Construction Management Success Stories
By Dan Taylor
In your career as a construction manager, you’re bound to hit a rut.
You feel as though you’ve done everything you possibly can to maximize profitability—from improving your bidding process to boosting efficiency through new construction management software—and you’ve reached a plateau.
As a construction manager, you have to keep learning new ways to achieve success.
One of the biggest dangers small businesses face is getting sucked into doing things the same way they’ve always done them. This leads to stagnation and even decline as your competitors find better ways of doing things and lure customers away.
From 2011 to 2017, the construction industry ranked ninth among all industries in terms of the number of firms that were considered “high growth;” 1,170 construction businesses met that definition, according to the Brookings Institution. There are a lot of companies that seem to have things figured out.
So, what are they doing that you’re not?
Take a deep breath, and get ready to step outside your comfort zone. That step is what separates the five percent of incredibly successful companies from the ninety-five percent that simply do what everyone else is doing.
The trick to identifying the limitations of your comfort zone is getting outside of your own head and looking at other companies’ successes. Pull creative ideas from outside sources, and you’ll be well on your way to shaking things up.
Below, we’ll dive into four examples of construction companies that have enjoyed enormous success. We broke each story down into a key point, the problem they solved, and a final takeaway to help you replicate their success at your own construction management business.
Let’s get started.
1. Never run out of work
The problem: “My firm needs to find (and win) more projects.”
The story: It happens to everyone in this industry. Sometimes, the work just dries up. Maybe it’s because the region you serve is having a construction lull. Maybe competition is getting tougher. Or maybe you’re just on a run of bad luck.
Whatever the reason, you don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself—you’ve got to find work.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And one Iowa contractor found a way by being flexible—and I mean crazy flexible.
J. Pettiecord does twenty-four-hour spill response, highway work, land clearing, and environmental construction. And that’s just a few of the project types the company has taken on.
Founder Jeff Pettiecord told Equipment World that in the 1980s he “literally chased fire trucks” to offer building restoration services. By not confining himself to one specific type of construction, Pettiecord opened himself to all sorts of projects and revenue sources.
The takeaway: Pettiecord got ahead by not turning opportunities down. What opportunities are you missing out on just because it’s not the type of construction you do? If you’ve got the equipment and the know-how, take the plunge and bid for projects you’ve never done before.
2. Obtain a huge advantage
The problem: “The big guys are killing me.”
The story: When you’re a small contractor, you’ve got to be nimble. In addition to looking for work in areas you normally wouldn’t, you’ve got to be willing to find little ways to gain an edge on the bigger contractors who threaten your small business’ existence on a daily basis.
Taking advantage of government programs is a good way to do that. Just look at Tonto Rock Products LLC in Arizona.
This company found a way to success by becoming the first Native American Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) to be certified for sand and gravel manufacturing.
Company president Forrest Gressley told Small Business Trends: “I’ve got a Native American background. That, and coming out of the economy that we just did, I decided that every advantage that I could find I was going to utilize.”
The takeaway: Are there government assistance programs you’re not taking advantage of? Check out grants.gov to see if there is one that fits your company’s profile, and learn more with HUD Exchange’s Small Contractors Initiative. There’s a host of other options out there, including a Small Business Administration mentorship program to help you compete for government contracts, as well as certifications that will give you the edge when you bid.
3. Assemble (and retain) a great team
The problem: “I can’t find good people.”
The story: Larry Merle, winner of Equipment World’s 2015 Contractor of the Year honor, opened Genesee Construction Service in 1999 with the help of only his wife and an old excavator he bought at auction.
At the time of his 2015 award, his company was worth $11 to 13 million.
Hiring the right people was crucial to his success. Merle told EW that he had a simple credo for choosing his employees: Hire for character and integrity, and train for skill. He chose people who would present a professional face to his clients in all the little things, such as not swearing at the job site, and provided the training they needed.
To win the loyalty of his employees, Merle knew he had to show them loyalty from the outset. He decided to give them pay and benefits that exceeded industry norms/expectations. And when employees found a way to drastically cut his equipment idle time at his request, Merle calculated the savings and cut a bonus check to those employees from a portion of those proceeds.
He even took a personal pay cut during a downturn, rather than lay off an employee.
The takeaway: Are your employees really loyal to you, or would they leave as soon as they got a slightly better offer? Take a two-pronged approach to hiring in the future: (1) look for people with integrity who will go the extra mile, and (2) invest in them by showing loyalty through compensation, job security, and basic generosity and empathy.
4. Create an environment of collaboration
The problem: “I can’t get my employees to work as a team.”
The story: DPR Construction is a juggernaut in the industry, pulling in nearly $4 billion in revenue in 2016, according to Forbes. And yet, it doesn’t have a traditional chief executive officer, nor does it have formal job titles.
Despite that, the company boasts a culture of collaboration that few other construction firms enjoy. DPR was created by three men in 1990 who, today, are part of a board and seven-person management team responsible for running the firm.
Instead of a traditional corporate hierarchy, the three founders opted to run the company in a more democratic fashion, believing that this format would lead to honest feedback and sharing. If their employees weren’t afraid to speak up, the best ideas would float to the top.
By focusing more on responsibilities and less on rigid titles, the company was able to create a culture of collaboration and natural, healthy competition. Founder Doug Woods told Forbes: “People know who’s doing what. And scoreboards are visible to everybody.”
The takeaway: You can box employees in by giving them titles that don’t fully encompass their skill sets. Wipe away those restrictive titles and give them responsibilities instead. Sit down with employees and talk about what they’re capable of, how it can benefit the company, and how success will be rewarded. Give them an opportunity to take ownership of their role, and you won’t have to micromanage them.
Take these success stories to heart, emulate them in a way that’s right for your business, and check out these other resources to come up with even more new ideas:
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