Candid With Contractors

For any project to be successful, the whole team has to work well together and needs to be able to communicate effectively.  We love the relationships we have with our contractors and trade partners, and in this post, I’m getting personal with one of them.  We recently sat down with Scott Connolly, founder and owner of North Elm, to have a candid conversation about the design and construction industry.

CW:  How did you get started as a contractor?

SC: I got fired from my job working with my brother-in-law.  I woke up on a Monday morning ready to start the day and received an email saying I was fired.

CW: Really?  I can’t believe I haven’t heard this story.  Those moments always feel so awful when they’re happening but you ALWAYS look back and feel so grateful that they did.  So what happened?

SC:  I think we just had too many differences.  I have a heart for design. I don’t just want to do a JOB.  The best advice I ever got in my career is that this a service based industry before anything else.  

CW: I’ve experienced this from you myself.  You challenge me from a design standpoint all of the time on the projects that we work on together, and I feel so much more comfortable having you on site because I know that the design won’t be compromised.  

SC: Ya we need to honour the design and I always aim to do that.

I have a heart for design. I don’t just want to do a JOB.  The best advice I ever got in my career is that this a service based industry before anything else.  


CW: What is your favourite thing about what you do?

SC: The moment of success for me in projects is when a client looks at me and says ‘ this is better than I thought.’  That speaks to my heart because we’ve failed so hard in the past (everyone does) that those comments just warm my heart.

SC: We want client satisfaction.  We want to take that project that they paid $1 for and give them something that looks like $2.  Success is knowing we’ve exceeded their expectations both in service and product.

CW: What do you think is the biggest misconception of contractors?

SC: That we’re dishonest.  

CW: I would agree but where do you think that misconception comes from?

SC: Negative press gets all of the press right?  People think that because one bad apple kinda ruins the bunch.  Trust is the hardest thing to build but the easiest to lose. When society loses trust in contractors, it’s really hard to build that back up.

CW: So how can people tell the bad apples from the good?

SC: That’s two fold.   First of all, do your homework about who the company is.  Look for customers/referrals, testimonials that much up with the scope of work you want to do, Facebook reviews, Houzz reviews, etc.

SC: And then equally as important  – find someone you click with.  I’m going to be moving into your house so I’m going to see a lot of aspects of your life.  You should feel comfortable with me.

Success is knowing we’ve exceeded their expectations both in service and product.


CW: If someone were to hire you – what  would that process look like?

SC: If you called with a  project, the first thing that happens is the site meeting where we do a walk-through of the project and make a wish list of everything you want.  There is no designer involved at this point unless the homeowners have already engaged one.

CW: But you should obviously always engage a designer first.  (Wink, wink.)

SC:  Absolutely!  But if they haven’t, once I figure out the scope, I will suggest if they need a designer for their project.  Most of the time (I’d like to say 100% of the time ) I would like a designer to be involved, but of course that depends on the project and what we’ve been called for.  Then preliminary design begins (if needed) and preliminary budget.

Then we meet to discuss both design and budget and make revisions as needed.

CW: So the first price you provide isn’t the final price?

SC:  It’s a budget not a quote.  A budget is a guideline – its still preliminary at that point.  It can go back and forth three or four times before that gets finalized.  This could be because of design or budget. Sometimes homeowners dreams are out of sync with their wallets.

CW: To no fault of their own because they have no reference point of what a project would cost – especially if they’ve never done it before.  And especially if they’re basing their assumptions off something they saw on TV.

SC: Exactly.  That first meeting is really the reality check.  

CW: Timeline is also something that is usually not known.  I actually like that you include time to complete projects on your website.  That is SO helpful to homeowners.

SC:  Once they’re happy with the budget, we do a final set of construction drawings and final construction budget which could be a cost-plus model or fixed price.

CW: Explain the difference between the two.

SC:  Fixed price is a fixed price that includes specific numbers that are variable.  It’s like buying a car – you have a fixed price of the overall car but then you have options you can add. 

CW:  What kind of options would be variable?

SC: So things like cabinets, flooring, lighting fixtures are all examples of variable numbers – usually the things that require decisions from the homeowner.  It gives them the freedom to spend or not spend in some areas. Fixed numbers are things like drywall, lumber, or electrical work.

CW:  And cost-plus?

SC: This is the the price of the job at cost PLUS an agreed upon fee at the end.  Some people call it construction management.  With this option, you pay for every item, minute and penny spent on the project because the fee is a percentage of everything.

CW: So for fixed price – because the price is set at the beginning, as the contractor you win some and you lose some as far as margin is concerned.  If electrical needs to be redone – you eat that cost.

SC: Exactly.  But with cost plus, I find that some contractors forego that extra ‘service’ we talked about because they’re just adding a fee on the end.  You don’t have to do any work in advance because you add a fee at the end. With fixed price, I work smarter to ensure my pricing is absolutely correct because if I lose, it effects my bottom line.  As a contractor we should be doing that due diligence ahead of time for our clients because this is a service industry.

CW:  This is exactly why I don’t charge by the hour.  I want my clients to pay for one service and know that they’re getting unlimited professional advice from start to finish on their project.  It also allows me to challenge my own solutions throughout the project until I feel like we have the best design or space plan, without having to charge all that design time back to my clients.

CW:  Last question – what was the last thing you binged on Netflix?

SC: Justified – it’s actually on Amazon Prime but it used to be on Netflix.