all in some way, come through social media to where now Doug is full-time and we, we put a tremendous amount of effort into the social media presence. And that's when I started really networking, communicating with other people, talking to peers, DM-ing someone in top, you know, like I'm just straight up like, Hey, do you have a, you know, do you have a contract to do a million-dollar job? Hey, how do you do this? How do you do like, and maybe they'd answer. Maybe they not, maybe they wouldn't. [07:59.6]
I was willing to provide value and I would ask, you know, and not ask for in return, but just I would ask and if they had a question or whatever the case may be, I'm there. Like, I want this to be a two-way conversation. I want it to be valuable to both parties. And it was when I had reached out to John, my cohost, he was local. And I was like, Holy, Holy shit, like, you know, he's local. That's, you know, can we meet up? I was like, do you mind if I swing by your job? He's like, yeah, we'll have a beer and we'll chat. So, I swung by his job. I had this big box truck. I remember his boss at the time called and said, Hey, there's a big, huge box truck in front of our project. And he's like, Oh yeah, it's just a kid. He stopped by to say hi. So, we start chatting and we start basically kick, you know, immediately just had a cool relationship chatting about business, chatting about everything, just our love for the industry. And then it turned into like, Hey, let's grab a beer next week. And we get a beer. And at the time, like Snapchat and Instagram was starting to really get legs for our industry. And we would, you know, we were being goofy. It's like, we'd take a photo of each other at a bar, like a selfie. Right. And be like, Hey look who I'm with. I'm with, you know Johnny Horton and it's, it's Nick Schaeffer. And it was silly to us, but people would message us and be like, Hey, I wish I could be a fly on the wall in that conversation. [09:14.3]
And him and I are like, we're talking about, IPA's like, is your burger good? You know, like, but we re, but we, we started thinking, we were like, man, this, this could maybe there's something here. Maybe like we're connected because we share a lot of similar interests and struggles. And we're talking about our pain points like casually. So, I forget the time that how exactly the timing worked out, but we hosted an event we posted up like; all right, if people want to get together, you know, why don't we just say, we're, we're going to be at this bar on this night, come by, you know, hang out. We’ll, we'll have a beer or whatever. We didn't think anything of it. We were like, Hey, we're going to be at this. I think it's called. I think it was like whatever Tony's in, in Boston. And I think it was 42 people showed up and we didn't give the restaurant a heads up. We didn't, it was like, it was just, Hey, we're going to grab a beer. And it was insane. And we were like crowded in this corner. And everyone's like chatting, like trying to get into conversations and having a, having a good time. [10:17.0]
And then like at some point we all, we all dispersed and John and I looked at each other and we were like, so did we just, are we paying the bill? And the waitress walks over? She's like, here's your bill? And we're like, yeah. All right. Okay. All right. So that was an official event. So, we need to structure this a little bit better and we tried it again. We, we, we did it again. And we realized that the structure, like, while it was cool to get beers and hang out, the conversations were still like this one-to-one. So it's like, we would mean, me and you would chat about something for 45 minutes, get really deep into it. And then here comes Mike walking over and he's like, Hey, ask me the same question or ask him the same question. It's like, man, I wish I like, I wish I could just tell you to watch what we just talked about or wish you were here 45 minutes ago. And that's when, at some point the Kuiken Brothers event came about where they invited myself, Sean Vandyke, John and Tyler. [11:13.8]
And Tyler became, you know, we were, we were basically at this point friends, but we had never met. It was just through Instagram. And like, we just became like kind of these three that would always talk and chat. So, they had invited us to speak as the modern craftsman, they called it. John Vandyke hosted it and we were up on stage and it was the first time anything like that had been done. And I remember being there and I, I bought the domain, themoderncraftsman.org because I thought it was such a good name. I was like, I got go on this. And afterwards I was like, Hey, Ryan from Kuiken, he put together the, the event, I think it may, it was shortly after we talked about like, Hey, can we use this name of The Modern Craftsman? We might, we might do something with it, like a podcast. And he's like, absolutely. And I was like, just so you know, I did buy the domain. He's like, it's like, nice. I'm like, I wasn't trying to hold it hostage. I just thought it was a good name. And like had to grab it before we changed our mind. [12:09.2]
So, we did, we decided that at that point, I believe it was like right around that event or maybe like right shortly after is that we had met at my shop. We had; John had bought some podcast equipment; I think he bought one mic. We set it up on a five-gallon bucket and we just turned the recorder on. And if you can go, I don't think you can go back to episode one right now, but it's essentially like, Hey, so I'm Nick, Hey, I'm John I'm Tyler, and we're The Modern Craftsman and we're gonna, we're starting a podcast and we just kinda chatted. And you know, probably for the first year it was kind of pretty sporadic, wasn't a reoccurring thing. And then, it would be sporadic in the sense that someone would reach out and be like, Hey, that episode really hit home. Like, I'm so glad that you talked about that, that that was such a huge help. So, it was like fuel to the tank and we'd do it again. And, but it was, it wasn't this reoccurring like that it wasn't part of our schedule. And when we got Doug involved to help us with the editing, Doug's great because it's like, dude, like you gotta do this every Tuesday. Like set it up. And probably for another year, it was every week, but it was still like maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe this day, maybe that day, Hey, it doesn't work for me. It was, it was like scheduling every single week with four people. So three hosts and a guest, it's like trying to schedule for four people every Monday afternoon during work, it's just a nightmare. [13:33.4]
Duane: Is Doug, the guy in the photo on the, on the website, there's like four of you on it.
Nick: No. So, the website, website's under construction, right. That's Benny. So, Benny.
Duane: Okay, that’s Benny.
Nick: Benny is John's partner at Vintage. Benny had background in DJ and music editing. And so, he was helping us edit in the early days, but that was another thing it's like we, then we, so we were recording with five people. So, Doug started working with me a lot more often, Doug offered to help us. So, he got involved where he was actually at every; me and John would do it together and Doug would be here monitoring the, the recording. And essentially, we got to a point where we could handle it ourselves and then pass it along to, to Doug. But Doug, you know, he re he was instrumental in getting us set up to a point where we were, we were just producing. And then it's probably only, you know, the last year or a little less than last year is where we've like really solidified this thing to a point where it's like, we're booking guests way out. We're setting this up. We have, you know, we're a group we're, we're invited to an event to speak as a modern craftsman. It's, it's become far more real, I guess, is the way putting it. [14:51.7]
Duane: But it's definitely real. You guys, it's, it's a phenomenal show, just the way you guys go about it, the open conversation, I love it. It's, you know, you got a ton of followers and, you know, thanks to you. it helps guys like Dave and I, who are muddling our way through the early, early episodes here to try to build, you know, something of a repeatable format that we're going to do. So, you know, power to what you're doing, and hopefully we can achieve some of what you guys have.
Nick: Yeah. And, you know, and to, to speak quickly on that, it's, it is a tremendous amount of work and we've helped individually and as a group, other podcasts, trying to get off the kind of up and going, and it is it's for a long time, it's pretty thankless. It's a tremendous amount of time. You know, our shows are three hours long. So, it's three hours of recording, three hours of listening and editing an hour to set up an hour, shut down. It's, you know, it's a lot of time every single week, but it is, it's those moments when someone reaches out like, Hey, listen to episode 100. And I fired the guy I've been wanting to fire for six years. And we're like, Oh my God. Like, does that? We, really? And it just, yeah, it's, it's incredibly gratifying. [16:00.6]
Duane: Well, again, you know, congrats to that. Keep doing what you guys are doing. It's just, it's great for the audiences out there.
Nick: Appreciate it.
Duane: I'm going to change gears just a little bit. And it's apparent, I think by anybody that listens to you, that's gotten to know you, whether it's through social media, that's had the privilege to work with you. You know, you do great work. You're, you're just a stand-up good guy. As we talked about for this episode, we're kind of calling it the Nobel builder and you and I talked about when we talked a few weeks ago, you know, what is the thing that, that has happened through the years that has stripped the nobility away? I mean, how has the industry gotten the tarnished image? What do you think it is in the eyes of a lot of, a lot of the consumers out there that just, they're not, they're not totally sold on, on builders and remodelers? [16:43.5]
Nick: Well, I think the entry, like the cost of entry is so low that everyone can be a builder, right? Anyone can be a carpenter or a tradesman, and it's like, you know, or it's like, that's it, you're not good at school, go be a carpenter. You know, that, that whole mentality, which I do believe is diminishing, especially recently, I think there's been a tremendous, a tremendous amount of focus on bringing the, the skills and the skilled trades back. We're not going to replenish it as fast or as much as it was in technology will help offset that. But I think the cost of entry is where it starts. But from the consumer side, I also think it's the, the level of expectation or the lack of expectation where client wants it cheaper, wants it faster, wants it this, wants it that, where we're constantly beating, bad, you know, battered to a point where it's like, we're trying to squeeze more out of a project then they're willing to pay for, I talk about that a lot. And, but I, I am aware that that can only go on for so long. [17:47.6]
Yeah, you can only beaten up for so long until you either tell them to pound sand, or you just start diminishing your quality and saying fine, you know, they don't want to pay me, I'm going to do a crappier job. And I think in parallel to that, it's people are quitting is really easy in my opinion. If you know, if something's not working, it's really easy to just quit. If it sucks, just quit. Like that's the easy road out. And I think a lot of people, I believe a lot of people do like choose that way. And whether it's quitting, meaning like they're not going to be in this industry or they're quitting the, the approach or the quality that they've been putting out, because it's like, it doesn't matter. Like who cares? I'm just gonna, I'm just going to pump this stuff out, get my check and move on. [18:29.9]
Dave: Duane calls this stuff, the race to the bottom.
Dave: And when we're working, you know, and when we're training with other builders, the word that comes up for us a lot is commodity. And what you talked about is the expectation or the lack of understanding that builders are different. Each one may have something different to offer. A lot of times builders don't present themselves that way. They're eager to provide that free estimate. They’re, they want to show that their costs, maybe their differentiator.
Dave: So, we try and teach builders that the fastest way to be treated like a commodity is to act like one or to treat anybody else on your team or within your trade sphere or anything like that, like a commodity as well so, that'd be interested in your take on just the commoditization of the industry and the perception that, you know, you can just go out and get three prices and you're gonna get the same thing. [19:19.6]
Nick: I mean, I agree with, with what you're saying, and I think the really key point in what you just said is that it's all the way down through your trades as well. It's, you know, if you don't want to be treated as a commodity, you can't treat your trades. You can't just, you know, Hey, I'm not going to bid work. All right, I'm going to ask my free electrician to sub-price the job. It's like, why are you better than them? Why? Like, if you're not going to bid work, why are you then turning around bidding? It's like, you want to be hired based on the value and the personality that you bring to the job, you should be then hiring your trades accordingly. I think, it's unfortunate because it is it's the race to the bottom as you say, it's, it takes a lot of time to build a good rapport, right? [20:03.0]
It's easier to just say, I'll just be cheaper than the next guy, so I get hired. So, then I have the work and then I can stay busy. Where it's like, instead the longer play in that would be no, I'm going to, I'm going to do a really, really good job and then hopefully I can leverage that really good job to get another really good job. But it's, you know, that, that length of time is so can be so long where it's like, if, if you just go strictly on price, then it's, you know, Hey, he's the cheap guy, hire him. And that's, I'm banging through this and then the next one it's like, Oh, he was 20 grand. I'll do it for 18 grand. And so you get into this, like this trap where it's also in your five, 10 years into it. And it's like, you've never had the opportunity to be paid what you're worth, because you're always chasing to be the low guy. And thus your, your entire business has been shaped around that, where the other guy that said, Hey, I'm going to slow. I'm going to take my time and do a really good job. Cause yeah, I mean, there's guys that get lucky and that just can sell something that they've never done before and be a good sales sales guy. Maybe they do a killer job. And then they get every big bill, every, every complex bill and make a ton of money like there, that happens. But the more likely scenario is that it's the guy that tries to go slow and takes his time, does a really good job. And again, hopes to be able to leverage that job, to get the next one. And furthermore, hopes that by doing that, they get that next job. [21:29.3]
Duane: And that low cost of entry that you talked about earlier, that's yeah that's one of the reasons that can lead into it. There's a lot of folks that come into this industry and maybe they've got a particular scale and they come in, but they don't have that total package. They don't, they haven't been immersed into the business side of things. There's no book for this, you know, you can't go find the book that's just going to tell you how to do all this. And I think, you know, a big recommendation out there to, to whether it's a young listeners folks that are just kind of starting their own businesses, you know, as Nick said, ask for it, there's a tremendous amount of help out there through podcasts like yours. I mean, what we're trying to build with this builder nuggets, community, HBA groups, there just tons of stuff out there. But I think that low cost of entry, it kind of becomes a self-fulfilling thing. These guys get in there, they don't have all the tools set. They get just into that hamster wheel of free estimates, bidding lower in their price and that really gets, that's tough to get out of that cycle. [22:26.4]
Nick: It is. And it's, you're also going in comparing apples to oranges, right? Where it's, we're, we're not going to be providing a free estimate. We're not, we might bid a project, but that's a vetted project for us. That means that there's some, there, this is worth our investment from a pre-construction standpoint to, to maybe bid on this job. And, but we're very clear in that where we don't want to be competitively bid in a financial decision. If you're looking at three reputable builders, it's a great fit for us, we would do a really good job. Yeah, we might spend that time and price that job and schedule a time to meet with the client and walk them through our process and show them how we're different, what makes us unique. But you know, we're not, we're certainly not going to be in a position where it's like, Hey, you know, can we bid this job with you? We're going to price it. And then it's just, Oh yeah, you guys didn't get it. You were, you were 10% higher than the next guy. [23:21.4]
Well, it's like, what was that based on, you know, our, our approach is totally different than everyone else's just, as their approach is different than, than ours. And that's where, again, the barrier for entry, it's, there's just different levels and different types of builders and contractors. And we're all getting lumped into this one group of, Hey, yeah, he's a builder, he's a builder. It's like, no, not, not really the case. [23:48.1]
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. [24:01.9]
Dave: Yeah, sticking to your guns is the important part there. Sticking to what you believe in and projecting what you believe in is one of the key parts. The other key part around that, and what you're describing is the skill that it takes to be able to educate clients or anybody who you're trying to influence, whether it's a trade partner, a market partner, an architect, but we'll say clients for now. This how do you work on the skill for educating around what your value is and how you do things differently? How do you, how are you able to describe the mission that you're on and your vision and what the client can expect, that takes skill, how do you guys work on that? [24:41.4]
Nick: I'm going to go back to what I said a couple minutes ago. This is a long-term game. And even from a sales process, I've taken some relatively formal sales training, unrelated to the building industry. And that's how a lot of times I, I, I try to focus my education on the bigger picture, like what sales means, not how to sell a house. And you know, and the reason is I want to understand the psychology behind it. And it's like, if you think of, if you've been in sales training or even know about sales, like the funnel, that whole sales funnel, that whole process, that whole, that whole experience for a product is really fast. You're seeing an Instagram ad. You see it the next week. You see it the third week, fine. I'm clicking on it. All right. Now I'm buying it and it's, you're done. And it's, you know, and hopefully they get your repeat business and that's their process it's really quick. [25:31.8]
Duane: And the Amazon truck can show up the same day.
Nick: Which is bizarre. I've ordered ink in the morning and had it in the afternoon before I'm like, this is, this is crazy. You were waiting for me. But our industry is completely different. Our industry is very slow. It's not, you know, yeah, you're going to get a call. Hey, Hey, I want to build a house. I want to start right away. That didn't just happen. You, you aren't getting the six months or the year prior to them learning about you up until that phone call. So, your, your question about how are we educating our clients, how we're different is awareness. And you know, and then we're, you know, through average, like marketing through social media, through, through who I am, who my team is, who are, what our company is, through it, we are creating awareness and, you know, and being approachable. We have clients, we have people that reach out and they might not have, maybe they explain the job and Hey, that's just not the right fit for us. [26:31.2]
I'm not going to tell them I'm not going to tell them that don't ever call me again. Like, like don't insult me with a project like that. You know, it's, it's still like, we're still going to be kind, because what happened, like ideally the thing that comes out of that situation is like, Hey, you know what, they were so upfront. They were very clear. It wasn't the right fit for them. But you know what, when I build my next house, that will be a right fit for them and I'm going to call them then. And that's, you know, our goal and it's creating that awareness, creating that, those relationships being approachable and just communicating who we are and allowing that to develop and, and, you know, consistent too, right? If you want to talk direct marketing nuggets, then we're talking about consistency. You know, we're talking about the fact that I'm always going to be that guy, you know, where I'm a relative relatively young, my team is relatively young and you know, we're taking the social media route and it's, you know, four or five years ago, people thought we were, you know, like, don't waste your time. Like none of your clients are on social media. And I'm like, they're going to be my clients. They're going to be my clients in eight years. And you know, and that's who we want, you know. And they're not going to know the guy that's been around for 50 years because he's not on social media. They're going to know Nick who posts on Instagram every single day and says, yeah, the only builder I know is the guy that's in my face every single day, walking around with a camera in his face, telling me all the cool stuff he builds. [27:51.7]
Dave: It's the long-term play.
Dave: It's like, it's already talked about before.
Nick: Listen, I'm not a patient person. I like to move fast. I like to, I, I like to take risks. I want to, I want to grow. I want to scale. I want to do bigger projects. I want, I want all these things, but I still believe on patient in the sense that I understand that this is a long-term process. And I, but I, but at the same time, I understand that I've been doing this for a long time in the sense of building up these relationships and building the trust amongst people to allow me to be in front of clients, that if I wasn't doing that, I wouldn't have the opportunity to be. [28:28.5]
Dave: And I think you've touched on something with respect to being a noble builder. And that's the long-term play is noble. There's no nobility and expecting a quick hit or, you know, doing something for the short term. You've got to be prepared to build it and have those fundamental values that endure that's where the nobility comes from. Even though the word itself sounds enduring.
Duane: Yeah. And yeah, I think, the nobility is from the craftsmanship. And I know you guys, you guys, that's a battle you guys go through on the podcast a lot. You know, it's battle I'm going through in my years of being in construction for all phases. What makes it so hard nowadays to, to, to still be a true craftsman, but yet also be able to grow your business and scale it and it's hard to do. What do you think makes it so hard? [29:19.7]
Nick: Well, I think a couple of things, I think that the speed in which people want things, I think schedule is a huge stressor in these projects from the client side I think, from the, you know even money where, you know, obviously if someone can't physically afford it is different than I just don't want to pay that kind of being constrained by time and money. But I think the difficult thing is just really, truly believing what one's value is and what, and understanding expectations, setting them, and then, you know, beating them. Like for us, you know, craftsmanship is really important. We spend a lot of money to be completely frank. I spend a lot of money in rework in the sense of like, Hey, listen, we gotta be better than this. We know we're better than this. Let's take the opportunity to be better than this and learn from it and grow and constantly just audit who we are. So, your question about what, what makes craftsmanship so hard? It is the, the expectation people have and what they value. [30:24.3]
Dave: That's so important. And it's reminded me of your story about your ink, because the ink didn't care, which house it went to. You know, you were in that traditional product sales funnel. Anybody can be a buyer; the ink doesn't care. Your challenge as a craftsman is to identify clients who appreciate and value you. That's how you have the opportunity to deliver a craftsman experience, to have it feel noble and for you to grow your network. Because that's when you mentioned earlier on, is that, Hey, I want to do a really good job and have these people share that and share it through social media. And then you could amplify that, but you need your initial voices first. How are you finding clients that value this and appreciate you and see this level of nobility and want that? And how do you filter out the ones that don’t? [31:13.2]
Duane: I would love to say, I have a checklist. I don't.
Dave: It's a gut checklist, isn't it?
Nick: It is a gut check, but it does start with the, the awareness and them knowing who we are. That's a huge green flag. You know, if they come in, be like, Hey, I've been following you for a long time. I love what you guys do. You know, I want to work with you. They, I know that they're coming into this conversation with some understanding of who we are. Now, if we are on the other side of that, and they don't know who we are, I try to be very upfront. I try to, Hey, this is who we are. This is how we operate. This is the structure of our company. Here’s the thing, you know, we have a millwork shop. If you're thinking that you're going to buy the kitchen from someone else, then we're not the right builder for you. That's part of our brand. That's part of what we do. Here are the things that are part of our brand and part of what we do, you know, here's how we manage a project. These are what you can expect with us. You know, do you have a budget? You don't. Okay. Well, based on what you're telling me, I'm thinking it's this much. And does that sound right? Are we in, in line with you? You know, and because those things are important, you know, I feel the arc, the arc I'm using air quotes, that “awkward conversation” about money has to be addressed and I typically am addressing that right off the bat. [32:27.2]
Dave: It's generally throughout the industry addressed, way too late in the game. I mean, you know, how many things have you seen that have been designed going out to bid only to find out it's not even remotely close to the client's budget?
Nick: Sure. I can tell you a specific story where I was double and I was, I had started the job while we were pricing the rest of the job. And I was told to leave because I was, I was, he decided to hire another builder only to find out two years later, the architect never showed me, showed the client my price, because he was embarrassed that he told the client that it would cost half. So, but, but with respect to that, I think from like, from a client standpoint and how we're, we're addressing that is talking about that upfront and being, you know, being candid about it and just saying, listen, it's just, you know, you might be able to do that project, but for us, it's not a good fit. Because I've also been in the position where it's like, yeah, that's probably a million dollars. Well, we're hoping to be 850. Well, you're, you, you, you get in this mind where it's like, man, it's a really cool project. You kind of want to do the job. I could bet, I bet I could make it work for 850. [33:34.6]
Duane: I bet I can make it work.
Nick: Yeah. And then you do it. And it's, I still, to this day, I do. You're going into there with an educated conversation and trying to educate them and you you're setting yourself up and your ultimately your team for failure, if you're going to put yourself in that position where it's like, you know, you're not going to hit that number. That's difficult.
Duane: Yeah, that's a difficult conversation.
Nick: Yeah. So, I it just setting those expectations up front, having those, those difficult conversations, getting that stuff out of the way to, to really align yourself with the client and making sure that you are asking the questions and really just outlining, you know, Hey, this is what's important to me. Is this important to you?
Dave: When you have that client base or you've created that market desire, and you've clearly are now attracting the type of clientele that you, that you want. Do you even mentioned that you were attracting early on the type of staff that you wanted? What are the biggest risks for you or biggest hurdles in scaling? [34:32.9]
Nick: I would say the biggest risks or hurdles are, you know, that anyone that is scaling would, you know, experience and that's bringing on the wrong people or bringing people on out of necessity and realizing that they're, you know, they're not here for the right reasons and being slow to get rid of those people. That's my fear, you know, and not only just for me or the company, obviously I have to look at it that way, but for them, you know, I don't want them in a position where they, you know, they're, they're not here for the right reason or that they don't enjoy this because that trickles through it's, it's one bad Apple, you know, it's, they got a bad attitude, everyone has a bad attitude. And I think I struggle with that still, where it's like, you know, we scale, we've hired a lot of people and we've let go of a lot of people. And we were constantly trying to refine and making sure that we're aligned everyone's on the same page. Everyone has the same goal. Everyone wants the same thing for this company. And it, it, it's oftentimes hard to realize that doesn't want to be here for that, that same reason, or, you know, especially when it comes to necessity, it's like, man, I really can't afford to lose that person. [35:45.5]
Dave: It's almost like, like clients as well. You want it to either attract or repel in a market where project management talent is already scarce and hard to come by finding the craftsman mindset or project managers or team members that share that belief has got to be harder. And it sounds like that's why you're, you're, you're using social media to show who you are, what your values are, what your mission is and everything like that. But it strikes me as it could be a limiting factor. However, it be, you are the one attracting that talent, it gives you a leg up on the on the competition and allows you to, to scale and to scale them. How do you, how do you grow your team? Like how do you scale them?
Nick: It does, and let me touch on that too is, you know, it does, it attracts people, right, because they see all the cool work. But undoubtedly that you know, that you're, you're seeing a filtered version of it, regardless of how transparent we are, what we talk about, there's still a filter.
Dave: Even when you're not showing them all the horror stories of stuff behind the scenes that happen. [36:44.3]
Nick: I mean I genuinely I, I, I try to, in some form or fashion, we talk about our losses. We talk about how we can be better, but it has to be filtered. It has to be diluted. You can't, you know, you can't talk about that, that roof that you screwed up, that no one's ever going to see, but you know, what's wrong. And because what happens when the client sees it and it's like, Oh my gosh, am I going to have a, an ice dam? You know, you can't, you, you can't, you put the fear in, in these people. So it is, it's this filtered version or everything looks great and it's like, you got the whole team out for a team event. And it's like, man, I want to be part of that team. But then it's like the next week, it's like, we're yelling at each other because we're stressed out because the job is behind schedule and you don't see that. So, I think when you you're, you can attract people, but you have to be upfront where it's, you know, and be honest with yourself as though they're seeing a filtered version of what you are and what the company is. As far as how we scale them internally, it's the same, you know, it's a very similar mindset in the sense that, you know, I want to, we want to put people in positions where if they're not proud of what they just did in that moment, that they have the right to start over and do it again. And you know, and that's hard and it's, and, and ideally, I wish it didn't come down to me, walking a job site and saying, Hey, let's redo that because I've learned even more recently that that doesn't feel good when I'm onsite. And I tell him, Hey, you know, let's re let's rip that out and do that again. I bet we can do a better job. [38:09.6]
My mind I'm like, it should feel good. You get the opportunity to do it again, you know, you can do it better. I'm the one paying for it. But instead, it's like, man, like Nick, you know, Nick saying, I suck and I got to try to do this again. I want to empower these guys to realize that, you know what, I made a mistake. I'm not going to try to cover it up. I'm going to let them know that I got to rip this out and do it again. Yeah. It sucks. I'm going to lose a day, but I know if I don't rip this out now Nick's to make me rip it out and it's gonna be twice as hard to rip it out later on. So, I'm making the decision in the moment to do this the right way. And that's really what, that's, how we approach everything. [38:44.4]
It's, you know, to be candid again, it's like, I, we were looking at financials today and we spent way more money on stuff like that. That's not billable. I'm not going back to my client saying, yeah, you know what the, the ellipse rim board for the staircase didn't come out good the first, second, third or fourth time, but I'm charging you up for all five. Can’t, can't do that. It's, you know? Yeah. And on the flip then in to second that it's like, Hey, it didn't come out the first, second, third, fourth time, but I'm not going to charge you for that. However, we did lose a week on the schedule. It's this awkward position, but I'm trying, I'm doing my best to sell that upfront. You're hiring us to, for the end result. And I actually said that to a client where we were talking about schedule, you hired us for the quality and the results. And he said, no, I hired you for the schedule. I'm like, well, we're not fast. I'm, I've never claimed to be the fastest. You know, we had a good laugh about it, but I was, I was trying to be real. I was being very honest. It's a, you, you hired us based on what you saw that we've completed elsewhere. And none of this has been, you know, we're not breaking speed records, but that's not what we're set out to do. We're, we're, we're setting ourselves out to be incredibly thorough and intentional with our approach. [40:04.9]
Dave: Do you want the fastest surgeon or the best line?
Dave: And that's one of the things I've seen through the years, too. I think with, I mean, I've been doing this for over 30 years and houses have changed what people get, you know, in one sense, they get more for their money, but in ways I think they get less for their money, you know, more square footage, more of there's more things. And I think that has allowed the quality in some senses to slip. People feel like, Oh, I've got tall ceilings, I've got this, I've got, I've checked all the boxes and the things I'm supposed to have in a home.
Duane: But maybe they don't really have that measurement for the quality, the craftsmanship. And those are the things I think that that's the struggle. It is tough to, to bridge that. What are some of the things you've kind of drawn the line in the sand about it and your team, your clients, everybody kind of knows your why. To you, what are some non-negotiables when it comes to maybe the experience? [40:57.4]
Nick: Just our approach. I mean, we're, you know, it's, we're not going to take the easy route out. You know, we're going to be incredibly thoughtful in how something is put together to make sure that it, it hits, you know, it meets the expectation of the client. Non-Negotiables, I mean, we there's a list of them. We just, before this podcast, we were in the shop talking about how the architect specified something and Ken who runs my shop was like, that's not us. It's not like, we're not doing that. It's not us. You know and I, and I explained to him, like, I respect that. And you know, and you know, I have to have the conversation though. It's like, listen, it is a, they're asking for something specific. I'm fine saying we're not going to do that, but we need to come to the table with what we will do. It's not just a, no, it's a no, but here's a solution to that. It's really, it really comes down to our approach. We need the time we need the time necessary to complete the work at the, the, the level of expectation that you, that we're setting out. [41:53.6]
Furthermore, I think, you know, from you talk about checking the boxes of all the things that make a house great. For me, it's usually not a visual thing. It's usually not like, yeah, I have the 10-foot ceilings and the inset cabinetry and the, you know, the, the built-up trim and all of this, but was that thought out, was it designed? Was it, you know, was it intentional, or did you just say let's put these cabinets cause I like those and let's put this molding cause I liked those that. And what happens is I truly believe that people leave that house because even though they built a custom house and they spend all the time, like selecting all these things, it wasn't a thought it wasn't premeditated and it's not that they don't like it. And it's not that it didn't check the boxes, but it's feels wrong. You walk in the space, it's got everything, but it just doesn't feel good. And it's this subconscious feeling and that's, you know, I would say that's a non-negotiable for us. Like we need to really think this through if, you know, at the micro level and the macro and you know, in making sure that no matter what, we're not going to look at something and say, okay, that's, that's good enough. Let's keep moving. [43:04.9]
Dave: It’s clear that a lot of attention goes into the details of the house, how, how all those things tie together to create this experience. What can you share with us about the client experience itself, get away from the product for a second and move towards the service. What would your advice be? How to differentiate yourself from a service standpoint? What are some of the things that have been working for you guys?
Nick: Expectation and communication. Communication, I think is the one, one of the biggest things that we fail at in this industry. You know, we recently just hired some additional project management this year to help bridge that gap. It has been instrumental in the client experience. The client is getting updates every single day. They're getting weekly recaps. They're getting this line of communication where they send an email, they're getting a reply, right back. Communication has been so important and you know, I use it, I use that word in an annoying amount during the day and in our meetings, it's always communication. You know, that pairs right with expectation. We're working on an incredibly detailed contemporary project right now and the level of expectation from the client is borderline impossible. And, you know, and I say borderline because nothing is impossible, right. [44:29.6]
But the expectation of how stuff comes together and what it looks like when it's complete, when there's 180 human beings putting it together, you know, they're there, you know, where is that? Where is that line in the sand where it's acceptable and it's constantly being pushed by the client. So, understanding those expectations upfront and then working through those expectations as they're developed, you know, through communication is by far the biggest thing that has positioned us to be in a better position when we're looking at projects or talking to potential clients. It's not, it's not the cost or anything else. It's, it's strictly, we've been hired strictly based on the fact that we called someone back, that we, we, we followed up with where they reached out, we reached out, we chatted and then it was, you know, then I touched base seven days later, like, Hey, just, you know, how's it going? Not pushy, just, you know, touch points. And that's really what it's come down to. [45:31.3]
Dave: It’s absolutely crucial. Do you work with a business coach? Who do you collaborate with? How do you stay fresh and stay ahead of things? What are the things you're looking for?
Nick: Yeah. So, I do work with a business coach. I work with him a couple of times a month, really like from a KPI standpoint, putting together targets, long-term short term, and just having that kind of sounding board for what I'm dealing with on a daily basis. Secondly, it's, it's networking with other builders. Like I said in the beginning, I'm very upfront. If I feel as though you're a good builder, I respect you. I'm going to ask, Hey, do you know, can I buy you lunch? Can I sit down, get coffee, a beer I'd love to, you know, here's what I'm struggling with and feel like you might be able to shed some light on this. You've been in the industry far longer than I have. Can you give me the secret door that skips me over beyond all the mistakes that I'm inevitably gonna make? [46:24.3]
Dave: Are most builder's receptive to that? Have you had many rejections around that?
Nick: I've had no rejections, but I feel like I'm only, only because I've asked the right people.
Nick: But to that point, I, you know, you have to understand that. I mean, you develop a relationship. I'm not just saying, you know, Hey my name's Nick, can I see your financial statement?
Nick: You know, it's like, you know, we develop relationships and realize that we can trust each other. And I want to bring value. And I want to sit down and help you where my strong suit is. And hopefully you can help me where I'm lacking. And that's what, you know, that's really what it comes down to is developing relationships with your peers and being open-minded. And, you know, even if they're in the same industry, I mean the same market as you it's, you know, let's work together, collaborate, you know, collaboration over competition as Tom Silva says, that's a far better approach. [47:10.9]
It's far easier to go into this and help everyone else and work together on it rather than trying to constantly compete. And I've said that from day one, the reason we're we're so, we share everything is because I want to stay sharp. I want our team to stay sharp. I want, I want to spend a ton of time doing this process and then share with the world. So, then we have to go figure out something even better, you know, because if I don't tell them, someone else is going to tell them, someone else becomes the professional in that field. At the end of the day, if someone's going to tell them, I'd rather be me. So, then the awareness grows because the moment I say no, they're going to go right to the next guy. And then that guy is going to tell them, and then that guy is now the professional and the only person that matters in their life. That's a state of mind that people are starting to become comfortable with, especially in the older generation where it's, you know, they hold a lot of that stuff tight to their chest, but not realizing that a lot of what they're holding is already been shared and people know about it. And they're, they're, they're becoming obsolete. [48:15.0]
Dave: Humans are actually wired that way. When you, when you look at how information was transmitted or passed down years and years ago, centuries ago, it was through those one-to-one interactions. It was knowledge was passed down that way. And it's a natural human thing to do. And it's funny that we'd gotten so far away from that in these competitive times, with where consumers have access to so much stuff, it seems to be that there's a movement coming back towards it. And a lot of it is driven from the younger, the younger generations who are more open to collaboration and not so not as ego-driven necessarily as, as things were in the past. So, it's clear that you're attracting that to your team and around you as well. [48:58.0]
Duane: It’s been some really good stuff, a lot of nuggets in here, there's a lot of good takeaways. Just few of the takeaways I've got as we're kind of wrapping things up is you gotta play the long game. If you're looking to bring some nobility back to this, you gotta play the long game. Everybody needs to know your why. I think that was huge. You know, getting that out there and then broadcast why you do it. That was, you've certainly done that through all the different channels, just the messaging that you're putting out there. It's clear to anybody that follows what you guys are doing, you know, they, they, they understand it. Setting proper expectations, couldn't agree, more. Communicate, communicate, communicate, and then I love it. The collaboration over competition. That is, that's exactly why we're doing what we're doing right here. [49:42.8]
Duane: Share the knowledge, learn from others. It's a powerful way to learn more.
Dave: It feels like you've been building a great big magnet for craftsmanship and nobility and the things like your vision, and you're able to amplify it and it's coming to you. So, congrats. You're doing a heck of a lot of stuff, right.
Nick: I appreciate that.
Duane: So, if anybody wants to connect with Nick, how can people find you?
Nick: We are on Instagram @nsbuilders and www.nsbuilders.com.
Duane: Cool. Anything else you want to take us out with today? [50:18.4]
Nick: You shoot me a text to (617) 799-7521. Now that's it. I, I really appreciate you guys having me on and I'm excited to see podcast grow. And I love the format. And I think, you know, solidifying some of these nuggets that are going to be incredibly helpful to your audience and anyone in this industry, whether they're they've been around or they're, they're getting into it.
Duane: Pretty cool. We've got a table of the elements we're building out on the website as well and that was something that came to us, its like.
Duane: Chaos, leadership, profit, you know, all these things, those are the elements. And it's been fun as we're going through this and everybody, we've had on the show so far has just been helping, helping to add to that list of things that make a business successful.
Dave: Yeah, thanks. Thanks for sharing your time with us. It was great.
Nick: Absolutely guys. [51:08.6]
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