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A German’s Viewpoint: My Drywall Journey Across America

Editor’s Note: In what can be viewed as a contractor exchange program, AWCI arranged for a German contractor to visit with five AWCI member contractors following the AWCI convention and INTEX Expo in March 2013. This article is a review of the German contractor’s experiences.




Trees just started blooming after a long winter in the small Bavarian town of Rennertshofen, when a young German drywall constructor said farewell and parted from his beloved ones to start into one of the biggest adventures of his life.




His destination: the United States of America—land of the free and home of the brave, country of unlimited possibilities and birthplace of the gypsum board. Sent over by the leading German representatives of his trade, an organization called BIG—to find out about the great unsolved mystery of drywall business in Germany: How to make decent profit in drywall construction.




The whole trip begins with the annual trade show of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry at AWCI’s Convention & INTEX Expo in San Antonio, which for a sober German of simple heritage, was a firework of Glamour and Glory. The Awards Brunch beginning with a powerful version of the national anthem, the video presentations of the awards, the great speeches of AWCI’s then-president Jeff Burley and guest speaker Drew Pearson, who made a great link between the world of sports and the world of business, were very impressive. Even more so was the handing over of the Pinnacle Award to Pat Boyd after a very well produced and highly emotional video, which reflects the passion and dedication Americans put into their work (Germans are rather austere and rational). A visit of the trade show with its numerous booths then brought me back into the world of construction, materials and tools—those particularly were very interesting and innovational, and I had many good conversations with salesmen who all more than willingly answered the many questions I had. After all, the whole event was a great success, and I’m happy that I had been part of it. It just fortified my determination that the convention and expo in Las Vegas next year is not to be missed!




Texas


Since logically most consequent by the trade show taking place in San Antonio, the first station of my trip happened to be Texas. USA to the fullest! America as a German boy is imagining it: Cowboys (I met some), cattle, saloons, whisky (I had some) and vast ranches.




The company I worked with was BakerTriangle, which without a doubt can claim to be one of the most innovative and leading in the country. Founded in 1974 and now with offices in all major Texan cities, they keep on doing a great performance in drywall construction. I got the chance to visit all five of their company locations. In chronological order these were San Antonio, Houston, Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth.




Very soon I realized one thing: Everything’s bigger in Texas! The country’s largest job site, the Exxon Campus complex in Houston, just left me standing in awe. So did the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, where I got the opportunity to do a guided tour. Just by the way: for FC Augsburg, my favorite German soccer club, we built a new stadium recently, and our company did the drywall on that. The total cost for the whole thing: approximately 40 Mio. $. For Jerry Jones, that’s just the screen above the field.




Missouri


My second host company was T.J. Wies Inc., which is located just a few miles west of St. Louis, Mo. That gave me the chance to experience the Midwest: delicious barbecue, a unique-style pizza and—as a Bavarian I regard myself qualified to judge that—even a few fairly good-tasting beers. (There is a big German heritage of brewers in that area). Long story short: I enjoyed myself very much! This also was due to the fact that I was working together with a very good company. Good atmosphere, a great team and a forward-thinking boss are adding together to high performance and make T.J. Wies a number one drywall contractor in the Midwest—to be highly regarded even more if one knows about the difficult economical circumstances in that part of the country. Innovations like the “Maga-Con,” a tool for the production of folded gypsum-board pre-fabs that makes cornerbeads obsolete, are fully embraced by the whole team and help increase efficiency.




My first experience of a baseball game was an event I don’t want to leave unmentioned. To be honest, as a German soccer fan who only saw baseball on TV so far, I found it boring—but only until they took me to Busch Stadium. You have to see it to understand it—the feeling in there was just fabulous. We had a great time, and the Cardinals definitely gained a new fan on that day!




Mississippi


From the Gateway to the West I went down South again, this time to the proud state of Mississippi, where I was taught Southern lifestyle and cuisine. Coming together down at the river bottom, having tenderly cooked deer meat, listening to stories about bear hunts and singing songs about German Fräuleins made me want to go back there instantly. The hospitality of the Southerners is well-known, and I can only confirm that.




Here I had the pleasure to learn to know a company that is probably one of the oldest in the business: F.L. Crane & Sons Inc., founded in 1943. It is now led by the third generation of Cranes, and the fourth is waiting in line. You can feel the experience by entering the corporate office: There is a showcase even that shows old plastering and taping tools from back in the days. But that doesn’t mean at all that the company is stuck in the past. Smartly, they extended their scope of work to different fields to get a better foundation of business. Besides offices spread over the whole South Mississippi area, their industrial division, for example, is adding a fairly good amount to the total volume. Most impressive is how all the small offices in different locations are kept together and how the final aims are reached despite the great distances between them.




California


It never rains in California: True statement, at least during my time there. But not only is the weather in the bay area unmatched by any other state, the sheer beauty of the landscape is just marvelous—from the vineyards and rolling hills in Napa Valley, to the idyllic Redwood forest with its giant trees, to the rough coast where the great Pacific Ocean hits the continent. And not to mention the fantastic Yosemite National Park! I’m going into raptures … let’s not forget I was sent there on a purpose.




The last station of my trip was Daley’s Drywall, located in Campbell, Calif. The company’s motto is: “service + quality = repeat business”—and every employee is living that! Operating in an area where construction economy is very dynamic and demands advanced solutions, the relation to the customer plays a big role. With its special-projects division, for example, Daley’s Drywall has set up an excellent tool to satisfy the small needs of customers besides the big money projects. A bunch of highly flexible field guys makes almost anything possible, especially when it comes to small contracts with difficult scopes of work. That’s giving the whole company credit, improves its image in the eyes of the GCs and, in the end, wins the big jobs.




After all, the time in the sunshine state was the perfect finale of a great trip that just couldn’t have been better, and I am deeply grateful for all the experiences I made throughout the whole journey and all the fun we had together. There is a whole truckload of new ideas I brought home with me that can help to improve business in Germany. On the other hand, I think I could contribute some worthy things too.




Notes of Thanks


I want to thank AWCI so much for making this possible for me. First of all, Craig Daley, who took the lead in organizing; his daughter Brittni, who set up a whole program for me in California; Tim Wies, his wife Barb and their son Cameron, who took great care of me in Missouri; Mike Heering, who did a great job in making me experience the South; Steve Baker and all his office presidents: Mike Sireno, Jerry Smith and Sergio Montoya, Mike Syzdek, Johnny and Donna Barnes, Bryan Baker; and of course AWCI Executive Vice President/CEO Steve Etkin, who was the link between Europe and America in the first place.





My drywall journey through the United States will always be linked to memories of great people, great companies and most of all great hospitality! Thank you all!




David Bircks is president of DTB Form + Farbe GmbH und Co. KG in Germany.

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