Respect, and a structured bonus system, can keep regular installers coming back to work for your company.
Respect, and a structured bonus system, can keep regular installers coming back to work for your company.

You can't run a home improvement business without good installers. But when they're subs with no formal commitment to your company, getting them to continue working for you can be a challenge.

Ralph Streano, owner of Lifetime Remodeling Systems, in Portland, Ore., says it's as simple as treating installers with respect. “We take care of our people,” he says. “Without them, we wouldn't be us.” That care involves everything from paying at least 20% above the standard rate to setting aside a $25,000 fund to help guys with rent money and truck payments, especially in winter. As a result, the average subcontractor has worked for Lifetime Remodeling Systems for four years.

Another result has been the company's ability to depend on referrals, rather than advertising, for new customers. The siding contractor offers a lifetime warranty, so high-quality installation is a must.

BONUSES BUILD LOYALTY Besides keeping crews busy year-round, American Home Design, in Nashville, Tenn., focuses on the incentive piece, with a structured bonus system for installers that's been in place for six years. Upon job completion, homeowners fill out a job survey, covering everything from punctuality and communication to the crew's professionalism and neatness. Based on the survey ratings, subs can earn a bonus of up to 10%, which is handed out the week before Christmas. “I've had guys make as much as $20,000 in bonuses,” says president Don Bruce. At last year's party, $100,000 was distributed to 20 crews.

CLEAR COMMUNICATION Just like employees, installers at Ray St. Clair Roofing, in Fairfield, Ohio, have job descriptions. Clarity is key. “We paint a clear picture and hold them accountable. We work with them on the first few projects to establish what the standards and expectations are,” says operations manager Kevin St. Clair.

Then an inventory control team follows behind and inspects every project. “If [the subs] don't deliver, they'll return and get it right,” St. Clair says. Weekly meetings are held to let subcontractors bring up issues and problems. Such specificity helps the contractor keep a good workforce, he says.

At U.S. Home Exteriors, in Burlington, N.C., subs don't have to fix their mistakes, but they are billed for the work done by the serviceman who does, says president Joe Johnson. “There's a lot of pride in craftsmanship here. After [subs] do a job that involved a tough application, we have high fives all around.”

Perhaps especially key to low attrition, Johnson says, is having a production manager who communicates well with both subs and upper management. Johnson says that his managers don't hide in their offices but instead make a point of knowing who the subcontractors are and what's going on in their lives.