I don’t know about you, but I got pretty sick of hearing the term “new normal” applied to the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. To me, there never was a “normal,” new or otherwise, at any point during two-plus years of an unpredictable and resilient virus that kept everyone guessing (and second-guessing) the present and the future.
And while a return to an in-person International Builders’ Show last February and the near-universal removal of mask mandates and other precautions certainly signals a return to pre-pandemic times (“normal,” to some extent), I question whether going back to 2019 is really the best course of action for the housing industry.
I see the logic. Entering 2020, housing was coming off its best year since 2007, the near-culmination of a recovery from the depths of despair a decade earlier. Why not just pick up where we left off before COVID punched us in the gut?
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In short, because we can’t. The ramifications of the pandemic—namely, exposing a fragile global supply chain with a very thin margin of disruption and the exodus of more construction workers on top of an existing deficit caused by the Great Recession—has left our legacy infrastructure of materials distribution and on-site labor in shambles. The “normal” of 2019 doesn’t exist anymore.
Better Business Now: 3 Things Home Builders Can Do
So, if a return to normal is off the table, then what? For an industry steeped in traditions of “the way we’ve always done it,” forging a different future seems daunting, if not delusional. But here are some suggestions for builders large and small, production or custom, to consider toward establishing a New Now:
1. Vertically integrate labor
Hire in-house construction crews, train them to meet your expectations for quality, cycle time, and job status reporting, offer opportunities for advancement, and pay them well, with benefits. The result: a reliable, loyal, highly skilled labor force dedicated to you alone.
2. Control your supply chain
Find and cultivate multiple local and regional suppliers that can provide products that meet your quality standards, budget, and consumer expectations, if not precise brand or model specs; hire and empower a purchasing professional (or team) to guide and protect you.
3. Get Lean
Cull your house plans to the top 10 sellers and reengineer them on 4-foot modules. Eliminate variance purchase orders. Use precut or factory-built framing packages to reduce on-site waste and costs. Build one model home and put the rest online. Seek out sacred cows and put them out to pasture.
These and other seeds of a New Now are found all over the place, including across Pro Builder’s print and digital channels. You just need the will and commitment to nurture and cultivate them into a sustainable, reliable reality.