A Fresh Approach

Consulting business working for ex-contractor

Journal of Light Construction, November 1990

The home building and remodeling business can be a battlefield, with contractor, owner, and architect at war with each other. Then there are the skirmishes with subcontractors, code officials, and suppliers.

Enter Richard Connolly, a Massachusetts ex-contractor turned peacemaker. As a building consultant, employed by the customer, it is Connolly’s job to make building and remodeling jobs proceed smoothly.

His company, Cornerstone Consulting, Inc., founded in 1988, has served over 100 clients in its 2 1/2 years in business. Connolly says the company is continuing to "grow rapidly in a down market." On all jobs, Cornerstone acts as an advocate for the consumers, and is paid only by them.

The company provides three basic services: It helps consumers find and hire designers, contractors, and subs. It helps them develop specs and negotiate bids. And, if requested, it will coordinate the entire project, often with the owner acting as general contractor.

The service varies with the specific job, and on more than one occasion, says Connolly, he’s found himself a reluctant marriage counselor. The company charges by the hour for some services, but usually also received a percentage of the total cost for project supervision – 10% for projects in excess of $10,000.

Connolly’s goal, he says, is to create a "win-win" situation," where the contractors and subs know exactly what services they are providing at what cost, and the homeowner knows the same. On jobs managed by Cornerstone, the owner buys all materials, and the contractors and subs provide only labor.

When criticized for depriving contractors and subs of profit they need to survive, Connolly counters that contractors appreciate his service because it relieves them of their usual level of aggravation and risk and lets them do what they do best – build. Also, he argues, it gets them into the growing market of owner-contracted projects.

His system for selecting a contractor and an architect, bidding, and contracting is systematized and fully computerized. His next plan is to offer his software and management system as a franchise to other contracting veterans who are looking to get out of the trenches and into the consulting business.

Franchisees pay a fee of about $22,000, most of which goes toward a computer and Connolly’s proprietary software. So far, he has signed on two other franchises in Massachusetts and Maine.

For the contractor burned out on juggling clients and job-site headaches, this type of service, says Connolly, has great profit potential and less aggravation. He says, "It’s a great opportunity for knowledgeable contractors who are just worn out and looking for a change."

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