Duguid Takes a Gamble

Thomas G. Dolan

March 2008

For many people, visiting a casino is one way to celebrate an important event. For the William A. Duguid Company, located in Mt. Prospect, Ill., the important event was its completion of the Isle of Capri Casino in Waterloo, Iowa. This difficult job, successfully completed despite numerous challenges, is but one reason to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the company’s incorporation.

William A. Duguid started working out of his house as a plasterer in 1931, and the company was incorporated in 1948. His son, William Jr., took over in the late 1950s. William Jr.’s son, Matthew, started in the field some 25 years ago and worked his way up. When William Jr. died four years ago, Matthew became president, and his brother, Peter, became vice president. The company evolved into lathing, was one of the first to take on exterior insulation and finish systems, and now concentrates on drywall, metal studs and acoustical ceilings.

Plans Change
The Isle of Capri Casino project is an example of what the Duguid Company can contribute to such a difficult job.

Russ Wilkinson, the Duguid head estimator who was in charge of the project, says, "We started work on Sept. 11, 2006, and it was supposed to be completed in four months. We just averaged three people a day on the job, but they really couldn’t get anything done because the building kept being redesigned, getting bigger and bigger.”

The general contractor was the Ryan Company, and the main architect was SOSH out of New York. One of the problems, Wilkinson says, was that SOSH’s focus was on the exterior, but the owners wanted a much more elaborate and glittering interior. So, an architectural firm in England, careyjones, was brought in to design the interior—the entire casino area.

"We actually started the job in early March 2007,” Wilkinson says. "But, as the job progressed, there were daily changes on how the architect wanted things built. They way they do things in England and the way we do things here is totally different. Something would get built, then have to be torn down and rebuilt again. The plans were always changing. It was a bit of a challenge.”

Also challenging was the time pressure created by the owners. They were willing to let some areas wait for construction, such as the swimming pool, but they wanted the gambling—the real income-generator, to be done as quickly as possible. The work itself was hardly run-of-the-mill. The gaming area was 180,000 square feet. The materials list included 1.5 million square feet of drywall, 820,000 linear feet—almost three miles’ worth—of walls, and two miles of soffits, about 80 percent of which were curved or light coves.

"These were not simply straight line ceilings,” Wilkinson says. "There were 50,000 square feet of ceilings, the majority 21 feet off the ground. So, in addition to being difficult work, it was also high work.”

The centerpiece, over the feature bar, was a 100-foot long, 40-foot wide oval shaped soffits. The walls of this soffit splayed out different angles of light, sweeping the ceilings, walls and tile floors with rainbows of light. Very impressive aesthetically, but, as Wilkinson says, "Just the weight of this soffits itself was 25,000 pounds, so it had to be engineered to handle the load as well as that of the men working around and on top of it. The design had to be tied to the structural support so the ceilings were sound.”

Since the real work started in early March 2007 and had to be completed in time for the casino to open on the July 4 weekend, Wilkinson says, "We put in more than 3,500 man hours. At one point we had up to 75 guys on the job. It was a four- to five-hour drive from the Chicago area, so the guys would stay there, working from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., getting overtime. They’d go to bed, get up and work these long hours. Every once in a while we would give them a break and send them home for a while. Working 12 hours a day, seven days a week got to be a very long day.

In addition to going from having three guys on the job to 75, Wilkinson adds that the budget grew from an original $2.5 million to $5.5 million.

Not the First Big One …
The Isle of Capri Casino wasn’t the first big job for William A. Duguid Company.

"We’ve done a lot of big projects,” says Matthew Duguid.

He recalls McCormick Place, the expo complex in Chicago that was built in 1960 but went up in flames in 1967 when highly flammable exhibits were in place. During that time, it was thought the building was fireproof because of its steel and concrete construction, and the beams in the convention hall were not fireproofed.

"We redid the whole thing, and it’s still in good shape,” Duguid says. He adds that because fireproofing has since become so specialized, he doesn’t do that type of work anymore.

Duguid says he also is able to do big jobs quickly through the use of prefabricated metal studs and EIFS out of his 50,000-square-foot warehouse, a type of work the company has been doing for about 40 years.

One such project was a 12-story hotel near a casino in Bettendorf, Iowa, also for Isle of Capri. This job was accomplished in two months. The company is currently working on an 18-story apartment tower in Champaign, Ill., with prefabricated materials.

Duguid Does Well
The company has faced a lot of different types of competition over the years, but, as Duguid says, "We try to sell service and quality. There is a lot of tenant build-out work in office spaces out there. It’s not uncommon for us to get a plan faxed to us in the morning, return a price in an hour, negotiate in the afternoon and have one of our guys do it the next morning.”

A key reason the company is able to work so efficiently is because its personnel are highly trained.

"All of our employees come from the union, and we’re actively engaged in it and are very instrumental in negotiating contracts,” Duguid says.

The union training is good, Duguid continues. An apprentice goes to school one week a month.

"But there is only so much you can teach in school,” Duguid says. "The real training is on site. We feel we do a pretty good job in that.”

Duguid notes that several years ago, one of his company’s apprentices won the state competition, and another went on to win the national competition. This may have a downside, however: "A lot of our top foremen have been with us 20 to 40 years,” Duguid says. "We have issues with them retiring or others going on to become teachers for the Carpenter’s union, or they get an offer to become a job superintendent somewhere else. This hurts us in a way, but we never try to hold anybody back.”

Meanwhile, he says, "We pay our guys more than the competition does, and we still make money. We literally get better production out of them.”

He notes that originally the company hired some local workers for the casino project, but they had to let them go because they weren’t productive enough.

The company does not have a sales or marketing division. Instead, "Each one of our estimators has his own customer base and serves as the marketing and sales person for that base,” Duguid says.

The company also is very selective of the jobs they bid. Instead of bidding with a general contractor who might not yet have the job, Duguid tries to stay with the GCs who already have the job, especially if he has worked with him in the past. He doesn’t like bidding with a GC who might have each subcontractor having to have four or five subs each.

This, in turn, limits the number of drywall companies he is bidding against. "If we are bidding with 10 drywall companies, we’re down to a price competition, and somebody with a low bid has probably missed something,” Duguid says.

By narrowing down the number of bidders, he increases his chances for success.

"Bidding in the usual way means we would get from 5 to 10 percent of the jobs,” Duguid says. "This way we probably get about 30 percent, which isn’t a bad ratio.”

Other Connections
About 95 percent of the company’s jobs have been in the Chicago area, but over the years it has ventured farther. William A. Duguid Company is a member of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry, and the company has been able to network with other AWCI members to get more work. The company has teamed with other AWCI members in projects as far away as Louisville, Ky., Little Rock, Ark., and Albuquerque.

"One of the nice things about AWCI is you get to know others in the business all over the country, so you get opportunities like this,” Duguid says. "You can share ideas and ask for advice without giving away trade secrets to your immediate competitors. We have been members of AWCI and its forerunners for more than 60 years. It’s been a very good organization, which is why we have stayed with it for so long.”

Being a member of AWCI also helps the company stay on the cutting edge.

In terms of technology, Duguid says, "We’re fairly well up-to-date. All of our estimating is done by computer, and we use a digitizer for take-offs. We have all of our accounting on computer, and we will be upgrading those programs very soon. We communicate through e-mail and have a Web site (www.williamaduguidco.com), which is a marketing tool for us. We’re due to upgrade that pretty soon, too. You have to keep your technology current.”

Now, and in the Future
Duguid’s employee numbers can range from 60 to 130, but average around 100.

"We did $18 million last year, which was one of our better years. It goes up and down a bit. Three to four years ago, it was as low as $12 million. It has been hanging around $15 million for the past few years.”

In terms of the future, Duguid says, "We now do very little or no residential, so the current housing market is not an issue for us as it is for many contractors. Throughout the industry, the economy seems to be area-related, so some are doing well and others not so well, depending on where they’re located. We still have a pretty good backlog and are in a good position, so I don’t see us slowing down.”

In other words, Duguid is betting on the future. And, if his recent casino project is any indication, he’ll continue to hit the jackpot.