What to Do Now That “Construction’s Katrina” Has Hit? Go Fishing!
By: Doug Bellamy
On Aug. 23, 2005, Hurricane Katrina formed in the Bahamas. Less than one week later, Katrina hit Louisiana will all the force that nature can muster. Meanwhile another storm was brewing—an economic storm that in time would hit our nation with unimaginable fury, a fury that we haven’t seen since the Great Depression. It would eventually come to be known as the "great recession.” For businesses like mine and yours and many others, it might be referred to as "Construction’s Katrina.”
Just after Katrina hit the Louisiana coast I saw a picture on the news that spoke volumes. About a week after that horrific hurricane ravaged the area, a plantation-style house sat submerged in a swamp. The house hadn’t moved. The hurricane had driven flood waters into the property and now a Southern family’s home sat like an island surrounded by murky water. A little boy stood staring from the porch. He was wearing a lifejacket as he faced this daunting predicament. But what struck me most was what was in his hand: It was a fishing pole! The little boy was fishing!
Embodied in that photo I saw innocent courage, childlike trust, the caution of a life jacket and the search for opportunity. All of this positive and virtuous behavior demonstrated in the bleakest of times. Fishing? Who but a child would ever think of fishing when faced with the chaos and destruction brought on in the aftermath of a major hurricane? I’m sure he could easily have whimpered and complained. Nevertheless, he wasn’t doing either. After all, when had he ever had the opportunity, or when will he ever have the opportunity again, to catch a fish from his front porch?
The lesson is simple, and I believe it has an application for all of us. Times are bad economically. Be cautious, it’s a dangerous environment. We’ve been dealt a colossal blow, but whatever you do, however dire your straights, there is always opportunity. Find it!
They say necessity is the mother of invention. Need drives invention. It encourages innovation and fuels progress. It requires us to find the opportunities and figure out new ways to do old things. Sometimes it forces us to take a path, and later we realize that it prepared us for something and positioned us in a way that we never expected.
In our business, we have had one such experience. Facing an economic slowdown like never before, in an industry decimated by catastrophic financial uproar, we’ve started fishing, finding opportunities—and we’re almost, if not actually, enjoying ourselves. It’s sort of fun, to strive to be just like that little boy.
What kind of opportunities?
Refining our operation in a way we would never have the opportunity to do so if things were busy.
Eliminating waste with a passion wherever we find it
Striving to be as innovative and creative as possible to find ways to lower costs to the customer and drive up productivity.
Embracing technology, modernizing methods and morphing ourselves into a 21st century business.
Adding new customers, expanding geographically and diversifying into other markets, products and services.
Buying a fleet of fuel efficient vehicles.
Taking full advantage of the bountiful surplus of quality workers to revolutionize our work force.
So what does any of this have to do with the title of this article? Everything! We’ve gone fishing. Fishing for us means, searching for new opportunities. For example, we’re closing our main office, but simultaneously opening five new satellite offices and going completely virtual. Through networking and partnering with trades and suppliers we are able to reduce costs to the customer, expand geographically and set up business in areas once thought to be beyond our reach.
I can’t say a whole lot more right now, but suffice it to say that hard times hit, and we found ourselves in a unique position to take advantage of the fact that we have been converting ourselves and our business practices. Slowly but surely over the last five years we have been striving to become more mobile and less tied to bricks and mortar. Our supervision is currently fully equipped with the technology, and training has been under way for a while now. With today’s technology, our server provides the field and clerical services with everything they need, wherever they are, whenever they want. We are currently ready and enabled to basically disconnect ourselves from the main office and the overhead once thought inescapable, shut it down and operate without being tethered to any physical location.
So what do we do for those among us who still feel the need for somewhere? Simple: If someone needs a spot, it can be provided through partnerships with suppliers. By using their existing offices at the multiple locations they already have, we reduce our costs as well as expand geographically. Why make the customer pay twice? Isn’t there a glaring need to reduce surplus and waste?
This single step of going virtual with shared satellite offices enables us to save all kinds of time, money and travel time and expenses. Meanwhile all the information we will ever need remains right at our fingertips. We have access anywhere to what was formerly only available at our main office. So then, going forward, wherever we are, no matter where we land and where the search for new opportunity takes us, the office goes with us. All of that at virtually no cost to us or our customers.
Virtual offices at virtually no cost. I like the sound of that.
The truth is we won’t even need the main office. That probably sounds like a stretch to some, but what innovation hasn’t? Admittedly, it’s a stretch for our industry. The construction world has always been a little late waking up in the morning. A little bit groggy but, eventually we come around. A virtual office! Why not? After all, it’s not really anything that hasn’t been going on all over the world in other industries. It’s not rocket science. Nowadays technology is unfettering humankind, and businesses had better get a clue. Those who stay tethered long term may turn out to be dinosaurs. What happened to those guys anyway? They went the way of camera film and record shops. Gone forever!
One day I got to thinking and wondered what I really needed an office for anyway. Talk about thinking outside the box, how about thinking outside the office? The creatures of habit we are, we could always find reasons to have one but, with a server, Web-enabled laptops and Blackberries, portable scanners and printers, everything can be anywhere in an instant. I just can’t get over it. Saves fuel, saves time, saves money, reduces costs to the customer and makes us more competitive. Honestly, I don’t know why it took us this long to figure it out.
It’s been almost two years since we made the leap into the virtual world of business, and we’ve learned a thing or two. If you want know more ask me. I just might tell you—firstname.lastname@example.org.
Doug Bellamy is president of Innovative Drywall Systems Inc. DBA Alta Drywall, Carlsbad, Calif. His company is also a winner of the 2010 AWCI Excellence in Construction Safety Award.