Last month, I attended NAHB’s midyear meeting in Miami and had the pleasure of sitting in on a presentation by Daniel Swift, president and CEO of Des Moines-based architecture group BSB Design.
Home Building Meets Reality TV
The Subdivision, our show about a superintendent's typical day in the field, would be a money-making blockbuster as well as educational for builders.
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According to USA Today, the rerun season will feature mostly reality shows, and get this: Critics claim they are even worse than what's on during the regular season. How could they tell?
I read this the day I heard a builder suggest that someone ought to make a video depicting a site superintendent's typical day in the field. He thought this might help set realistic expectations during interviews and orientation. This produced in me an epiphany of near-religious dimensions. Why not kill two birds with one stone? TrueNorth could produce a reality show called The Subdivision. We could sell it to the E! channel, make a pot of money and meet builders' needs to prepare their field personnel properly. Here's the first episode:
6:30 a.m. Site: Aggie Acres, a development in Grapevine, Texas, owned by Skoal Brothers Homes. Cameras pan the site, showing houses in various stages of construction as well as the home of a new resident. Cut to the construction trailer. Inside are Mike, the site superintendent; Lisa, an assistant superintendent and a superstar, soon to get promoted to her own site; and Tommy, another assistant. He has been with the company longer than Lisa but is struggling, with no prospects for promotion.
"Another day, another dollar," grumbles Mike, grabbing a roll of plans out of the rack. After a quick look, he smacks his head three times with the prints, realizing the changes he submitted four months ago still have not been updated. He's wondering why Skoal Brothers has a plan change form if no one ever reads it, when Lisa says, "You need a new cliché, Mike. That one's worn out."
"What's a cliché?" asks Tommy, totally sincere. Mike and Lisa look at each other, neither believing what they just heard.
"Oh, I picked up a new cliché last night at The Home Depot. Hey, Tommy, run out to my toolbox in my truck. I think it's in the third drawer, red and silver, about 8 inches long and says 'Stanley' on the side. You can't miss it."
"Sure, you're the boss!" Cheerfully, Tommy goes out the door to search for the new cliché. Mike laughs, shakes his head and then sees Lisa giving him the evil eye.
"That was mean, Mike."
"Don't worry, the toolbox is locked. He can't hurt himself." Mike is clearly proud of his retort, and Lisa is trying hard not to laugh.
"You'd think we'd quit hiring UT grads, wouldn't you, Lisa? They get a big degree, a longhorn hat, and they can't tie their shoes."
"Tommy can't help it, Mike. He's a good guy. He's really trying, and I think he's come a long way the past few months."
"Come on, Lisa. In six months you've learned more than Tommy has in two years, and you're getting your own site next week, which leaves me alone with the blockhead."
"Yeah, but you'll also be able to finally spend time in public with the best-looking site super in Texas!" Lisa says slyly.
"Don't even say that in here, Lisa. You know the rules. Just one more week, and it won't matter who in the company finds out about us."
"Speaking of that, Mike, I think that new saleslady Julie saw us sitting in your truck yesterday. Cheryl the receptionist told me."
"How did she know that?"
"Cheryl knows everything -- or hadn't you figured that out yet?"
"Well, we weren't really doing anything, Lisa."
"Now, was that part where we weren't doing anything just before or just after you kissed me?"
"Well, it wasn't much of a kiss, anyway."
Lisa is reaching out to slap Mike when Tommy re-enters the trailer. She continues her hand motion, swings it on around and appears to be swatting at flies. "Bugs! Damn bugs! I hate them," she cries. Tommy is squinting now, trying to see Lisa's phantom bugs.
"Hey, boss, I looked all through your toolbox. I couldn't find the cliché!"
Mike winks at Lisa. "Sorry, Tommy, I thought the toolbox was locked."
"Locked? But if you thought it was locked, why would you send me out there and ..." Mike holds up a hand to Tommy, stopping him as the phone rings, and proclaims, "There it is -- 6:45, right on schedule! You're on, Lisa."
Camera quickly cuts to an F-350 Crew Cab "dualie" belching diesel exhaust. Chester, Skoal's construction director, is on the cell phone. By 6:45 he already has had a Denny's Grand Slam Breakfast, half-a-pack of Camels and three shots of Jack. Lisa puts on her sunniest voice.
"It's a great day at Skoalllllllllll Brothers, how may I help you? Oh, good morning, sir! Yes, Mike is right here, he's expecting your call. And have a wonderful day, sir!" Mike rolls his eyes and makes a note to remind Lisa that someday Chester might find out she is pulling his chain with this routine, and there will be hell to pay.
"So why were you expecting my call, Mike? Must be something screwed up out there as usual."
"Could it be because you call every morning at 6:45 and yell at me, Chester?"
"Never mind that. The prez says we gotta close six more this month, and guess what -- three of 'em are yours. No choice. You've got three days, better get on it. And don't let that moron Tommy take any by himself, understand?"
"I'm way ahead of you there, Chester. And speaking of that, I was thinking that Bill over at Thistledown might want to take a turn doing some training, you know, and ..."
"Mike? Mike? I can't hear you ... must be in a bad cell or something ... you're fading ..." Click.
"Bad cell my a ..." Just then the trailer door bangs open wide.
"¡Hola, amigos! ¿Que pasa?"
"Carlos, how many times do I have to tell you not to speak that stuff in my trailer!"
Carlos laughs with glee. "Careful now, Mikey, that is what you call an insensitive attitude. You don't want me filing a complaint with the Latin Drywallers Defense League, do you? Now Lisa there, she treats me with respect, just like that funny guy from Michigan promised in your training class."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah ... he was funny all right, and he was making a joke. And you didn't get it! And now you're going to remind me that your outfit is the best I have ever had -- which, although true, is not going to get you another 3 cents a square foot. You know I have no say in that anymore. Go harass that purchasing genius Skoal hired from Big Time Builders. I'm sure he'd love to discuss price increases. Now get out of here and get to work before I find someone else."
"Hey, boss," Tommy interrupts, "if we lose Carlos, we'll never get back on schedule and ..." Lisa grabs Tommy's arm and yanks him toward and then out the door. "Let's go check those bad slabs and see if they are fixed, huh, Tommy?"
"¡Hey, Que Cosa! That's one smart chica you got there, Mike. And fine-looking, too. Hey, you think she'd be interested in a Latin guy who ..."
"Don't go there, Carlos, I'm warning you."
"Hey, that's OK, Mike, your little secret's safe with me ... and all 14 of my crew members who saw you two out in your truck yesterday!"
"Carlos, just go. Now!" Mike is looking sick.
"Si, senor major-big-boss. Tus esta el hermano. ¡Hasta luego!" Carlos heads for the door.
"That's right, I am the man. And, Carlos! Tell your guys I asked, 'Porque no quieres trabajar?'"
Carlos halts in his tracks, frowns, turns and asks, "Hey, amigo, I thought you said you didn't speak any Spanish?"
Mike smiles slyly and with feigned shock says, "Oh, did I say that? ¡Yo no hablo Español, Carlos! Intiendes tu?" They stare at each other for a moment. Carlos waits for more, gets nothing and then heads on out to his truck. He has to warn his crew about this development.
Mike sits back in his chair. It's true that Carlos is the best. His guys show up on time, do a great job, never complain, finish on schedule and clean up after themselves. But Mike is worried because he wonders just how many of Carlos' men have green cards. They could be gone tomorrow, which puts Mike's schedule at risk. And now he has three more houses to close this month. "This is ridiculous," he mutters, "completely ridiculous."
I think we have a hit on our hands.