Ray (middle) and Perry (right) Merlo with Operations Director Brian Misaras.
Ray (middle) and Perry (right) Merlo with Operations Director Brian Misaras.

Every business owner says people are the key to success. Merlo Construction Co. in Milford, Michigan, makes sure employees are successful as individuals and as team members.

“A wise man once told me, ‘People come to Merlo Construction and leave Merlo Construction for the same reason: opportunity,’” says Ray Merlo, who launched the business with his brother Perry in 1991. “Good employees want to know there’s room for advancement, so we encourage managers to continually provide opportunities for each employee to grow professionally.”

To help managers do that, the company holds quarterly off-site meetings that include a ‘state of the union’ address and team-building exercises. Winters bring the ‘Off Season Hustle,’ where superintendents send employees to programs ranging from riding trowel school to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training to GPS training.” All managers are OSHA 10- or OSHA 30-certified and have first aid/CPR training.

Finding skilled labor is increasingly difficult, but Merlo cautions against holding on too long to managers who don’t support the organizational culture. “It’s more important they share your philosophy on customer relations,” he says.

The Merlo brothers’ father, Reno, was also a concrete contractor. Ray and Perry worked for him during summer vacations, so they grew up with a shovel and trowel in hand. After high school, Ray went to Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan. Perry worked full-time with their father. After earning a bachelor’s degree in business management, Ray worked in another industry for six years before going into business with Perry when their father retired.

About 60% of Merlo’s work is concrete construction and 40% is demolition, earthwork, grading, and underground utilities, a capabilities mix that enables the company to provide turnkey solutions. “General contractors and owners can have one contractor handle much of their project,” Merlo says. “Dealing with one contractor for different project phases aids the customer in scheduling, and working with crews from the same company gives us a cost advantage.”

It also means Merlo has a capital-intensive equipment fleet. To ensure precision and accuracy, Merlo’s invested in laser-guided pavers and screeds. Projects begin with a digital, onscreen takeoff. That data is entered into software to prepare a detailed estimate. When the project’s awarded, Merlo creates and uploads GPS files to the equipment.

In 2013, Merlo earned an Ohio Concrete Association Project of the Year award for its work on a new FedEx distribution center in Ohio. After persuading the owner to switch from asphalt to 6.5-inch concrete that would last 20 years, crews placed and finished 1 million square feet. Judges said Merlo won the job despite intense competition “due to their ability to combine technical knowledge in concrete as well as site excavation to value engineer this project into viability.”

The client must agree, because Merlo is preparing to break ground on another FedEx facility. Last year, Merlo successfully placed a slab on grade for a Guardian Glass plant that opened joint spacing to 120 feet by 120 feet with the addition of steel fibers.

With the uptick in southeast Michigan’s economy, Merlo has an eye on growth. That goal is being facilitated by Director of Operations Brian Misaras, who came on board two years ago. The training and opportunity given to employees to lead others has been a successful plan of expansion and growth, from 55 employees in 2014 to 130 today.