Pervious concrete is one area contractors can diversify their business in order to remain profitable during uncertain economic times.
Tom Klemens Pervious concrete is one area contractors can diversify their business in order to remain profitable during uncertain economic times.

It was suggested that I write a column on trends in the various construction markets. I could do that but I'd need to interview lots of people and then write about something I'm really not qualified to prattle on about.

Besides, I think we all basically know the trends. Residential construction is doomed to be down for at least another year, maybe two. Commercial construction now is following residential; except where it's not. Industrial is off as well. It's hard to get money for new or existing projects. Jobs are being put on hold—even in Vegas!

Unfortunately, some contractors will not survive this. Manufacturers are downsizing and consolidating.

These are the times when strong, smart, resourceful contractors will survive because they planned their work and worked their plan. They've built relationships and now they're building on those relationships. They are the ones who are getting the good business that's out there; those who have established themselves as valuable, knowledgeable resources that designers and owners can count on to deliver successful projects.

Contractors who know what's available to them, use it and will tough it out; some will even prosper. The member benefits provided by industry organizations, publications, networking with peers and business associates, publications, the Web, and educational opportunities—all of these are resources for the smart contractor.

Those are all things contractors need to be doing and developing in good times; to prepare for the downturns, which always come. That being said, there are still opportunities for aggressive contractors, Opportunities that could pay off in 2009 and for the long run.

  • Concrete parking lots. The planets are aligned on this. In many areas of the country, asphalt now costs more than concrete. Concrete is greener, more durable, brighter, safer, and requires less maintenance. The contractors who are most successful in this market have educated themselves about design and installation and partner with producers and state and local associations to change opinions.
  • Joint ventures. Here I have to put in a plug for American Society of Concrete Contractors because membership introduces contractors to other contractors all around the country. Can't do it alone, but maybe with a good partner? This gives you options and we need all we can get.
  • Pervious concrete. An environmentally sound and cost-effective answer for many developers and owners: take the time to learn how to do it well and how to market it. Again, it never hurts to work as a team. The National Ready Mixed Concrete Association has a wealth of resources, (as they do for nonpervious concrete).
  • Referrals. If you can't or don't want to do a job, refer another qualified contractor in your area who can. Hopefully, they'll return the favor. They will if you build the relationship.
  • Be green/sell green. Owners, general contractors, designers, and developers are under pressure to be green. Working with firms that are informed about green building and practice green in their businesses and in the field can put them, and you, at the front of the line.

Someone at an industry meeting this week said, “We have to stop being quoters and start being sellers.” Michael Deane, Turner Construction, says contractors must “sell what they know, not what they do.” Who you know and what you know can make surviving in this economy much easier. It's never too late to get smarter.

Bev Garnant is executive director of the American Society of Concrete Contractors. She can be reached at 314-962-0210 or by e-mailing