By really listening to recommendations from its suppliers and contractors, tying the company's back-office system to practical business tasks, and focusing on construction quality, Keller Homes in Colorado Springs, Colo., is sure to score well on the J.D. Power ratings every year.
“We want to attract the kind of buyer who ... appreciates value and can be relaxed that the house will hold up,” says Tom Adams, the builder's vice president of operations.
Adams' job is to focus on quality construction processes. He says the company starts by delving deeply into the recommendations of its trade contractors. For example, he says, Keller Homes really tries to understand why the HVAC contractor might recommend a 3-ton system versus 2.5 or 3.5.
“We always want to know what is driving the recommendation,” Adams says. “To some degree, we want to enter the trade contractor's business.”
Keller Homes began a careful review of the company's construction processes about a decade ago, when it deployed the FAST back-office and scheduling system. Adams says that, in the past, the builder might have had seven different projects going on, but each was only as good as the super assigned to the project. Although that's always going to be true to some extent, Keller Homes decided to standardize some basic processes, a move that helps the company deliver a more consistent product and stay on schedule.
Some examples: All the floors are installed before any trim work goes in. Adams says putting in the floors first gives the home a more finished look—there's a smoother intersection between the cabinet and the floor, and less trim work is required. There's also less trade damage along the way. Another Keller Homes trademark: It always pours the concrete slab before the framing crew comes in. It may cost a couple of days in the schedule, says Adams, but it's easier for the framer to work on a lot where the slab has already been poured.
“Builders don't always give their trade contractors the proper environment, time, or money to produce quality,” says Adams. “There's always enormous pressure for quick and inexpensive work,” he says, adding that “we go back to our trade contractors and ask them what environment they want to work in, what needs to be in place for the job to go well.”
SERVICE FOCUS Another part of the Keller Homes system is to have a quality assurance manager, as opposed to the project super, handle the final walkthrough with the home buyer.
“We want an independent person who is an advocate for the customer and the warranty department,” says Adams. “Our goal is to take the customer out of the loop in terms of them being the quality assurance inspector,” he says, adding that “it puts them in an awkward and uncomfortable place, so we go to great lengths to assure that they have an advocate.”
“Mentally, once the house is ready, the super is on to the next foundation,” says Dave Keller, the company's president and CEO. “It really takes another person to nitpick a house for things like drywall imperfections,” he says, adding that the home builder's real secret to satisfying customers is doing a strong job communicating its processes and setting expectations.
“If you communicate to a customer that you're a Cadillac, but you're really a Saturn, and then they move into the house, that's when you have a disaster,” says Pam Keller, Keller's wife and the company's executive vice president of sales and marketing.