Jeff Jacobs, Building Advisory Group; and Larry Wisdom, Keystone Custom Homes Photo: Jamie Windon There was hardly a dull moment during the Purchasing sessions, which comes as no surprise. From the hearty and infectious laugh of senior editor Bill Gloede to the wisecracks of builders to the devil's advocacy of suppliers and trades, there was plenty to keep attendees on their toes.

While fun was had along the way, participants quickly got to work suggesting opportunity areas for improved profitability in their business disciple. Kim Shelpman, CEO of Holiday Builders and a Big Builder '08 Program Director, was the first to speak up, nominating the pithy but strikingly apropos objective, “Do more with less.”

Understandably, the suggestion was met with nods of approval all around.

Fellow program director and president of Americrest Homes Jim Bagley was the next to put his hand up, stressing the need to “align SG&A with revenues.”

Other suggestions: Build a delivery system around your future buyer; develop a product upfront to reduce warranty costs on the back end; ensure correct pre-job planning and break down communication barriers; adopt an even-flow production model; coordinate a single mission statement; reboot your delivery system to deliver on your brand value proposition; and find ways to build and maintain employee morale.

Shelpman offered another opportunity area: “Stay current on available financing options and new developments.” As an example, she brought up USDA loans, with zero money down and no private mortgage insurance. She further stressed the importance of monitoring new and pre-existing financing avenues, such as the sweat-equity programs that were popular in the 1970s.

NAILING THE NOMINATIONS While all of the suggested opportunity areas had merit, the group had been tasked with narrowing the list down to just three items. This turned out to be a spirited debate.

Lisa Brown and Bill Gloede, BIG BUILDER magazine Photo: Jamie Windon

Overwhelmingly, participants felt that the need to stay current on financing options was of paramount importance, it was agreed that this wasn't the purview of their silo, strictly speaking, and that it was a topic that would most likely be covered during the Sales and Marketing breakout sessions. Interestingly, mortgage financing options did not make that group's final cut.

After much discussion and an energetic back and forth, the group was able to come to a consensus that the following were the top three opportunity areas identified during the course of the first session: Ensure effective communication and the creation of engagement among employees, trades, and customers; restructure the organization to be scalable both up and down and have contingency plans in place; and integrate information systems to bring every aspect of home building operations together.

ACTION PLAN Following lunch, the group reconvened to generate an initiative to address each of the three opportunity areas and realize improved profitability in 2009.