How Well Do You Control Your Job?

D.R. Stembers has put his experience and trade contractor relationships to work at Paul Taylor Homes, which will close more than 200 homes this year.

By Patrick L. O'Toole, Senior Editor | August 31, 2002


Name: D.R. Stembers
Company: Paul Taylor Homes, Dallas
Years as superintendent: 10
Customer willingness to recommend: 97%
Units carried per quarter: 18
Days ahead/behind schedule: 10 ahead
Homes delivered last year: 39
Value of homes delivered: $6.24 million
Hard-cost variance: within 1%
Punchlist items on first inspection: 6 to 7
Average days to correct punchlist items: 1.5

Donald R. Stembers owned a framing contracting firm in Dallas for 14 years until the recession of 1987-92 hit and business dried up. Since then he has put his experience and trade contractor relationships to work at Paul Taylor Homes, which will close more than 200 homes this year. Stembers is building single-family detached up to 2,100 square feet under air conditioning. To him, being a superintendent all-star is all about control.

Controlling the schedule: Stembers' approach to the job can be summed up this way: Focus hard on keeping a tight schedule and ensuring quality so you can free yourself to provide solutions to problems that inevitably arise each day.

Stembers says he is reluctant to share his scheduling system because it is wholly his own. Underpinning the system is an understanding with the trades that they can get in and out of his jobs quickly, going to the bank with Stembers' track record for site readiness. In turn, they shrink their normal lead time to accommodate his homes.

He calls to schedule trades four or five days before they are supposed to do the job. They also give him a heads-up when they have a problem so Stembers can fill the spot with another contractor.

Controlling change orders and costs: The first red-line meeting with a customer is crucial. "That's my meeting, and I run it," Stembers says. Customers are told of their three walk-throughs with the superintendent. He encourages them to visit the site nightly "because they do it anyway." But he asks customers to take notes while they're on site so they can be brought up during each walk-through. He provides his phone, fax and mobile numbers for items that can't wait. He finds that 95% of the items they notice along the way are taken care of by the time they meet. This builds customer confidence that the job is in able hands.

Then Stembers tells them about changes. He'll do any change, anytime in the process, but the price for that change must come from the salesperson. That way he knows that any change will have all the required paperwork and not blow his budget for the job. "I'll talk about construction all they want, but I never talk about prices," he says. "It is not my job."

Demand professionalism by showing it: Stembers demands professionalism on the job site. Trades that do not do what they say they will get pulled aside. He tells them he has his site ready and has followed through on everything on his end. Now it's their turn.

What the trades say: "He does not waste my time at all, and I try not to waste his. He is real. He knows where you're coming from. He's just very knowledgeable. He knows how things go to-gether. He knows why things go wrong. He's fair. He keeps it running as smooth as it can run. And when there is a problem, he makes a smooth move." -- Joe Miles, C&R Plumbing, Plano, Texas


Audio Clips

  D.R. on his secrets to success
  D.R. on the importance of communication
  D.R. on dealing with customer concerns
  D.R. on how to avoid going over budget
  D.R. on keeping open communication
  D.R. on scheduling
  D.R. on micromanagment


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