Work with builders to boost business

Debra Gelbart

Three supervisors watch a scaffolding workerWorking with residential or commercial builders can be a great revenue stream. To maximize that opportunity, several building industry experts say its important to keep these tips in mind.

Have solid vendor relationships. In addition to contacting your paint supplier, “A builder who’s a prospective customer may ask the manager of the hardware store or lumber yard you do business with what you’re like as a customer,” said Nick Kunst, a professional painter and owner of Kunst Bros in San Rafael, CA.

Accept that at times you might make less profit to satisfy a customer. Redoing part of the job sometimes may be unavoidable. “The way I run my business,” said John Cooney, a general contractor in Hoosick, NY, “is with the philosophy that leaving a job with a happy customer outweighs any money I might lose.” However …

Job-cost every project. Make sure you’re not doing any work that doesn’t make you an acceptable gross profit. “For me, that’s 5%,” added Tom Reber, a successful Chicago-area business owner who sold his company to become a coach for contractors. Reber says many contractors make the mistake of undercharging builders, when raising prices may actually be the better move.

Common ground. Business can get personal. People work with those they can trust or with whom they have something in common. It’s human nature. Find common interests and a relationship-building point with a builder, suggested Matt Shoup, a painter and business-building consultant. “Build trust first,” Shoup added.

Add value. “Help them be successful. Show them that you have their back and they will have yours,” Reber said.

Be picky. Work only with builders who have been in business for 10 years or more, Kunst suggested. “Builders who have been around less than that don’t necessarily have a track record that you can absolutely count on,” he added.

Be likable. “Good builders will respect you more if you are positive and are fun to work with,” Reber said.

Consistency wins. “If your rule with a builder is ‘the home must be free of other trades,’ don’t start work until it is,” Reber said. “If you require a 50% deposit, don’t begin your work until you get it.”

If there are touch-ups as a result of damage from others, don’t do the work without a written assurance from the builder that you’ll get compensated for the additional labor, Reber also noted. Many painters lose thousands of dollars a year on touch-ups needed because of someone else’s carelessness.

These tips can help ensure a productive relationship with builders and reduce the possibility of unpleasant surprises on or after the job.


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