Industrial and Commercial Contractor General contractor for new construction and remodeling of industrial and commercial buildings. Metal building dealer for Behlen.
Operating as usual
[11/01/21] Every business owner, and sometimes employees, eventually begins to “rank” their clients. Sometimes there are listings and qualifications to achieve a better or worse client status, most times it is informal. For SWA, the ranking is informal, and generally includes beneficial project involvement, invoicing and payment timing, ease to work with, length of working relationship, and other more insignificant factors. The best clients we greet with a friendly and can-do attitude. The “average” clients get the same friendly and can-do attitude greeting. The “worst” clients also get the same friendly and can-do greeting attitude. So, why then, do we “rank” our clients? Well, first, it is a subconscious action. It is not something we intend to do, but if asked, we could certainly list off our “favorite” clients to work with. Second, it prepares us for the task ahead. Consciously, we do anticipate the upcoming work, owner involvement, and associated problems we have frequently experienced in the past when working with the particular client. By anticipating the potential problems, we can actively work to apply solutions to avoid those problems which will make the project run more smoothly for everyone involved.
[10/18/21] Over the years, we have encountered people to do not understand the construction industry and want work completed on their projects. This is understandable in most cases where the project owner is not knowledgeable about the type of work needed and terminology of the industry. In most of these cases, we are happy to help the potential client learn and understand the details of their project and apply the correct terminology to the situation. However, we frequently find “potential clients” who do not care to learn the details of work needed or the correct terminology for their project’s situation. The most frequent problem is a potential client contacting us for pricing on a project. Pricing could mean several things in this request: bid, budget, estimate, or a range of pricing for the project. Quite frequently, when asked for clarification the project owner responds that they want a budget. Often, after being provided with a budget, we get a reply that our bid was too high compared with other contractors. This communication problem is exacerbated by various websites which connect project owners with potential contractors without properly providing either party with complete information. The project owner contacting a potential contractor through a website or directly, without understanding what they are looking for, will not receive a response appropriate for their situation. Unfortunately, this results in everyone expending valuable time and effort for an inadequate result when a proper result could have been achieved with adequate communication and understanding.
[09/07/21] What is the value of an employee? It depends on what you are measuring. Value is a subjective measurement. Are you evaluating dedication to the job, loyalty, safety, efficiency, knowledge, skill, communication, attitude, other items? Most likely, yes, each of these is evaluated. Can you train a low value employee to be a higher value employee? Yes. Classes in many of these general subjects are available in many trades. Can these items be measured? Most likely, yes. With the correct records, a company likely has most of the information they need to determine the overall value of any employee. The ultimate value is determined in a cost-benefit analysis. This, in turn, likely is utilized in determining the employee’s future at a company, pay raises, promotions, and additional responsibilities or training. Value is more than the salary paid, it is the overall benefit of the work the employee provides to the company. Without the skills, experience, knowledge, and abilities of the right employees in the right positions, the company has a much more difficult and expensive time attempting to complete its contracts and obligations.
[08/09/21] Mistakes happen. Every time is an unfortunate event. The fact that it happened is not necessarily the issue to be concerned about. The events leading up to the event, decisions made which led up to the event, and any attempts to avoid the mistake are all items which should be reviewed and scrutinized. After a mistake is made, the entity responsible should recognize the mistake, and make an effort to correct it. A simple and honest mistake would require a simple correction and possibly an apology. A more significant mistake would obviously require a more substantial correction. In construction, there are many places to make a mistake, and many mistakes are, indeed, made. The vast majority of construction mistakes are minor and insignificant, easily corrected by the worker immediately after the mistake was made. Some mistakes are found a little later and corrected before the next trade begins work in the area. A few mistakes, unfortunately, are not found until the project is complete, and the owner discovers the issue. Though it doesn’t happen frequently, we try to fix these mistakes as quickly as possible to avoid inconveniencing the owner or their operations.
[07/06/21] There are many people who like to quote simple safety slogans such as “Every accident is preventable,” “If any injury is prevented through safety measures or devices, the cost is justified,” or “You can’t put a price on safety.” The truth is that the costs for a “perfect” safety record are high. Every task involves risk. For each task, there is an “acceptable” level of risk. For instance, driving a vehicle is inherently dangerous. Older vehicles don’t have airbags, lane departure warnings, adaptive braking, radar, or other safety devices. If someone wanted to make sure they, or their kids were perfectly safe, they would go purchase the latest model with the most safety features. Do they actually purchase the latest model with the best safety record and most safety features for their kids to drive? No. Why? Because those models are very expensive compared to older or cheaper models. Those safety features have also been shown to not prevent all accidents. How much is an older model car? Depending on its age, much less. Is an older car less safe? Yes. How much less safe is it? Well, that depends on the features it has. The cost of the additional safety features of the new car are a factor, so the person purchasing the vehicle must compromise based on their budget or their desire for safety. Somewhere in their compromise, there is an “acceptable level of risk” for justifying the amount of safety features they will get with the purchase of a vehicle within their budget. The same is true for construction activities. Training employees, similar to teaching someone to drive, is one of the steps in the process. Adequate training, hopefully significant training with significant practice, helps to prepare the employee for most of the situations they will encounter with the activity they are training for. Adequate safety devices, hopefully the best safety devices and tools, are provided to complete the task while providing the greatest level of safety to the employee. As we have mentioned before, clients and contractors need to have a reasonable expectation of safety. Goals of 100% safe jobsites are good, expectations of 100% safety are expensive. Anyone who guarantees 100% safety is either a liar about their capabilities or a fraud, and anyone who wants a guarantee of 100% safety is unrealistic and unreasonable.
[06/01/21] Construction used to be a glamorous, exciting, heroic, and adventurous career. Photos and stories from the 1930’s and earlier seem to indicate amazing achievements, proud workers, and good pay. Photos and videos from the 1950’s and into the 1960’s also show proud, hard working, and well paid construction workers. In the 1980’s, the image of the construction worker began to tarnish, being equated with low intelligence, simple, menial labor tasks. Emphasis on higher education and a college degree further diminished the image of the construction worker. Now, with rising wages, worker shortages in construction, and rising college debt, people are beginning to realize that not every student wants or needs a college degree. A well paying career can be made, skills can be gained and learned, and proud achievements can be accomplished by being a construction worker. A good education in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) areas is needed to correctly estimate, order, and install construction materials. In fact, that almost every high school student has this education upon graduation and can immediately apply that knowledge to a paying job. Not only does construction work earn a good paycheck, it can help lower expenses as well. Home repairs and improvements can be done with the skills and knowledge learned from the job. Costs to hire others to do the work are eliminated. The personal reward of being self sufficient is more than just saving money, it is a moment to be proud of your accomplishment.
[05/03/21] Watching an “old school” craftsman work brings an amount of awe, inspiration, satisfaction, and appreciation for the person doing the work and the skill of their trade. On a project some time ago, we had several special-order stone counter tops to install. These were expensive and unable to be modified without special tools which we did not have available. The deadline to install and complete our work was within hours. Each counter had been installed except the last unit. This particular unit had to be installed between two walls which were ½” too close together for the counter to fit in. The usual solution of reworking the walls was not an option due to a short deadline. The project manager, superintendent, and carpenter were discussing the problem and possible solutions for a while without progress. Our master carpenter at the time came in near the end of the discussion. After a couple of minutes of hearing about the problem, he said “No problem, I’ll have it fixed in 15 minutes.” He went to get a circular saw, a couple of 2x4s and a hammer. Nervously, the crew watched as he cut the 2x4 and leaned them against the finished walls. With his hammer, he gently tapped another 2x4 between the ones leaned against the walls and slowly wedged them away from each other. After a few minutes, he placed the counter, and removed the 2x4 wedges. The counter top was in place and secure, the walls were in place and within tolerances for plumb, and there was no damage to paint or other finishes. There were no special tools involved, just the knowledge and skill of the craftsman. The crew was amazed because they didn’t have the experience to think of that particular solution. Other solutions and ideas discussed and considered would have cost hundreds of dollars and taken an additional 2 or 3 days which would have been detrimental to the client and even more costly if they had not been able to open their business on time. What was the cost of the master carpenter’s solution? $25. What was his value to the project and schedule for an on time opening? $3,400. What was his value in experience and education to the rest of the crew? Priceless.
[04/05/21] Employee training has been an important aspect of our company for many years. Upon hiring, safety is discussed and reviewed. The employee is provided with our safety manual, and is expected to review every subject it contains. The first day of each week begins with a safety meeting. During this time, every field employee is to attend for the purpose of learning, or re-learning various safety items. Much of this training is scheduled per OSHA rules for timing on training which requires annual, monthly, or sometimes weekly safety training. At least once per year, employees are provided with an opportunity to attend a full day of safety, skills, or knowledge training. All of this is provided for the purpose of improving the employee. All training should add safety, value to the work completed, and value to the individual. We hope each employee is able to see the value of their training as an investment in them. We want them to work safely, efficiently, and learn new skills. By doing so, each employee has an opportunity to advance their qualifications for certain projects or tasks. Our hope is that each employee will want to take on more skills and tasks. With each new capability, their value as an employee and skilled tradesperson increases. Over several years, the individual has skills and capabilities which could greatly enhance their career.
[03/08/21] We are frequently solicited by companies which claim to be able to help and develop our online presence. After listening to some of the sales pitches, the primary questions we ask is “Why do we need this service? Most of our business is done face-to-face with our clients. Most of our business is done locally with clients who live in our community. Would an online presence help our sales? Probably not. What about online reviews? Would your opinion change if we had to share your customer information with websites to get those reviews? We could get many more, but would those reviews be by local customers and people known in the community? Would an online presence help our response to customers’ concerns for current projects? No. How about star ratings? Would a 4.5 or 5 star rating from an online platform convince you to utilize our company? Would your opinion change if those stars were paid for? What would an online presence help SWA do? It would only give potential customers a base idea of the work we are able to accomplish and do for them. It would be an advertising tool. Could it do much more than just advertise? Definitely, but as we have stated before, we would be much more effective in having a meaningful conversation with our clients instead of relying on an artificial electronic medium which would dilute the messages we receive and send to our current, and prospective clients. Customer service is not achieved with a computer monitor, tablet screen or phone; it is achieved with personal relationships, proper communication, and completed with a handshake.
[02/01/21] Over the past number of years, and likely decades, the quality of workers has varied greatly. Similar to the difference between one generation and the next, the workers in the field of construction can be entirely different in the way they think. The nature of the work, though, directs the actions of each worker to a particular task and end result. With the emphasis on higher education, many people have turned away from trade schools and looked away from manual labor jobs. As several T.V. shows have pointed out, and many wise elders have said, there is always a need for a plumber, carpenter, or any other trade, where manual labor is required. Construction trades used to be glamorous in risk, adventure, rough work. Now, the glamour is in making money and doing so as easily as possible. If people live in the present, the money they earn allows the purchase of a great deal of pleasurable items. There are few trades where someone can truly take pride in saying “I created that!” and having an interesting conversation about a building and the challenges of constructing it. There is little pride in many jobs and quality of work produced anymore. There is also little interest in how things were done, so few opportunities to discuss, learn, and be proud of older workers present themselves. There are many opportunities to learn about how things were done to create the products and buildings everyone uses. Take a moment to learn what is involved by speaking with a trade worker.
[01/18/21] There are a number of ways for SWA to receive invitations to bid on projects. We prefer to receive invitations from systems which do not require specific software or any sort of fees, as these items only increase the cost of our operations and ultimately, the cost of projects to our clients. In many cases, having a fee structure for bid invitations eliminates the free estimates which we believe should be the beginning basis of our relationship with potential clients. We feel that there is a certain level of trust, professionalism, and interest in the owner/builder relationship which is undermined by fees for bids. By charging a fee for an estimate, is the owner really receiving the best value and genuine interest in the project by the contractor? Not necessarily. Likewise, if the owner charges a fee for prints or bid invitations are they showing a genuine interest in the builder? Again, not necessarily. By providing free project documents to builders, the owner is stating that they trust builders will have an interest in the project, and that the potential future relationship will be built on trust and a mutual desire to complete the project successfully. By providing a free estimate on the project, builders are stating that they trust the owner will seriously consider the potential future relationship and pricing for the project. Fees for project documents, memberships in builder or consumer website sources, and for estimates not only increases the project’s costs, but also reduces the project’s relationship between the owner and builder to a monetary value. The only value becomes the end cost of the project. This, unfortunately, negates any value from service, responsiveness, and potential future work on the current project or future projects.
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