There’s an LBM equivalent to the old saying that the Chinese characters for “crisis” contain the words “danger” and “opportunity.” For builders, it’s the crisis-level shortage of workers that threatens their ability to work on time and under budget. At BMC, that crisis has become an opportunity to win sales by changing how framing is done.
BMC’s Ready-Frame capitalizes on the labor troubles by offering builders pre-cut framing pieces that are bundled and delivered in a way that makes it possible to erect a house faster, more safely, and with fewer people than can happen conventionally.
“We publish that there’s a 20% savings” from using Ready-Frame, says Jason Bumgarner, LBM sales manager for BMC’s Colorado market. “I think it’s 30%-plus. I have cases where 13-day [jobs] are being done in seven, or 10-day jobs are being done in five. As long as the foundation crews can keep up, we can do more.
“Other selling points are that there’s less waste on the job site and fewer chances for mistakes,” Bumgarner adds. “The job sites are considerably cleaner. ... It’s a minimum of 5% savings [in excess wood] and can be upwards of 15% depending on the crew.”
John Osborne, BMC’s director of sales, says Ready-Frame also benefits production builders by taking out some of the small variations that can occur in what are ostensibly the same homes.
“Let’s say you have a 16-foot wall on your main floor with a door and a window in it,” Osborne says. “If the framing crew marks the bottom and top plate, they could start on one side and go 16 inches on center. If another crew at another home starts on the other side, there’s a potential for that window to move some. There is also a possibility for more material to be added into that wall to accommodate how the wall was laid out. Also, where the light switches will go could be 6 or 12 inches from the doorway, or on the right or left side. The electricians don’t always know which way the door swings. One framer might add extra studs or frame a window or door opening with extra material. There are nuances to framing.”
Osborne adds that Ready-Frame also helps builders because framing crews can be less skilled and yet provide a quality product. “You may have a crew that’s never built a new house before,” he says. “But if they build it five or six times, they can do it in fewer days. Also, we’re catching the problems coming up in the design process. We’ll see if a roof truss intersects with the window header or if there are problems with the wall heights.” BMC’s Ready-Frame system ensures optimal use of material and safeguards potential misuse.
You might question why BMC deserves an Excellence Award for technology when companies like Sears were offering pre-cut, pre-bundled framing over a century ago and builders like Lennar were working on systems more than a decade back. The idea is old, but it’s how BMC applies new advances that makes Ready-Frame noteworthy.
First, Sears could offer just a few home designs; you bought only what Sears wanted to produce. In contrast, Ready-Frame’s proprietary software can create a framing package out of just about any electronic home plan. Second, the sawing equipment is relatively simple. The saw and table don't look much different than what you'd find in a weekend warrior's woodshop; it’s the software guiding the saw that makes the difference. Third, while Sears had to manually—and laboriously, no doubt—stamp each framing member, Ready-Frame takes advantage of advances in ink-jet printing to apply labels that are easy to read, quick to apply, and relatively detailed. And fourth, the same software that cuts the wood also optimizes whatever stock is on hand, thus helping assure that a project is delivered in full.
BMC offered Ready-Frame in the Seattle market first, and today it sells more Ready-Frame packages there than traditional ones. The product since has been introduced in the rest of BMC’s Western U.S. markets;13 saws currently operate in Colorado (where 20% of its framing packages involve Ready-Frame), Texas, Utah, Nevada, and California (particularly Southern California, where BMC does a lot of framing as an installed sales service). And now that BMC has acquired Georgia-based VNS and is set to merge with Stock Building Supply, you can expect those stores eventually to offer Ready-Frame.
BMC charges a premium for the service, so at first blush the price of a Ready-Frame package looks higher than if you bought the wood in bulk and cut it on site. That’s why the Ready-Frame sales pitch includes a detailed look at the total cost of construction.
“If it’s done correctly, it shouldn’t cost you any more,” Osborne says. “Typically, on a framing job, 5% to 10% of a material shipped to a jobsite goes into the dumpster. So if you ship $20,000 worth of lumber, $1,000 to $2,000 goes to the dump. And then you have to pay to ship it to the dump. Sometimes you have to go back and buy more. We’re trying to give builders control and labor savings and waste savings.”
Forecasts vary as to how popular Ready-Frame can become. It takes a mindset change for builders and framers to embrace the product. Wages and the availability of labor can influence the decision. And critics say Ready-Frame tends to work mainly when the home being built doesn’t have a buyer. Custom homes are more likely to see design changes, and every change order can force a return to the software and the saw.
Replies Osborne: “Because the labor is less per square feet, the concept still works. There’s still less material being used; it’s being used more accurately, more efficiently. Even if there’s an abundance of labor, would builders want to waste on material? No.”