How impossible would it be for a small builder to have every product and material for a home in hand before construction ever started? Imagine never having to hold up a job because the cabinets or windows or something else hadn’t arrived by the time your crew was ready for it.

That’s what my company tries to do on custom home projects. I’ve also tried it on a couple of design/build jobs, and believe it or not, it’s making our process smoother and our clients happier.

But boy, oh, boy, is it ever driving my production manager nuts.

I call this “staging,” and my inspiration for it is an experiment that my mentor, Phoenix remodeler and radio personality Rosie Romero, did with his design/build firm many years ago.

For a year and a half, Romero’s company offered clients what he called “the impossible promise”: the job would come in on time and on budget—or it would be free.

Turns out it wasn’t impossible, and he never had to work for free. But it wasn’t easy, either, and he didn’t do it for long. Plus, it took him three years just to get ready to offer the “promise.”

Here’s how it works: You spec everything out, work with the homeowners to make all of their selections, order the materials, open the boxes to verify that what’s inside is what you ordered and is in perfect condition, get the clients to sign off on every piece, and then stow it all in a storage space; we use a warehouse service that stores our boxes securely and will deliver them to us on demand.

Once you have that in place, then you break ground.

No decisions are made later. Nothing is picked up later—not a single screw. It’s all a done deal by the time construction starts.

I’m replicating Romero’s process, with one big exception: I’m not offering anything for free. What I’m finding, though, is that I’m saving money because the process saves time—even though we have to open a lot of boxes on the front end. And my customers are giving me higher marks on Guild Quality surveys because we’re finishing their homes quicker. That’s crucially important to me.

It's a Pain -- But it Works
This isn’t a usual way for a small builder to operate, I know; it’s not usual for me, either. Frankly, it’s a pain in the neck. And my crew lets me know it.

They have to be extra-careful about protecting what’s in those open boxes so nothing gets damaged or lost. They admit they would rather wait to order the materials and open the boxes until they need each item, even if that means they won’t discover that something’s wrong with a product until the day they were supposed to install it—so they have to reorder it and wait weeks and weeks for a replacement.

The “impossible promise” changes everything. It’s a paradigm shift. It’s different from the way we’ve always done things. But it’s a mandate to get the job done when you said you would. And that’s gold if referrals from satisfied customers are important to you. They are to me.

If you would like to see an example of the selections checklist we use with our clients, e-mail your request to

Breithaupt, B. Arch., MBA, is a third-generation builder, designer, and remodeler, and the owner of JEB Design/Build in Shreveport, La.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Phoenix, AZ.