The company was started in the early 1960s as a spin off of Dave Bloxom Construction Company, which was my father's company. He was building conventional buildings and toying with some wall panels. He got the idea through an interlocking steel panel kit that I got as a toy one Christmas. They were little interlocking metal panels about the size of dominos. He built some steel frames out of C-channel welded together to create a frame and filled them with concrete. He then experimented with some of the thermal expansion coefficients to get the panels so they would interlock and have expansion qualities. The original panels were about 8x12 feet high and were put up with an old winch truck. He had to get a bond before the city would issue a building permit since they didn't have any experience with precast concrete panel buildings.
We basically use the same concept today. What you have is an architectural pre-cast concrete panel but it is structurally loadbearing, so the roof system rests directly on the panels. There's no steel superstructure and it is not just architectural precast, it's a combination of both.
My dad was really doing design-build back in the 60s, but they didn't call it that. It was just a team approach. Design-build works exceedingly well for our clients and is our predominant delivery method. We wear a lot of different hats: we're a precast producer, we're a subcontractor, we're a material supplier, we're a GC, we're a CM. We clearly delineate ourselves from a GC—we're not just a broker general contractor, we actually produce components of the buildings we design, we erect them, and we subcontract with other trades for the finish out.
A five-person management group, including myself, bought out my dad in 1998. He was looking to retire and we presented a buyout program to him. The options were to sell the company or dissolve it. But the five of us had over 100 years of seniority and it worked out well. For outsiders, there didn't appear to be any change. We've grown quite a bit since then, but our core business is still the precast wall panels.
We do an exceptional amount of direct marketing to the buyer—churches, schools, auto dealerships, educational projects, and a lot of public buildings. This is possible because the procurement law was changed in Texas in the late 90s to allow all delivery methods, including design-build. We played a big part in getting that changed because we were basically cut out of using our primary delivery method in the public sector.
Design-build has been shown to lead to less litigation and less conflict because it's a team approach. Everyone is on board from the start. Independent research shows that design-build delivers a project about 33% faster than design-bid-build. When we begin a project, we sit down with the architect and the owner. That way if the owner's eyes are bigger than his pocketbook, we can call a “time out” before we get a big expensive set of drawings. They then don't find out later that the job is a million dollars over their budget and have to start cutting. Or we can tell the owner that his budget is inadequate for what he wants. I've never seen a design-build project go over budget as long as it was reasonable. We know how to advance a project quickly and I can build-in a fair return for the architect, for the subs, and for us, and the owner gets a project he can afford at the quality level we present to them. It's a win-win-win situation.
A lot of subcontractors are already providing design-build services to GCs. Most of our subs are able to come in and help us on their part of the project. They don't need a full set of plans—they can take prelims and lay it out and give me a pretty good cost estimate. I use subs that have the ability to do conceptual layouts and conceptual estimating. The subs that are going to survive have to have the ability to think beyond a finished set of plans. They've got to be able to say, here's what I think my part of the project is going to cost. It's a design-build team composed of different companies.