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“Deciding Not to Decide”

By strengthening communication and structure, Sawhorse founders continue 50% annual growth.

Carl Seville and partner Jerome Quinn don’t want to make every decision in their residential remodeling company. With their business growing more than 50% in the past two years, they don’t have time to obsess over every detail. To compensate, they’ve strengthened communications and introduced a supervisory structure that accommodates future growth.

“The problem with most small companies is they can’t run without the top guy being involved in everything,” says Seville, president of Sawhorse Inc. in Atlanta. “We created a structure so the company can run itself day to day without our intimate input on every detail. That allows us to work on the business, not in the business.”

The systems became a focus in 1997, when the company’s volume jumped from $2.2 million the previous year to $4.1 million. Growth has continued, with sales of nearly $7 million estimated for 1999.

When Sawhorse was smaller, company-wide meetings were used for plotting strategy; today they function more as “pep rallies” – letting employees know what’s going on. “Now, the real business happens in an executive-committee meeting of all the department heads, who take that information back and apply it to their own departments,” explains Seville.

Department heads were created as each section in the company – designing, production, estimates and sales – added staff. The supervisory role has become even more important since staff has expanded from 30 people in 1997 to 42 today.

Creating structure in each department was an important element in establishing a communication program. “When your company has two or three people, not a lot of communication systems are needed,” says Seville. “But once you start growing, you not only add people, but you add more complex relationships as those people each interact with everyone else.” Currently, Seville heads up design with Quinn at the helm of sales, but both intend to turn over those critical departments to others soon.

Getting Organized

Sawhorse also created departmental manuals to provide job templates and procedures. Thus, any project manager can look at an estimate or contract and understand what’s going on. The company also installed a local computer network that allows it to use e-mail and Lotus Notes to keep everyone informed of changes, updates and new projects.

Next on the company’s plate is an online system that stores every scrap of information on each remodeling job – documentation, construction photos, contracts, phone-conversation notes, change orders and more. That information currently is kept in a black, three-ring binder. “When we had a couple of people working on a project, that worked well,” Seville notes. “Now, the books are difficult to find sometimes.” The new system will allow employees to access files simultaneously from anywhere, keeping them communicating and operating smoothly without the intervention of the bosses.

Writer: Craig A. Shutt