Three years ago, A.B.E. Doors & Windows, in Allentown, Pa., discovered — through employee surveys conducted by an outside consulting company — that production crews felt the amount of labor in the jobs they were handed was sometimes inaccurately estimated. “There was some grumbling,” owner Jim Lett says, “that we were pushing too hard.”

So Lett, who started the company 33 years ago as an installer, set up a system whereby crew leaders go over incoming jobs to see if there's a discrepancy. If there is, they take it up with the company's general manager when the job comes in, rather than the day the job starts, allowing for more efficient scheduling of labor.

MAGIC NUMBER Getting work produced at an accurate estimated cost is essential to making a profit. Getting the work produced at a quality level that satisfies customers' expectations is a separate but related challenge. Home improvement companies employ a variety of methods to ensure both.

For instance, careful analysis based on its job history has allowed A.B.E Doors & Windows to determine that each installer must produce $1,850 worth of work per day for the company to maintain acceptable profitability levels. Given the variety of different job types A.B.E. Doors & Windows takes on — from $600-per-opening window installations to installing storm doors, screen doors, garage doors, and entry doors — “a guy might bring in $1,200 on one day and $3,200 on another,” Lett says. “It's a balancing act.” And one that stays on track through adroit scheduling.

At TrueNorth Home Systems, in Kennebunk, Maine, “every product and every price in our price book has a labor coefficient” based in part on historical experience, says owner Jim Lang. So whether the company is installing a sun-room or replacing windows using its own employee crews, or is refinishing basements using manufacturer-trained subcontractors, the job — as spec'd — comes with a number for man-hours that can then be adjusted, as needed, in the remeasure.

SEEKING EXCELLENCE Companies that use subcontractors to install some products find less of a need to monitor crews' production efficiencies. Braymiller Builders of W.N.Y., for instance, uses subs to install windows. Owner David Braymiller says he has no fear that the job will take longer than it should since “it's in the subs' best interests to get [the windows] in as fast as possible.”

Whether it's employees or subcontractors who install, companies depend on a quality installation for repeat, referral, and word-of-mouth business. Callen Construction, in Muskego, Wis., which uses employees to install windows and a combination of employees and subs on its siding jobs, issues a customer satisfaction survey on every job. Braymiller Builders does so, too, and an Excellent rating is worth $50 to installers.