How to Reduce Labor Costs in Your Bathroom Remodeling Business
If only I could find more qualified field people, my bathroom remodeling business would explode.
If only these customers wouldn’t keep changing their mind like they change their underwear. With all these change orders the customer service people at our local plumbing, tile and cabinet stores are on a first-name basis with my people.
If only this bathroom wasn’t dripping with intricate tile patterns on the floor and walls, we would have been ‘out of here’ long ago.
Maybe at no time in history have labor hours became the bottleneck chocking your ability to grow your bathroom remodeling (or any type of remodeling for that matter) business.
It doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to realize finding good people is at a premium. Not to mention, you’re having to pay them a premium to keep them as well.
It also doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know demand for your services has never been higher. How long it will last, it’s hard to know.
You also don’t even have to ask the most experienced person in your office to figure out the complexity of the jobs and bevy (I threw in this fancy word to impress you – is it working?) or product choices is through the roof (or through the exhaust fan in this case). If only your customers were NOT ALLOWED to visit their Pinterest and Houzz accounts after they’ve agreed to do the project with you, life would be better!
The question becomes in this age of hard to find labor, increased complexity of product choices and customers with ‘big ideas,’ how can you simplify your bathroom remodeling process (and reduce labor costs) to get more efficient, effective and profitable?
In this article we’ll look at 5 practical ideas to cut bathroom remodeling labor costs (and hours) and improve your margins and bottom-line.
Bathroom remodeling labor saving idea #1 – Cut down the amount of wall tiles you use
As you know installing shower tile surrounds and wainscoting, by its nature, can drag on for days. Between installing your backer board, cutting and setting tiles, grouting and clean-up, tile is a large factor in making bathroom remodeling jobs longer.
Longer jobs aren’t good for you. Longer jobs (despite how much you think your customers love you and your team) aren’t what your customer wants either. They want their job done (including the time-consuming tile portion of it). They want to get on with their lives (without contractors in their house).
Although you may have kicked around the idea of wall panels made of acrylic or cultured marble instead of tile to shorten project completion times, in many cases they have been a non-starter of an idea. After all, your customers want an upscale look which goes beyond the ugly molded, builders-grade shower look they have right now. Since you want to give them the look they want, you’re stuck recommending tile. Then you’re stuck ‘trying’ to find a tile sub.
However, think about this. What if you could get the look of tile or stone, have a product which will be simple for your owners to maintain, and get the shower enclosure or bathroom wainscoting done in a day?
No, you haven’t woken up from a dream. There actually IS a way to do this!
That way is to use waterproof laminate shower wall panels. These 2’ x 8’ x 3/8” thick panels simply click, lock and seal together (like laminate flooring, except they’re 100% waterproof and you use them vertically on a wall). The bonus is this product looks exactly like tile and stone.
Bathroom remodeling labor saving idea #2 – Develop packages (no, not the ones you ship)
How many times have you lost a sale because the couple couldn’t agree on selections? They went back and forth and back and forth (isn’t that redundant?), until you got an email saying, ‘something came up’ and they’ll ‘get back to you when they’re ready.’ The sales process is over. Your potential sale is dead. Here’s an equation which doesn’t contribute to your bottom line.
A Long Sales Process = Deals which Don’t Happen
You need to simplify to get sales finalized. A company who’s on the right track (IMHO) is Block Renovation in New York. They’ve developed 4 standard pre-packaged designs (they’re called contemporary, classic, natural and ColorBlock) with pre-selected fixtures and finishes.
This makes it easy-peesy for their customers. This simplifies their ordering process and ability to negotiate better prices from vendors for commonly purchased items.
It’s a win-win proposition for you as the contractor and for your customer.
Bathroom remodeling labor saving idea #3 – Use custom shower pans so your team isn’t customizing in the field
Whether you build a custom mud-set shower pan (certainly an ‘old-school’ process) or buy a waterproof componentized shower systems (like Wedi or Kerdi – which are obviously a HUGE upgrade over the mud-set-pan), both systems require field labor hours to get the shower base built.
A way to cut these hours if your customer wants a tile floor pan is to use an expanded polystyrene base. They’re made to your specifications. You can choose your drain location (saving time moving plumbing). You can even design with curved glass walls. The additional bonus is they’re light and simple to tile over.
A second idea – although it’s not new by any stretch of the imagination – is to use custom cultured stone shower pans. Available in popular matte finishes (and also gloss), they save you field labor hours and save your customer the hassle of grout cleaning for years to come.
Bathroom remodeling labor saving idea #4 – Provide a list of options BEFORE the job begins
Is your crew on a first name basis with your local plumbing, tile and hardware supply shops around town because they’re constantly making ‘last minute trips’ to pick up products your customer has decided they ‘just have to have’ AFTER you’ve written the contract and started the project?
Sure, sites like Pinterest and Houzz can be a beautiful thing – during the initial planning stages. However, when your customer keeps finding new ideas on these sites (while the job is in process) your time efficiency and production schedule get blown to pieces (if you haven’t lived this challenge, you’re NOT a remodeler!).
Although you’re able to write change-orders, does the amount of money you’re able to get really pay you back for the production problems and scheduling disasters the few additional bucks the change order brings in? Often not.
You need to operate more efficiently…just like your favorite steak house.
You may be wondering, “Mike, what the heck do you mean with that reference?”
Well – your favorite steak house doesn’t just bring out that 38 oz. mega-Porterhouse your spouse begged you not to order alone. No, they ask you ‘when they’re taking the order’ if you’d like to add asparagus with the bearnaise sauce or Latin-style creamed corn at the same time (OK – am I getting you hungry right now?).
You need to use the same ordering process for your bathroom remodeling business to be more profitable and time effective.
Consider this idea. Create a list of popular extras (which BTW uses product you’re efficient at installing and make good money putting in) and have your customers choose them BEFORE you begin.
This list will increase your gross margin dollars and reduce trips to local supply stores for marginally profitable change-orders in the middle of the job.
Bathroom remodeling labor saving idea #5 – Reduce the time to do a barrier free or low-profile shower pan
Raise your hand if the number of requests you’re getting for barrier free or low-profile shower bases has grown exponentially over the last 5 years.
If you didn’t raise your hand, you’ve either got a separated shoulder or haven’t bid many bathroom remodeling jobs lately. Here’s two logical reasons (IMHO) lower to the ground shower pans are becoming so popular.
- Reason #1) We’re living longer (thanks to modern medicine).
- Reason #2) We’re not eating better (and just in case my wife is reading this she’ll be glad to know I’ve admitted myself to Ice Cream Eaters Anonymous and have graduated to the first step of the program and now admit I DO have a problem!).
The ability to know how to choose (and install quickly) a low barrier shower pan or one level wet room has never been greater. The question for you is, how efficient is your installation process of lower profile pans and do you have stylish products to offer your customer?
If your answer is not a resounding yes to these questions, here’s 2 products you’ll want to get your hands on:
- Product #1 – One level wet room shower base formers and waterproofing kits – Instead of ‘dropping the floor’ and cutting the joists to make a curbless bath and shower floor, this 7/8” thick glass reinforced plastic (the same material used on airplanes) shower base former can be set directly on the joists. Then you’ll bring your tile underlayment up to the base former and waterproof over both. Finally, add thin set and install your tile at the top surface. The final product creates a cool look, which also is safe. If you’re selling this time-saving system to the 55+ market, you’ll want to ‘sell the style,’ – even though they’ll know the one-level floor will give them long-term safety.
- Product #2 – Low profile contemporary shower pans – Most ‘old style’ acrylic shower pans look, quite frankly, like they were designed by some dude whose is still sporting a mullet (OK – for those of you not familiar with mullets check out my hair style while in my ‘completely innocent’ -OK – I’m lying here- college days at Carnegie-Mellon University (I’m the mullet dude on the left). If you can’t laugh with me, I’ll give you the reason to laugh at me!). If you want to save field labor (with standard sized and quick to install pans) you can use this MDF reinforced acrylic shower pan which allows you to eliminate the step of setting the unit in a mortar bed.
As you know it’s not simple to make a buck in the bath remodeling business. In addition, it’s not getting any simpler finding good people (and no let-up is in sight either).
This means in order to improve profits in your business you need to save labor costs (and hours) and be smarter. You’ve got to dig deep into new products and new processes. You’ve got to streamline what you’re doing, so you can get to the next job quicker.
If you were in grade-school would your products and processes be given a grade of N.I. (‘er that would be Needs Improvement for those without little kids)? What steps are you taking to get more efficient and effective? Would any of the ideas in this article help?
Please share in the comments below the steps your taking to improve efficiency with field labor and supervision on bathroom remodeling jobs. Lord knows, we can ALL stand to learn more from one another!
If you’re struggling to get your kitchen or bathroom remodeling business moving, feel free to reach out to me. While I’m not a business consultant (and I don’t play one on TV), I do work with bathroom remodeling contractors (of all sizes and shapes) to help grow their businesses (either by becoming a dealer of our grout free laminate wall panels or time-efficient to install contemporary shower bases or just being a ‘business buddy’ whose lived the ups and down of running one of these crazy entrepreneurial business).
Call 888-467-7488 and ask for that wacky dude who writes those articles (AKA Mike). I’m looking forward to getting to know you and helping your business grow.
If you’d like to connect on LinkedIn, you’ll find me https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikefoti/
If you’re into Twitter follow me @Mike_Foti or my companies’ @InnovateBuild and @InnovateHomeOrg.
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