Communicating with Builders about Job Schedules

Advice on how to proactively engage builders who are not effective at time management, scheduling, or communication. November 23, 2012

I operate a small three man custom cabinet shop and have enjoyed a very steady backlog of building residential custom cabinetry. However I seem to run into a problem on a fairly regular basis. It seems that a lot of the builders that I work for think they need to tell me to have their cabinets ready for them sooner than they need them installed. I think some of them do this as a way to make sure that I am not late on the job, but it makes a mess of a small shop trying to work on the next job.

I have a situation right now where I built two sets of cabinets for one builder, he was only ready for me to install one of them at the time I said I could install. I installed the first one, stored the rest of them in the back corner, and went to work on another project. He called me yesterday very irritated that I wasn't able to drop everything else I was working on and go install his job now that he is ready.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor C:
A good answer is that the cabinets are ready. It seems all builders and their super's all have this attitude. We just leased 10k square feet and getting ready to move the shop just to store all the items we make (and we bill for it) and store because they are never ready. Then of course, they are all ready at once.

My top client has a showroom, he has built his business on being ready when the client calls and says they are ready. We build and ship cabinets to him and many others daily. We try to be ahead of them all. It doesn't always work, and we can in no way install all we make, it's just not possible, but we strive steadily at beating them all.

Can you re-arrange your schedule to have two of you install and the other two beat stuff out at the shop? Ask the guys if they would like to install the job over the next several nights, like three hours each night and if yes, present it to the builder with an offset in cost. Don't add anything that is not necessary, just what is needed to cover the o.t. If anything else, get the cabinets to the jobsite.

From contributor H:
Most builders can't plan further out than lunchtime. Given that, you have to train him in time and project management. You and he need to talk regularly, especially getting closer to install date. He needs to have you measure when the plumbing is topped out, then he needs to call you when the drywaller starts, when drywall is all taped, and when the final bed is being pulled prior to texture so you can get and keep the job on the radar. If all that happens it's on you.

Otherwise he waits till it fits your schedule - period. At that time remind him of the agreement you made now. The best way to get him on schedule is to draw 90% of the job, tying up his funds. Then he will get a fire built under the others. Most often, their trigger about the next phase is when they need to turn in a draw to make the king ranch, cell phone, and a deer lease payment.

From contributor M:
I had a boss that was good at managing this. He simply called the builder (a lot) at least weekly when it got close to see where they were at. All too often the builder would be behind but never bothered telling anyone.(We would have shown up to install in a room that was not ready.) Also job site visits to confirm. Also tie the payments to a date so you can bill when they are done and not just when installed. Overall the builder probably is not going to change, so you just have to deal with it if you want his work.

From contributor V:
The problem here is that your contractor has trained you to jump when he says jump. The solution also involves training. You need to train the contractor to be more professional on his end. Never believe that this is a deal breaker. He selected you for the cabinets for other reasons than you were willing to jump through hoops. He likes your quality and your price (not necessarily in that order). He will come back to you even if you require that he hold his end up.

One of the things that has been to our detriment over all these years is our timidity. In my neighborhood all the contractors have been able to charge time and materials for their work but for some reason all the cabinet shops have to provide fixed bids. You just have to remember that even though the contractor wants to make you think all oxygen flows through them first that it is not necessarily so.

From contributor S:
First of all talk to the contractors and explain the problem to them the same as you did to us. Next, add a clause to your contract stating you charge 50$ per week starting two weeks after the stated pickup/ install date. If you end up with enough backlogged cabinets, use the $50 to rent a storage facility near your shop or near the site. $50 is a starting point, you need to assess your actual cost to store their cabinets. I am lucky to have plenty of space in my shop so I am not too strict about these things, but the wording is there.

From contributor F:
It all really just comes down to communication - help them understand that you are busy and on a very tight schedule. Let him know that you will have your end of the deal finished on a certain date and that if he isn't ready for you by then, then you will move on to other projects until you have time to move back to his project. Honestly, you are the one who should be irritated, not him, since you were on top of things whereas he has been holding up the progress.

From contributor I:
Just create a company policy that you feel is fair and reasonable, and stick with it. I can see where you might make accommodations but I would make it clear that you need to be compensated if you incur additional expenses for storage.