New England is beautiful regardless of the time of year. I was there earlier this year, working with a dealer bringing its installed operation more into line with what the company wanted it to be. The company had been offering installed sales for several years, but the program had never risen to its potential.

Mike Butts It has plenty of walk-in traffic and an absolutely beautiful showroom of millwork, custom cabinetry, and hardware. There's a loyal group of installers willing to work and provide installation expertise and a team of employees who are all–to a person–sold on the installed opportunity. The community is beautiful; full of old homes, restorations going on everywhere, vacation homes, multifamily, and a small smattering of light commercial needing attention.

So what was the problem? Why hadn't this particular program taken off and produced? The answer is lack of focus.

The owner is very involved in the day-to-day operations of the business. All of his managers are engaged in the operation as well. But this company also is extremely conservative (that New England thing), and it doesn't have room for people not pulling their own weight. As a result, almost everyone is wearing two or more hats. And there's the problem.

It wasn't that installed sales weren't important, but that other areas of the company simply carried a higher priority and the installed operation was left to fend for itself. If customers wanted something installed, managers would facilitate it, but nobody was really focusing on installed. All this activity and showroom were essentially going to waste.

Finally, the owner and general manager decided they needed to bring attention to the installed operation. Their existing manager had left, the person running the program wasn't necessarily the best for that position, and everyone realized there was opportunity not being realized.

A number of e-mails and phone calls later, I was on a plane headed their way. (Cue-in the Lone Ranger theme song plus visions of white horse and masked hero.) I arrived on site and jumped into the management meetings, aligning myself with the company culture, attending a group employee meeting, and then working closely with the newly designated installed sales manager and cabinet manager the next day. This was followed by a contractor/installer meeting to re-emphasize the importance of unit pricing, proper contract management, and adherence to a code of conduct when working with "our" customers.

By the end of the trip, I felt the program was on very sound footing. The dealer has all the pieces–contracts, controls, management tools–to run this program successfully. But more important, with this program it can and will be profitable.

This market is screaming for installed services; even the contractors support it because they simply cannot facilitate all the work that is being requested. Now we have the pieces in place to run a well-managed program with full reporting, proper controls for quality and customer service, and good profit margins.

Did I work wonders? No. I simply put an objective set of eyes on the project, brought some issues to light, and helped an already enthusiastic team refocus their collective efforts on something that they all knew was important.

With my airplane winging its way west, the store clerk asked, "Who was that masked man?"

Mike Butts is president of LBM Solutions, a DeWitt, Mich.-based LBM supply consulting and training firm. 517.668.0585. E-mail: [email protected]