Deck Specialists of the Year: StoneCroft Construction

Evolution Specialist of the Year
Q. How did you get your start in construction?
I have always enjoyed building things. I grew up on a rural family farm in Kansas and I learned to weld things out of metal as a teen. From personal experience, we knew that if we built something on the farm out of wood, we would need to replace it. However, if we built it out of metal, our grandchildren would be able to use it one day. We moved out to Colorado Springs in 2012 because we had always wanted to live near the mountains. Two years later, StoneCroft Construction was born. From the very beginning, we’ve focused on building decks because these structures blend our love of construction and the outdoors.
Q. When did you first come to use steel decking framing and why Fortress Evolution?
We assembled a beta deck with Evolution steel deck framing in 2018—it was hook, line and sinker. I knew it was a fit for us. Our company focuses on building decks that are as beautiful as they are strong, and as strong as they are beautiful. Steel framing allows us to carry out this vision. We made the complete shift to the Fortress framing system a year later and never looked back. In fact, we just completed our 58th steel deck framing project. We believe in steel because here in the Southern Rockies, wood is exposed to dramatic fluxes in temperature and extreme weather conditions. The dry heat of summer, paired with the wet, cold of winter, can wreak havoc on wood frame decks. It’s not uncommon for typical builder grade decks around here to show signs of deterioration after exposure to moisture or begin warping with drastic changes in temperature. These issues can cause critical places Owner: Philip Purdy Location: Colorado Springs, CO. Year Founded: 2014 Website: stonecroftconstruction.com Specialty: Fortress Building Products’ Evolution Steel Decking Framing EVOLUTION Specialist of the Year StoneCroft Construction Summer 2021 | Deck Specialist | 37 like stair stringers and support beams to fail. Framing with steel sidelines these problems.
Q. What percentage of jobs do you use steel on?
We recommend—and use— Evolution steel deck framing on 100% of our deck builds. We are all steel all of the time. We offer Fortress railing products almost exclusively. We also offer FortressAccents to equip our customers with a lighting component for their deck.
Q. Do you ever work directly with Fortress?
Over the years, I have worked closely with many folks over at Fortress Building Products. In running my business, I work directly with reps from a variety of building product companies, and my local Fortress rep, Brent Gesnik, stands out. He is available, knowledgeable and has done an excellent job of supporting our small company through numerous growing pains. I have worked directly with the Fortress warranty team. Their ability to solve problems quickly and take care of my customers has built my trust in the company. I know they will always do the right thing. Also, Fortress hired an excellent PR firm that is very good at working with contractors.
Q. How did your business change in the pandemic?
Over the last year, our business has exploded with requests for steel-framed decks. That being said, we have a slow and steady growth mindset in order to keep the quality of our deck builds in check with our high standards. Because of these values, we have sought to streamline our building processes and improve how we build. The Evolution steel framing system supports this approach, as we can build faster and more efficiently than with wood.
Q. What’s next for StoneCroft?
To offer customers the best possible deck system, we’d like to continually improve on how we frame with steel. Innovation is a big part of who we are—my team is very creative in coming up with solutions for quicker, stronger installs. Looking at the industry as a whole, the steel deck framing category is still in its infancy, and we are excited to see where Fortress takes it. 38 | Deck Specialist | Summer 2021

What is your building philosophy?

“Building” and “philosophy” may seem like subjects that are on opposite ends of the spectrum, but the latter should come into play for builders. Most successful contractors don’t just build stuff. They have a mindset that includes specific ideas of what they are about. They develop their own style, the customer experience they want to deliver, and the types of projects they want to build. They possess beliefs of what reflects well on them as a builder, and a proven approach to people. They have set standards that they operate within and look at their business as a long-term undertaking. They understand that decisions made now affect them in the future. They build and maintain a reputation accordingly and know what they want to be known for. They don’t just take jobs.
They match themselves up with projects and customers that fit. They don’t just ask customers what they want and give free estimates. They consult and help them understand their options and lead them through a process. The best will not deviate from their standards even if a customer would spend money with them for something cheaper. They realize that sometimes something cheaper doesn’t reflect well on them in the long run, so the profit gained up front doesn’t outweigh the potential consequences of a less than stellar reputation down the road. Their philosophy is to operate in a way that includes most, if not all, of the above aspects and one that they can be proud of. It also provides the best chance of a positive long-term reputation, success as a business, and profitability. So, what is your approach to building? Do you challenge yourself with the job types or do you offer options because they are easier to build?
Do you deliver the kind of projects you want to provide, or do you believe the demographics of your market are limited and hold you back? Do you strive to build a business or just provide yourself a job? If a customer asks you what your company is about, how do you answer? What is your 30-second elevator speech? What is your building philosophy? My building philosophy and elevator speech are simple: “We are looking for partners in a build, not just a customer. We only build the kind of projects we believe in and are not just looking to sell a job. Our approach is to build projects that look like true extensions of the home. We combine products that we believe perform for the long term, stand the test of time, and reflect well on us as a builder. We don’t offer lower-end wood decks and porches because we know they don’t reflect well on us over the long term.
“We would rather you wait until you’re willing to budget more towards the project investment. But, if you just want a newer version of what you have, or a wood deck is really what you want, we will refer you to another contractor that does that kind of work. As much as we would like to work with you, we won’t just take your money to put a job on the board.” Your approach to being in business doesn’t have to be complicated. Being organized as a business owner, being creative as a designer, and being open minded about products are a few of  the requirements. Being honest and sincere with customers and not being afraid to ask for the sale are necessary.
Using simple logic, organizing your visions and style, promoting, and communicating what you do are keys. Creating simple messaging is part of the formula. The old saying that hard work pays off is only partially true. It takes a lot more than that to get to where most motivated contractors want to be. But not everyone has the same goals. You can limit your hours, limit your efforts, keep it simple, and just make a living if you choose to do so. Because this particular motivation level is common and accounts for a lot of contractors, it makes it easier for those who want to put forth the extra effort to stand out in their markets. Average is easy, and you can coast to maintain that level. Being one of the better operators takes more effort. The common characteristic of top builders is that they possess an inner drive, a clear mindset, a positive attitude, and a competitive nature. Combine this with skill, commitment, and people skills, and you realize the makings of a standout contractor and person.
Being in the upper group in your market when it comes to reputation, recognizable branding, and offering upper-end projects provides many benefits. So can you really fi t something like “philosophy” into building, remodeling, or deck building? One definition of philosophy is: a set of ideals, standards, or beliefs used to describe behavior and thought. Another definition is: an underlying theory or set of ideas relating to a particular field of activity. Both definitions apply to what we do. Successful contractors have more depth than just building stuff. They improve lifestyles and provide improved function and recreational options for their customers. They set standards for themselves, learn how to develop relationships with customers, and deliver projects to them in a way that they don’t require therapy afterwards.
So, I ask again, what is your building philosophy?

Contingency

With any luck, the global pandemic will soon be in the rearview mirror. It has been devastating for countless families and small businesses who have suffered loss of life and livelihood. Ironically, for anyone who has anything to do with building, the pandemic has created unparalleled consumer demand for home-related products and services. That combined with historically low interest rates has caused a buying frenzy that has resulted in labor and material shortages not experienced in recent times.
A shortage of skilled labor certainly is not breaking news. However, who would have dreamed that we would experience vinyl and potassium shortages and that lumber prices would go through the roof?
Making a decent profit can be a challenge under the best of circumstances, but it can be a real chore when labor and materials are in short supply and prices fluctuate at the blink of an eye.
That’s where contingency comes in.  The Oxford Dictionary defines contingency as “a future event or circumstance which is possible but cannot be predicted with certainty.” That pretty much describes what’s going on in construction world.
The idea of including a contingency in your cost estimates should not be a new phenomenon. A contingency is a cost that should be included in every cost estimate even in the best of times when prices are stable, and labor is readily available.
You might say that you don’t need a separate line item for contingency because you mark up your labor and materials such that you can make a decent profit. That might work for some, but for many who offer material and finish allowances to their clients, it can be problematic and confusing.
You will always need to mark up your product to make a profit. And you should also always include a contingency to demonstrate to your buyer that you didn’t just “fall off the turnip truck” and that you realize that the proverbial “hiccup” can occur during a project or that in this volatile market, prices can fluctuate dramatically, and you don’t want to go back to them with your hand out.
Most bank-financed jobs require the borrower to include a contingency as part of their loan – typically around ten percent. They know better than anyone that not everything goes exactly as planned and unforeseen costs will arise as a matter of course. They don’t want their client to be caught short or for their collateral to be compromised.
How much contingency should you include with your projects? That can only be answered by job costing several completed projects to determine real costs. We have been using a four percent contingency for 40 years. It helps cover our butts, keeps us competitive and we can walk away with the profit that we are entitled to in exchange for our hard work and risk.
There’s no time like the present — and this volatile economy — to protect yourself and your clients’ interest by making sure you have all bases covered.

What’s hot in outdoor living

HGTV expert Alison Victoria lends her insight
Now more than ever outdoor living is in! While homeowners have increasingly invested time and money into their yards in recent years, 2020 saw interest in outdoor living spike to unprecedented levels as homeowners everywhere adjusted to a new normal by reimagining how to use and enjoy their exterior spaces. As a result, the outdoor living design trends for 2021 have never been more inventive.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has prioritized how we view and use our homes,” said Leslie Adkins, vice president of marketing for Trex Co. “With people spending more time at home, outdoor space has never been more important. It’s where we start our days with a morning cup of coffee, where we enjoy some much-needed fresh air over an al fresco lunch break, where we relish a change of scenery after a day of screen fatigue, and where we can visit safely with friends and family.”
Each year, Trex captures input from consumers, contractors, retailers and industry insiders to compile its annual Outdoor Living Forecast. For 2021, the brand teamed with celebrity designer Alison Victoria, star of HGTV’s Windy City Rehab, Rock the Block, and Ty Breakers, to identify four trends expected to shape the outdoor living landscape in 2021.
1. Outdoor Offices
Among the top trends predicted for the coming year is the emergence of outdoor workspaces. With working from home and remote learning expected to continue well into 2021, contractors report increased interest in outdoor spaces that can comfortably and functionally accommodate professionals and students. Requests for stylish sheds and backyard cottages are on the rise.
Pergolas, too, are in high demand. In fact, leading home design site Houzz is calling 2021 “the Year of the Pergola” due to their versatility and affordability. A relatively easy addition to any deck or yard, a pergola creates the look and feel of an outdoor room while adding a distinct architectural element. Of course, its main purpose is providing shade—essential for enhancing visibility of laptop screens and devices, as well as offering cool relief on hot days.
“When it comes to backyard design, pergolas remain on-trend due to their limitless design possibilities,” notes Victoria. “They are great for adding definition—and drama—to any deck.”
2. Expanded Elbow Room
During the past year, our homes have become offices, classrooms, fitness facilities, and rehearsal spaces. It’s no wonder many homeowners (and occupants) find themselves suffering from cabin fever and desperate for some extra elbow room.
One simple solution is to optimize the space beneath an elevated deck, an often overlooked area, by adding an under-deck drainage system. Designed to divert water away from the foundation, systems like Trex RainEscape protect a deck’s substructure from moisture and create dry space underneath the deck surface that can be used for any number of purposes—from storing seasonal items to serving as bonus living space outfitted with everything from furniture, accessories, lighting and entertainment components, to workout equipment, toys and games for at-home “recess,” or even a dance floor, mirror and ballet bar!
3. Take the Plunge
Another trend driven by the pandemic has been the dramatic increase in residential pools, spas and water features. Between travel restrictions and indefinite closings of community pool facilities, homeowners across the country are taking the plunge and installing swimming pools, hot tubs, and ponds in their backyards.
To give these additions a finished look, surround them with low-maintenance composite decking, which won’t rot, warp, stain or fade, and never needs sanding, staining or sealing.
4. Luxury Staycation
Fueled by the drastic decline in domestic and international travel over the past year, homeowner interest in replicating the sophisticated style and comforts of a luxury hotel or resort in their homes has continued to grow. From plush towels and perfectly plumped pillows to outdoor accents like composite cladding, fire tables, water features, and industrial railing, commercially inspired designs can give any home environment the essence of an extravagant staycation.
“Homeowners are finding inspiration in commercial settings like upscale hotels and restaurants,” Victoria comments. “Outdoors, this trend is seen in modern railing styles, such as Trex Signature Railing. The durable, low-maintenance aluminum railing collection delivers sleek sophistication in a range of designs, including horizontal rods, mesh panels, and glass inserts.”

Lessons Learned for Deck Builders

How pros have done business better during COVID
Deck builders across the country are taking note of some of the biggest lessons they’ve learned and logging them away for the
future.
Planning is Vital
Mark King, founder of Minnesota-based Infinite Decks, stressed the importance of preparation, especially when it comes to partnerships. “Preparation and planning is key!” King said. “Working with a quality lumberyard that allows me to pre order materials for
upcoming projects so the material is ready when we are has been a saving grace!”
Don’t Assume
When it comes to knowing the market, never assume you know it all, says Christopher French, founder of French’s Custom Outdoor Concepts in San Antonio. “I learned not to assume I know the market. When this all hit, I was just starting a project that was bank funded,” French explained. “The lockdowns went into place over the weekend and the customers had to cancel the loan. Thankfully that project went off without a hitch and then the rest of the year showed extreme growth. We went from a one-man show to now three separate crews still working on jobs sold in mid-2020.”
Communication is Essential
Brendan Casey of Casey Fence & Deck found that most of the lessons he’s learned relate directly to communication in addition to shifting
market focus. “As builders, we have learned several important things: communication is KEY. Order materials as early as possible and stay
in close contact with your suppliers to know what they have in stock. Lastly, this has forced us to streamline and focus on what generates
the highest profitability while maintaining our reputation as a company that will stand behind our contracts and projects regardless of the
situation,” said Casey.
A Higher Interest in Home Improvement
Like most in the industry, Thien Nguyen, founder of N.C.-based Dirty Durham Decks, noted the obvious uptick in home improvement
upgrades since the pandemic hit. “I’ve learned that there is a higher interest in home improvement services during quarantine.
People are spending most of their time at home now and are looking for ways to renew and improve the space they live in. This could mean building a new deck as well as buying new living commodities like furniture and appliances for the house. I project a higher demand in home improvement services and products for the years to come,” said Nguyen.
Make Lemons out of Lemonade
“We have not only learned to make the best of a bad situation, we have found ways to work smart, improve efficiency and trim costs,” said
James Carey from On The House. “In the early stages of the pandemic we weren’t clear what the future would hold. We needed to immediately find ways to interface with our business prospects without the ability to enjoy our traditional in-home visit.
“Like the rest of the world, we discovered the power of videoconferencing. We immediately began promoting virtual design consultations.
It has been one of the best things that has happened to our business in ages. We have discovered that necessity is the mother of invention.”

What Doesn’t Kill Your Business Makes It Stronger

North American Wholesale Lumber Association had just wrapped up its Leadership Summit early last March when the significance of the COVID-19 outbreak slammed home. Attendees had no idea then, but that would be the last in-person industry gathering for the foreseeable future.
The mood in Palm Desert, Ca., was light-hearted, but the return trip from the event was much more solemn. Many of us arrived home to empty store shelves and talk of lockdowns, not knowing when we’d be able to buy our next roll of toilet paper—let alone how our businesses would fare in the emerging public health crisis.
The first line of defense at Weston Forest, and no doubt many other firms, was to preserve cash and protect the business. Not knowing what the future held, we scaled back purchases, unloaded existing inventory, and collected on receivables… then waited to see what was coming next.
It was good news—at least for our industry: Weston and its peers were fortunate to be among the businesses labeled as “essential.” We never shut down, even for a day. While the pandemic kept some pockets of the economy in a stranglehold, lumber was one area that actually flourished in the so-called “K” recovery that followed. In fact, we were busier than ever! Construction was booming. People had both the time and—thanks to cash stimulus payments and low interest rates—the money to build, renovate, and remodel in 2020. The lumber industry, in turn, clocked one of its best performances on record.
While we were grateful to have a life preserver in the middle of the “storm,” the executive team at Weston also recognized an opportunity to systematically improve our company and make it even better and stronger than before.
Necessity Breeds Invention
While Weston thankfully has been able to keep the doors open and the lights on during the pandemic, it was clear from the start of the crisis that operations couldn’t continue on as before. The world was changed, so we had to change how we conducted business, too—quite quickly and quite radically. The new realities of operating during the COVID-19 crisis meant redesigning all of our systems: from the way the order system works to the way we hold meetings down to the way the finance team handles invoice processing when working from house.
As it were, this need to reinvent the wheel was the push our company needed to implement processes and technologies that were already on our corporate “to-do” list but that hadn’t seen any real momentum up until that point. Starting with Zoom.
Zoom Boom
From a hardware perspective, Weston was ready for Zoom pre-crisis. The company renovated our office space a couple of years ago. Some of the inspiration came from NAWLA—which was already well-versed in the virtual meetings platform, although many people had never even heard of it. Because we work closely with the organization, a handful of our offices were already set up for Zoom. We added the cameras to all executive offices as part of the renovation project, although they sat mostly dormant for a year or two. When the pandemic arrived, everyone suddenly needed another way to communicate with staff. We quickly dusted off the Zoom equipment and registered for and added new accounts.
The forum became a critical resource, as we set up daily online meetings with all salespeople at our business units. This seemed an impossibility before, with people arriving at work at various times during the morning, but it became a necessity. We also scheduled daily inter-company video updates across the entire organization. Managers now spend 10-15 minutes hashing out issues they’re facing that day. While initially a response to COVID, what these meetings have done is provide better information and narrowed the culture gap between the separate businesses. It can be difficult to develop a relationship with someone who works at another location, but the video calls have helped create unity and camaraderie despite distance.
Additionally, we used Zoom as a way to regularly check in on individual employees to see how they were coping and even relied heavily on the medium to interview and onboard new hires.
More Moves
There were other initiatives, too, that finally got kicked into high gear with the pandemic. Paperless transactions, for example, was something that we had long wanted to pursue; but now it had to get done. When we found that customers were reluctant to touch delivery slips and pens handled by someone else, we made bill of lading deliveries paperless. We also changed our new order processing flow and customer pick-up procedure.
In another major shift, Weston figured out how to conduct the lion’s share of our business offsite. Although remote work is far from new, it’s certainly come a long way since last year. The inside joke used to be, especially for sales associates, a Friday afternoon “working from home” was roughly translated as “playing golf.” Now, the perception has gone from suspecting that employees are not working as hard to knowing that they’re working harder than ever. It’s no longer something to be frowned upon. In fact, it’s something that we’re likely going to continue forever, along with the other changes that have helped to address the crisis at hand but simultaneously have allowed us to protect employees and customers while enhancing our level of service.
People Power
Another one of those steps entailed strengthening our employee base. While the pandemic unfortunately left many people jobless, it created a vast pool of potential hires. Weston used this opportunity to add some top-quality talent. From sales and operations people to labor and finance people, we backfilled all parts of the organization to upgrade our workforce.
Weston, which already had a culture of including employees in the decision-making process, took that concept a step further in light of COVID. Building on its history of periodic town hall meetings and roundtable discussions, we routinely polled staff on how they were doing, how the company was doing, and how it could do better. Not only did employee surveys and other outreach help alleviate pandemic fears, it added to the drive to elevate the company to a higher level.
Have a Plan
Truth be told, Weston was humming like a well-oiled machine even before COVID; but even if you think you’ve got something operating fairly well, you need to have plans in place: contingency plans, disaster recovery plans.
Be Prepared
If you’re caught unprepared, at least be proactive. Weston was surveying the COVID situation and kicking around ideas long before an official state of emergency was declared, in what even some of our own people perceived as an overreaction at the time. Recognizing and reacting to the severity of the situation early helped us tremendously, however, as did our readiness to pivot.
We’ve proven to ourselves that the systems that we put in place not only allowed us to continue our business, but to thrive and better it.
Going forward, we’re working on a Start-Stop-Continue Plan, to consider what activities we’ll initiate or keep in place as the economy reopens and what activities we’ll no longer need once life returns to normal. We’re also drafting a plan for pandemic protocols. Now that we’ve lived through one, we’re documenting that so—whether it’s a year from now or 100 years from now—if this ever happens again, there’s a historical reference to some of the steps that whoever is running the company will need to take.

Keeping it Cool with Pergolas

It’s a great time to be what I refer to as a Custom Deck Specialist. With the pandemic, people are home and looking for some additional leg room. A beautiful new deck can add a tremendous amount of new floor space at a reasonable cost. Last year the marketplace became overwhelmingly cluttered with builder grade bottom feeders that clogged up the market like a Washington, D.C. traffic jam.
There will always be a market for that type of builder and it’s becoming even more congested. For those of us who have found our niche on that plateau between those and the super-end market where only the rich and famous dwell, the doors are wide open. I’m talking about the projects catering to the upper middle class where the clientele is a bit more discerning in areas pertaining to quality, workmanship, value, and details; The 400 square foot (and larger) projects where attributes like lighting, patterns and substantial structure carry a higher grade than finding the cheapest guy in town, like so many unsuspecting victims found out in 2020.
The “I can beat anybody’s price in town” guy definitely has his place in the low-end discount market, but for those of us who view our craft as works of art and strive every day to be the best, we’ve carved out an untapped mine of possibilities. Many of these “Bob in His Beater” types dug their own graves last year with an abundance of poorly built projects. Not only did they validate the reasons to hire a true professional with their sub-par work, but they validated and legitimized our value-based proposals.
Today, with social media and neighborhood sharing platforms, the homeowners who got sucked into that enticing vortex of budget pricing are now not only singing the praises of the Deck Specialists they didn’t hire but are “pile driving” and destroying the reputations of the low ballers who mislead them. We’ve watched many of these companies fall off to the wayside, leaving unsuspecting homeowners with a messy pile of regret in their backyards. Prospective clients are coming out of the woodwork with horror stories relayed to them by their neighbors.
The time is ripe for the well prepared, intuitive craftsman who is amply qualified to fulfill their dreams of an expanded living experience. It’s important to provide a comfort level and assurance that your company has a complete repertoire of options, examples, and a history of fully satisfied clients to validate their decision.
Experience shows that clients don’t want to be “your first time.” They want a company that is well-positioned and remarkably trained in the caliber of work they are seeking. In past issues we discussed several options on how to turn the basic into a gem to enhance the clients’ outdoor living experience and to set their deck apart from the others.
Now we’ll discuss another basic option that’s often overlooked—one that provides shade, privacy, and increased revenue all at the same time—pergolas and patios. A majority of clients have mentioned that they traded their summer travel plans for a much safer and healthier stay-at-home option. Suddenly, unused vacation funds have become available and theese clients now want to create the sensation of relaxing at the beach or lakeside.
So even if they don’t ask, it’s our obligation to help them visualize what they want and bring it to fruition. Don’t be afraid to offer some enhancements to your proposal.
Keeping it cool under a reasonably priced, value based, quality pergola conceptualizes the perfect gathering place for some much needed, priceless fellowship time. As homeowners look to purge that relief valve from stress, their newly added outdoor environment delivers a staycation destination and a sanctuary of wellbeing.
But not everyone wants to bake in the direct sun or put their lives on full display. That’s why a well-designed and constructed pergola can be a fantastic option. And not the over-the-top options that will break the bank. Let’s keep it to the more simple, affordable designs where components are readily available.
Our discussion will focus on the composite deck with a vinyl pergola. This type of pergola can either come in a kit or be stick built like the deck. We prefer to design and calculate the pergola from scratch to make it better fit the deck project instead of building the deck around the kit. This allows for greater flexibility in laying out the posts, beam, and headers.
All too often we see a poorly designed deck with a potential resale value-killing railing or pergola post in the middle of a window. Ugh! Makes me want to poke myself in the eye so I don’t have to look at it. The true design professional has the foresight to work around such issues (obviously there are always mitigating circumstances).
The opportunities are far too great for us to overlook the addition of a pergola on any new project. Craftsmen from all over the world and right here in our communities have come up with fascinating ideas and design concepts. It only takes is five minutes on social media to verify that point. Today’s vinyl pergolas are allowing for greater creativity than ever before. Companies are slipping steel deck framing components into the hollow front beams which allows them to eliminate all the intermediate supports.
The cost tradeoff is minimal when planned and executed properly. Another good looking and functional add-on to the pergola that clients are really hot for is the addition of an outdoor curtain. By incorporating a few secondary rail components, you can add a nice curtain rod system that works beautifully. The sides of a pergola are a great tie-in for incorporating some privacy railing. The code compliant options in that category are limitless.
Because most of the components on a vinyl pergola are hollow, it’s a great opportunity to add low voltage LED lighting. Cap lights, post sleeve (dome lights), flush mount lights are all great options in and around the pergola. Clients are even bringing in electricians to run outdoor ceiling fans for those hot, muggy and buggy days.
One more extremely popular option available for clients is how the pergola makes a perfect spot for hanging up tiki style party lights. One client recently asked us to add 8-foot-tall posts on the corners of her ground level deck for just that reason-stringing up her lights. It’s actually fun to get creative and adjust your designs in order to be the “solution” to your client’s needs.
It’s important to always craft every one of your pergolas in a unique manner, but at the same time stay with a basic flavor in order to maintain productivity and profitability. When the client is given the sensation that the project was specifically designed for their unique circumstance, it develops an aura of personalization that elevates you to a level well above all other professionals. You have now “Set the Standard of Excellence.” And that’s what it’s all about.
We recently had a family with Brazilian heritage request that their pergola be constructed with real IPE and install hooks to mount hammocks between the support posts, since that’s how they relaxed back in Rio. Turned out beautiful and brought the family to tears as they visualized themselves back home. The mileage you can get by meeting and exceeding a client’s expectations can’t be purchased with marketing dollars. It’s earned by going the extra mile. That’s what Deck Specialists do.

Customer Service and Communication

 
When we began our remodeling careers over 30 years ago, we quickly learned that doing good work wasn’t enough to guarantee a smooth project or a satisfied customer.
We learned that quality craftsmanship and top materials are essential, but of equal importance is the overall customer experience. And, materials and craftsmanship aside, communication and managing customer expectations are an absolute must in having a smooth running project and a happy customer.
Achieving this goal can be best summed-up in one word—communication. Communication doesn’t begin the day you start work on the project. It begins the moment you meet the client and should continue well after the project is complete.
Before we begin a remodeling project, we conduct a “pre-job conference,” which includes the project designer, project manager. and homeowner. We insist that all adults living in the home be present. During the meeting, we go through a checklist that includes information, which helps the homeowner understand what to expect and to make sure that our entire team is “on the same page.” It also provides the homeowner with an excellent forum to ask questions.
Items on our checklist include the following:
• Crew size, work days, and hours
• Job sign placement
• Job schedule
• Material storage location
• Debris storage location and removal methods
• Job safety, pets and children
• Home security and alarm systems
• Who to contact in an emergency
• Furniture, personals and dust protection—how to prevent “Divorce Dust”
• Potential delays which could be caused by weather or product deliveries
• Being prepared for “hiccups”—things don’t always go as planned.
• How to get through the project without tearing your hair out—allow us to do our job by focusing on the destination, not the journey
• Reassuring the client that we will do our best to get their project done on time and in budget and our goal is their complete satisfaction
There is simply no substitute for excellent communication between you, your client, and your team. Everyone needs to be on the same page to make the experience as pleasant and professional as possible.
Remember, communication doesn’t end after the job is complete. Reach out to your client from time to time so see how they are enjoying their new space and if there is anything that they need. Don’t be surprised if, during one of those calls, they ask you over—not to make a customer service repair—but to have a look at another project that they’re considering.

Outdoor Lighting Perspectives Opens New Location in Pennsylvania

Outdoor Lighting Perspectives is opening its new location, Outdoor Lighting Perspectives of Montgomery County, owned and operated by veteran and native Philadelphian, George Council.
The new location will offer outdoor landscape lighting design and maintenance services.

Connecting Contractors

What started as an idea and some hope for a little “southern” exposure, turned into the fastest growing installer network in North America with over 1,000 trained contractors in less than a year. Regal ideas’ new program, DeckStars, is designed to help contractors grow their marketshare and drive business back to local dealers during COVID-19.
“Once our railings debuted on The Vanilla Ice Project, our demand from consumers skyrocketed,” said Andrew Pantelides, VP of marketing for Regal ideas. “We were getting requests from all over North America, which was great and amazing, but we just didn’t have the network in place to facilitate all of these demands.”
Knowing that there was strong demand from consumers, Pantelides figured the best way to meet those demands was to create a network of trained Regal installers. Developing a pathway to the contractor would also lead a path to the local distributor/retailer.
As the company began to invest in other home improvement makeover shows such as the Property Brothers and Scott McGillivray, host of Income Property, they found that on more than one occasion, Pantelides would have to provide a local installer of Regal on set to make a cameo appearance. It was at this point where the “A DeckStar Is Born” idea started to set the foundation of something bigger.
To head up the newly coined DeckStar certification project, In late 2019, Regal enlisted the talents of Joe Jacklin, top retail executive from a major Canadian LBM chain. Jacklin had to quickly develop a training program with a rollout of winter, 2020.
“We put an ambitious list of 35 cities across North America and included our celebrity ambassadors, Dr. Decks, Chris Palmer, Wes Kain and the Brolaws as our trainers. No better way to get trained, than the industry’s best,” he said. “We had strong attendance for our first nine sessions, and we were gaining momentum until… COVID.”
The Regal team had no choice but to deliver a next level entertainment and education program. The investment was made in hardware, software, and remote filming locations. The result was a “live on location” training event that was fully interactive and engaged all participants. Sessions are set for one hour-long modules.
The response to the training has been incredibly positive, according to Pantelides. DeckStars was recently awarded the 2020 Davey Award, an award program that honors the best in web, design, marketing, and social media from companies worldwide.
“Our attendance in five webinars has now surpassed our physical sessions but what has been really rewarding has been the positive comments we receive from the contractors and how they’ve embraced the technology,” noted Pantelides. “It’s really a new way of training.”