What no one told you about taking over the family construction business

Hear from one of our customers about what they wish they would have known when taking over their family construction business

Chelsea Cole / Buildertrend

john jarrett

John Jarrett, left, president of Jarrett Construction, took over the family business from his father, Ed Jarrett, right, in 2019.

Taking charge of the family construction business comes with added pride but can also pose unique challenges even if you grew up expecting to one day take the lead.

John Jarrett, Buildertrend customer and now president of Jarrett Construction in Dallas, took over the family business from his father, Ed, in 2019. We reached out to John to get his insight on what he wishes he would have known before being at the helm of the company.

In this interview, he shares what he’s learned while being in charge, the changes he’s implemented and some advice for those who will someday take over their own family businesses.

Check it out.

John Jarrett

John Jarrett

Jarrett Construction

What do you wish you would have known before taking over the family construction business?

  • I wish I knew how to lead a team and the importance of clear organizational structure even though we are a family-owned business. Having a clear organizational structure along with really clear descriptions of each position in the company makes it really easy for everyone, collectively, to hold each other accountable. It’s way too easy in construction, with so many moving parts, to point the finger and blame a fellow employee, sub or owner.
  • Change and process improvement are worth the turmoil and extra effort. I wish I had started the change in our company before I took over. I think I wasted a lot of years working under an old system that caused a lot of stress because the documentation wasn’t easy and clear.
  • I wish I knew more about sales and networking. In the custom world, architect and designer relationships are key to success.

What are some things you’ve learned by taking over the family business?

  • No one is going to do it for you, so roll up your sleeves, start executing and seeking to learn.
  • Getting a business coach is key to progress and personal improvement.
  • Take lots of classes to further your knowledge of building sciences and good business practices.
  • We’re all afraid of the unknown, but the key is to not let the fear lead to procrastination. Act immediately to solve the problem when you feel the fear of not knowing how to execute a detail in the field or office.
  • The residential construction industry is full of great professional people who are willing to share ideas and make each other better.

Are there any changes you decided to make after taking the lead?

  • Our accounting and billing process was in the dark ages, and by dark ages, I mean Quicken on a desktop PC from 1990. While it was an OK system, information was not available in real time and that’s what you need for yourself and the homeowner in today’s construction world. Sometimes you think the system you have is working even though you know technology has advanced. It took me losing our office manager of eight years to realize we needed to get our bookkeeping into the 21st  century. We are now using QuickBooks online, fully integrated with Buildertrend, and I have immediate access to any job and any category when a homeowner calls with questions. It makes you look good when a homeowner calls out of the blue, and you can talk intelligently about their project. Before I would say, “I don’t know off the top of my head. I’ll have to get back with you.”
  • I also started a company operation manual. The thought process in a small family business is that we are all good and well-intended people, and that should be enough. The reality is: It’s not. No matter how good you are, everyone has bad days and important things can fall through the cracks. The perpetual problem being a small business owner is you’re always having to remind people “how we do it.” But having an operation manual allows you to have documented processes and something to hold you and your people accountable.
  • Ensuring full transparency for our clients. Nothing builds trust like clear communication and full access to the budget and all purchase orders in Buildertrend. I found a lot of construction companies say they are fully transparent, but it’s really hard to get to the information. With Buildertrend, clients can see all the information whenever they want, and I’ve found that it alleviates a lot of the common homeowner anxieties through the construction process.

How has using tech helped your company evolve?

Technology is a two-edged sword because it requires a lot of training and data entry, but at the end of the day, it makes your job so much easier. My wife’s grandfather was famous for saying, “Prior planning pays,” and in my opinion, the data entry required by technology is forced planning. It also documents the work you do the first time and keeps it in a place that is accessible months down the road. The worst thing in the world is spending the time planning and documenting information only to realize that the piece of paper you know you filed is nowhere to be found.

What is the best part about taking over the family business?

Working with family has its issues and not every father-son relationship is pure gold. It took my father and me about two years or so to get on the same page as teammates in business. Today, I can truly say it is one of the greatest joys of my life to have done business with my father for over a decade.

What advice do you have for other second- or third-generation construction business owners?

Change and progress can be hard in our fast-paced world. Recognize when you need help, and go get it, or hire that next person. Your blood pressure and your family will thank you!

Related: 7 Things No One Told You About How to Run a Business

If you’re a construction business owner, we’ve got the tools you need.

The future of construction involves using tech. If you’re looking for a better system that will improve the way you run your construction business and ensure success, schedule a demo today.


About the Author

Chelsea Cole
Chelsea Cole

Chelsea Cole is a technical copywriter at Buildertrend

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