Installed sales isn't going away, despite the efforts and doomsaying of some in the industry. I am seeing more and more evidence of growth in this service, particularly in an area that was once off-limits to most operations: custom home building.

I participated in a builder panel for one of my larger clients in March. The panel, which included three of the dealer's custom builder clients, focused on market trends, buyers' habits, and growth within the participants' own building activities; it was not directed at installed sales. Nevertheless, each of the panelists gave several examples where installation services have come to serve them in the past few months. In fact, one builder went so far as to say he didn't know what he would do if his supplier stopped offering installation services for doors and windows. "I will only buy my windows and doors installed," he said. "I won't take the time, effort, energy, and money necessary to have it done any other way."

Mike Butts He explained his reasoning this way: "After my framing carpenters left the jobsite, I had to send my trim carpenter back out to make sure that the openings were square and plumb. ... Then, after the windows were installed, another of my crew returned to make sure the windows were installed the right way–shimmed, square, plumb, and caulked. Then, after everyone left, before the siding contractor showed up, I had somebody else return again to tape the window and make sure it was in fact installed right."

That laborious process was and is far more costly than simply paying his supplier to install them the right way, the first time out. And installers guarantee the job, arrange for delivery, and provide service after the sale. "It is a painless operation that gives my customer a better-quality product," the custom builder said. (I asked him if he would just quit what he was doing to travel with me and just preach that sermon. I'll keep the water glass full and click the PowerPoint pages!)

We've long thought of production builders as the primary prospects/customers for our installed efforts–and they still are. But now we're seeing the desire for lower cycle times, increased production efficiency, and lower production costs spilling over to custom home builders. They face the same issues. Their projects are larger, with longer lead times and increased production demands, but the payoff can be larger, too.

Instead of looking at a house with 12 to 15 windows and three doors, you could now be looking at a structure with 20 to 25 windows and a half-dozen doors needing professional installation. And that's just the door and window package. Think of exterior cladding, insulation, roofing, and cabinets. And not just kitchen and bath cabinets, but also all the built-in cabinets that are frequently found in custom homes today. You could be all over this jobsite with little effort–and a great payoff at the end.

Look over the hill–see that big house going up in the next valley? It could be yours.

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