Today's economy is one where the construction industry is cyclical. But even when business is booming, companies rarely consider what they can improve upon and how to overcome several challenges: rising costs of material and labor; the need for faster turnaround of bids and change orders; increased competition; employee retention and loyalty; and market volatility.
Because market swings and rising costs can't be controlled, companies must focus on how to be the one that customers prefer to work with job after job. To aid in that process, industry experts from across the country offer advice as to what they consider important to staying ahead of the game in construction. They agree on five main points:
Innovation through technology—Although concrete structures are getting more complex, construction has been one of the last industries to embrace technology. “Companies spend a lot of time manually drawing and counting formwork needed for a project,” says Brian Webb of Avontus Software (www.avontus.com), Oakland, Calif. “Handset Designer 2006 allows our customers to instantly complete construction drawings with a bill-of-materials accurate down to the last wedge-bolt.” Other technological developments include total stations—automated surveying devices—that are used to complete building layouts. There also are site-specific weather forecasting services, which can tell you if a storm is headed to your jobsite so you can decide if you need to cancel your next batch of concrete.
Great partners—With today's market focusing on expertise in specific areas, most companies can't do everything in-house. Find partners who can complement your company's knowledge and services. Jim Agis, corporate vice president sales, of Barker Steel (www.barker.com), which supplies reinforcing steel, concrete products, forming, and shoring in Milford, Mass., advises, “Strengthen your team with suppliers, engineers, and owners who work well with contractors and provide the support needed to produce high quality work.”
Satisfied customers—Let your customers know what you can do for them and what sets you apart from the competition. “We're not just a vendor, we're a resource to our customers,” says John Richey, executive vice president of Houston-based CMC Construction Services (www.cmcsg.com), supplier of construction-related products and fabricated rebar. Richey adds, “We have technically trained sales staff, in-house professional engineers, and 42 locations that are geographically convenient to our customers.” Great customer service, however, means something different to each customer. Focus on the customers' needs and how to meet them.
Motivated employees—When employees are dissatisfied, your customers may be the first to know. In addition to the impact on your company's reputation, success is unattainable without a great team of employees who know they are valued and like what they do. Involve employees in decisions to foster pride in their work and encourage open communication throughout the company.
Chris Wilson with Construction Enterprises (www.ceshoring.com), Stockton, Calif., specializing in renting shoring towers, says, “Communication between managers and workers is critical so everyone in the company knows what our goals are and their role in achieving those goals.”
Consistent quality—It's not enough to provide products and services faster, cheaper, and better than anyone for only one job—it's essential to be able to do so over and over again. “We have procedures to make sure we provide a consistently excellent product,” says L. Brooks Miner, president of Formwork-Shoreall (www.formwork-exchange.com), a provider of concrete forming and scaffolding, in Villa Rica, Ga. “We inspect our materials often and provide professional formwork and shoring drawings so that our customers can reliably build the materials they rent from us.”