Raken for Subcontractors featuring Stonwerk Custom Masonry

Construction is one of the oldest industries on the planet. Long before mankind figured out how to write, sail, or even speak in more than a few rudimentary grunts we were building things. And arguably the oldest form of construction is masonry. From the moment that two stones were placed on top of each other with a little mud between them the art of masonry has persisted. That's why we're proud to share the story of Stonwerk custom masonry and how Raken fits into one of the oldest trades in history.

A Family Legacy and Craft

It's fitting, given how old the masonry business is, that Steve Homola would have grown up with his own personal history in the industry and then passed that legacy on to his children. "I grew up in the business, my Dad was a brick mason. In the mid '70s I started laying brick with my Dad," he says, "and it was in '85 that I went on my own, all by myself. I think I had one employee for a few years, then two, then five. Now my children are old enough to come and work for the company. We've even got one of my grandchildren working for us, so it's four generations of masons."

That family history in masonry has served Stonwerk well, especially when it comes to passing on the art and craft of masonry. "There's a difference between brick and stone. Brick is more about layout, pulling strings and lines, and it's generally straight. Of course there's some talent to pick up a brick and lay it in the wall, but when you get to stone usually you don't start out with any lines, you just have a pile of rock that you've got to make look nice on the wall," Steve explains, "Mentally you're a lot more focused on what you're doing. When you're laying stone you don't hear much conversation. You can have 10 guys working and they're all concentrating. You have to get into the mental state of laying stone, and its actually quite hard to just jump in on the wall and start laying stone. There's mental preparation involved, but that's the craft of stone masonry."

When I first started we were using the Excel spreadsheet, which is pretty clunky

— Reed Homola

Revolutionizing Old Technology

One might assume, given how the craft of stone masonry hasn't changed dramatically in the past 200,000 years, that these would be the last tradesmen to give up traditional methods of either doing their job or documenting their progress. However, Steve and his crew saw that they needed to change their ways years ago.

"When I first started we were using the Excel spreadsheet, which is pretty clunky," says Reed Homola, Steve's son and the Operations Manager at Stonwerk, "I don’t think there were any photos. If they took photos it was occasionally via email, but with that, you don’t have one place where you can go back and look at all the photos."

Reed is describing what we have discovered is a common occurence among subcontractors trying to gain visibility into their sites. It's difficult for the foremen in the field to update a shared Excel spreadsheet with all the detail that the office needs to manager more complex jobs and projects. Detailed information like photos and time cards need to be communicated quickly and clearly, and Stonwerk saw that an archaic method just wasn't going to get the job done.

With Raken, there was no learning curve. We're stone masons, we're not generally known to be really techy guys. And if we can get this technology, anyone can.

— Steve Homola

Introducing Raken to your Foremen

That's when Steve and the team decided to introduce Raken to their field crews for easier visibility into what was happening out in the field. What Stonwerk wasn't expecting, however, was just how easy it would be for all of their guys to pick up a "new" technology without an extensive training period. Really, all it took was one kickoff meeting, as Steve describes.

"When we first started with Raken I had all the foremen download the app on their phones and come in. We did a quick call with a Raken team member and my guys were looking at their phones while he was talking and everyone's just sitting there, no questions," says Steve, "[the Raken team member] kept saying 'do you have any questions?' and there were eight or ten guys sitting there and they had no questions, they were good. They had got it already. There was no learning curve. Load the app, do it a few times, and that's it. We're stone masons, we're not generally known to be really techy guys, and if we can get this technology, anyone can."

Raken is a one-stop shop for time, comments, and photos. It definitely improves what you know about what's going on with all the jobs, plus it's easy to use.

— Pat Redinger

Improved Organization and Visibility for Subcontractors

For subcontractors, there are several Raken features that are incredibly helpful, as Stonwerk discovered after they started using it on all their jobsites. "Of course we use Raken for time collection," says Pat Redinger, Stonwerk's office manager and estimator, "we use it every morning. We look at the dashboard, see what's going on with all the jobs, see what state they're in, see the progress from the day before and the hours that were spent on it." In other words, Stonwerk uses Raken's real-time features to see to-the-minute updates with photos and time cards, which in turn helps them spot potential problems and run their operation more smoothly.

But Stonwerk soon discovered other benefits that helped them be more efficient. "Raken also helps with invoicing," says Redinger, "When the foremen put the pictures on Raken I know exactly where they're at so I don't have to drive out to the jobs. I know what the status is, so I know what to invoice for. It's all captured in one spreadsheet, so I don't have to grab a bunch of them from different foremen."

When Raken premiered Toolbox Talks earlier this year, Stonwerk was one of the first to utilize it to keep track of their safety meetings. "Toolbox talks definitely keeps us on track because it's very structured," says Redinger, "You can load in what you want talked about and all the crews talk about the same thing that week. Plus, its all documented so we have proof that we did cover that topic."

Between photo management, the real-time dashboard, toolbox talks and time cards, Stonwerk has been able to revolutionize the way that they run their business. However, not only were they able to keep the lines of communication clear between the field and the office with Raken, but they were able to win more business because of it.

"After we showed him Raken there was no question: we got the job."

For subcontractors, finding and keeping jobs is the key to growing your business. What Stonwerk discovered was that the photos, notes, and professional formatting that Raken automatically applies to every report can help you win and keep business.

"We got a job from the reports that Raken produces, they're just so nice, clean and crisp," says Steve, "We had a job that they wanted to go time and material. So we sent them a Raken report to show them how we track our time. Incidentally, on that particular job, the GC had already gone through two other masonry contractors, partially because they didn't track their time well enough, they lost the job because they didn't impress him. So we sent a Raken report to show how we were going to track our time, where every employee has different levels of pay for each one. After we showed hiim Raken there was no question: we got the job, and it ended up being six month's worth of work."

We are incredibly proud to be a part of the amazing custom masonry that Stonwerk is doing up in Minneapolis, and are even prouder of the fact that showcasing their hard work in Raken has helped them win more business.

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