The Right Tool for the Job

Kline Electric employee launches new software program.

Everyone in the construction industry knows how important it is to have the right tool for the job.

So what do you do when that tool doesn’t exist? You make it yourself. Kline Electric’s Zach Bolin, has done just that.

“I’ve been with Kline almost 13 years,” says Bolin. “When I started here, we were doing maybe 100 houses a year. This year, we’ll do close to 700 new homes.”

Bolin’s job is to estimate the materials and cost of each project, which typically means walking through every single one of those nearly 700 homes. “It became clear pretty quickly that we needed to get smarter about how we do this,” Bolin says. “There are a lot of estimating programs out there, but they’re not specific to what we do.”

So, like most companies, Kline used a variety of programs—one for estimating, one for materials management, one for costs, for example.

In addition to doing personal walk-throughs of every project, Bolin was also accustomed to attempting estimates based on nothing more than a pdf of a floor plan. “I’d have to draw out the house on paper, then count up all the devices and try to figure out an estimate, then put it in QuickBooks and come up with a ballpark estimate,” he says. “By the time I had that ready, someone would make a change to the floor plan, and I’d have to start all over.”

Bolin says whenever he told someone he was going to come up with a program to do electrical estimating accurately, people were pretty skeptical. “They kept telling me there must be something out there to do what we needed, but there wasn’t,” he explains. “What I was looking to do was find a way to do everything all in one shot.”

For the past several years, Bolin has been making notes about what he’d like that software to do. It needed to link multiple programs. It needed to recognize pdf drawings of homes. It needed to provide accurate estimates that are customized to each project.

The skeptics said he was tilting at windmills, like the legendary Don Quixote. TAW (Tilting At Windmills) Concepts was born as a result of this dream. And this month, Bolin launches the product—Residential Estimating Management System (REM)—with a lot of help from his friends.

Partnering with a local Urbandale software developer, Concat Systems, Bolin has created a cloud-based program that fulfills every item on his wish list—and more. “We did a lot of back and forth with them learning about the estimating process and writing the software to address that process,” Bolin says. “And they’ve made it work with everything I wanted and then some. It’s been a great process.”

The program will import pdf files; the user can design the electrical system directly on that pdf. From there, it will create a bill of materials, an estimate, and even produce invoices. And a change in one area updates all files linked to that project.

“Our customers are more interactive than ever before,” Bolin explains. “They’re able to look at a detailed estimate from this. It makes sense because they have an image of what every item looks like. They can see exactly what we’re quoting and compare it to a competitor’s estimate and ask specific questions.”

Shane Kline, Bolin’s boss, has been supportive of the project from the beginning and is thrilled with the finished product. “Zach didn’t really have to sell the concept to us,” he says. “He’d put a lot of thought into it and had a great idea. And all the time and energy he’s put into this company, we wanted to support him in this project.”

Kline describes the software as “an absolute game changer” in the way his company will do estimating. He says, “We did 600 houses last year, and Zach had to physically walk through every one and count every outlet, every electrical product. He’s worked nights, weekends. I think he’s taken two days off in the last three years, and that’s counting weekends. He’s put in a lot of time.”

To help test REMS, Zach called on a number of builders that work regularly with Kline Electric. Their comments provided invaluable feedback to improve the software and add features that made the program even more accessible.

Sara Sanger of Lifestyle Development says, “The biggest feedback we gave to Zach was the need to have more instant access to change orders as a result of on-site walk-throughs with our clients. Being able to track changes from the initial estimate and provide a detail of those changes was the most important aspect for us as a custom builder.”

Classic Builders’ Seth Moulton says, “It’s pretty revolutionary, especially in the construction field. There’s nothing like it. And the ability to get an almost real-time bid is fantastic.”

One way Bolin adapted REMS to meet builders’ needs was adding a tablet version for field use. “It’s opened up that line of communication in the field,” he explains.

“I think this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Moulton adds. “This concept could potentially fit other areas, like plumbing, heating, and cooling. It’s been amazing to see his initial idea turn into real-life action.”

Users will be able to set up subscription accounts based on the number of projects they anticipate annually. Subscribers can have multiple users, with multiple projects active at any given time.

“I love the product,” Sanger says. “Anything that will streamline the change order process, improve communication, and demonstrate professionalism and a commitment to innovation is something we want to embrace and implement into our business.”
Though REMS will be available to companies nationwide, Bolin says the best part of the whole project is how it’s benefited Kline Electric.

“Kline gave me the chance to make the company better,” he says. “This is what we needed to fix so we can serve our own customers better.”

And if something needs fixing, you have to have the right tool for the job—even if you have to create it yourself when no one believes it’s possible.

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