Why We Believe in the Lead Carpenter System

Since starting Custom in 1990, one of the mainstays of our firm has been the lead carpenter system. In this Management Memo, we’d like to explain what this system is all about and how it benefits our clients.

At Custom, we don’t manage projects from our office. Rather, once the project starts, it’s overseen by one of our lead carpenters, who is responsible for bringing the project to completion. In our lead carpenter system, your lead carpenter is essentially your onsite project manager.

Lead carpenters have a distinct mix of skills. They’re carpenters by trade, so they’re well-equipped to do everything you’d expect in a carpenter. But they also have project management responsibilities, such as managing the job site each day, supervising employees and trade subcontractors, and communicating with clients.

Bryan Lamoureux, a lead carpenter with Custom since 2006, says it’s critical to understand the jobs of the various trade subcontractors whom he manages.

“Before I joined Custom, I did some remodeling as part of an apartment rental business I owned,” he says. “In my free time, I also did some framing, worked with an electrician and worked with an HVAC guy. Learning what those trades need on a job, what problems could arise, possible solutions that’s all helped me anticipate their needs and make sure each
project keeps moving along.”

Equally critical, Bryan adds, is the communication piece. “We used to talk to homeowners over the phone or in person,” he says. “But now, it’s all about email and texting, and they expect you to give answers to their questions quickly.”

A ‘Resolution Specialist’
Dave Surrette, who joined Custom in 2003, agrees with Bryan about the importance of client communication. “There are some carpenters who just want to focus on the carpentry,” he says. “But I actually like it when a client has a problem and I can solve it. One customer called me a ‘resolution specialist.’ That was cool. I get a kick out of trying to come up with a solution that the homeowner didn’t think of.”

What’s the key factor that sets apart a lead carpenter from a regular carpenter? Dave points to the ability to manage multiple tasks and people. These project management skills are something you develop on the job through trial and error, and through training. In order to become a Certified Lead Carpenter by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), Dave went to weekly classes over the course of about two months. Each year, he must earn credits to qualify for recertification.

“Custom pays for the recertification, which shows how committed Bill and Scott are to keeping our lead carpenters’ skills up to date,” Dave says.

Adhering to the lead carpenter system gives our lead carpenters a sense of ownership while also making their day-to-day work more interesting. It’s no wonder so many of our lead carpenters stick around for so long. That’s a good thing for our firm — and for the quality of work we deliver to our clients.