How do we do it?

Offer high end project at low end prices.

 

We have learned a lot surviving the Housing Crash of 2008.  Many contractors did not survive, but we have been going strong since 1975 and we are stronger now than we have ever been.

 

We learned to adjust our business in many different ways.  The Housing Crash forced cost cutting measures on us and we had to adjust our business model.  Many of the lessons learned were from working with some of the biggest players EVER in the housing market.  You may have heard of Invitation Homes who bought over 4,000 homes in the Sacramento market with the help of the giant Wall Street investment group Blackstone.  We also worked with Wedgewood, one of the biggest house flippers in the country.  Recently they did a $250 million dollar deal with the Federal government to buy over 1,200 homes in Northern California.

 

These large firms forced changes on us that were difficult at times, but made us stronger in the end.

 

The speed of our project time from start to finish had to increase drastically.  If there is one thing Wall Street knows it is “Time is money.”  Back in the good old days when we were doing multiple kitchen remodels at one time, most of our workers became specialists.  The plumber would come in and do the plumbing repairs.  Then the electrician would come in and fix anything electrical.  Then the drywall crew.  Then the painter.  And so on until the finish carpenters would show up and do all the detail work and take care of loose ends.  Many times the painter would have to show up after all this just for touchup painting that needed to be done.

 

When I was a kid working with my Dad and uncles, this would have never happened.  They would stay on a job from start until finish doing everything in between.  This led to a quicker overall project time and now we have gone back to this business model.  Yes, the guys need to be more well-rounded and know multiple trades, but this has resulted in many additional benefits.  No longer can anyone leave the job for someone else to fix.  The framers used to leave things for the drywall crew to fix.  Then the drywall crew would leave things for the painter to fix and so on down the line.  Now everyone on a crew knows they need to do things right in the end because it will make their life easier down the line.  Anytime a guys asked me a question such as, “Who’s doing the painting?”, I answer, “Probably you!”  This has resulted in quicker work flow with less detail work to be corrected at the end.

 

Another side benefit is job tasks are not getting “milked” as long.  For example, before when we needed demolition we would send out a crew of 2 guys for most jobs or 3 guys for a larger demo project.  What would happen is a 6 hour project would end up getting “milked” up to an 8 hour project because the guys would have nothing to do.  Now as soon as demolition is completed whether it takes 8 hours or 6 hours or even 4 hours, we move right to framing work.  If there is no framing to be done, we start plumbing or electrical.  There is no longer any down time for our guys.  This keeps a steady rhythm that gets continued throughout the project.  More challenging? Yes.  Cheaper for the client? Yes!

 

Another change that has come about is the pricing and quality of our materials.  Many years ago materials that were considered high end only are now routinely used in tight budget projects.  The best example is granite countertops.  If a client can be open minded on color choices, granite countertops can be installed for nearly the same price as high pressure laminate (i.e. Formica brand) countertops.  With the widespread use of high speed diamond tooling installation cost has also dropped.  Undermount sinks which were considered a luxury at one point have become the standard for most kitchens. 

 

Windows are another good example of high quality features becoming available at standard budget prices.  When vinyl dual pane windows were first being introduced, there was a HUGE difference in quality and features between the manufacturers.  Only high end windows came with energy saving features such as low-E coatings or Argon gas filled panes.  Now these features can be purchased for as low as $20 extra per window.  This results in an energy savings that can pay for itself in weeks rather than the years it used to take to benefit from reduced energy bills.

 

With over 200 different window manufacturers, this is where a knowledgeable contractor who is up on the latest information can be worth his weight in gold to a client.

 

Another change that has come about has been the tools and techniques that have been developed recently.  Most of the improvements were developed right before the Housing Crash of 2008 during the new construction boom.  Some crews were building houses from start to finish in as little as 5 weeks!  This created an opportunity for subcontractors to develop the quickest, most efficient methods possible.  A good example is the self-feeding screw gun.  Long plastic strips of screws automatically feed screws into the gun when the trigger is pulled.  The speed is similar to a nail gun, but for screws.  Long ago, only dedicated drywall crews would have one of these self-feeding screw guns.  Now they can be purchased at Home Depot for as little as $100.  A must have for virtually every construction crew.

 

PEX plumbing is another example of a technology that has become mainstream with great cost benefits.  At first the high flexible PEX plumbing was plagued with long term problems such as clamps failing or kinks in the line, cutting off water flow.  The problems were so widespread, that only new construction builders were willing to take the risk of working with such an unproven technology.  Custom home builders and remodeling contractors played it safe and stuck with tried and true copper plumbing.

 

Fortunately, these problems were overcome and this led to cost savings for the customer.  Self-adjusting clamps were developed.  Easy to use press in Sharkbite fittings were developed and techniques to minimize bending were developed.  This made the plumbers job faster and easier to learn.  It used to take years to learn proper technique for “sweating” copper pipe using torches, acid cleaning preparation, and lead soldering.  Torches are no longer used and I always say I can teach an apprentice the basic techniques of plumbing in about 10 minutes!

 

Does it take years of experience to find problems, fix problems, and avoid problems altogether?  Yes.  That will never change.  A competent, experienced contractor or plumber still has a purpose, but one that is up on the latest techniques can do a better job faster and cheaper for the client.

 

I hope this explains how we can deliver high quality projects to our clients at affordable prices.  We are not always the ultimate lowest bidder, but you can be assured that Colony Construction is doing everything possible to keep costs down for our clients and still offer a finish product that matches the highest price contractor anywhere.

 

-Nick Bonanno

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