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Building Relationships

Contractors + GCs + Architects = The Construction Team

At the heart of the construction industry are the relationships among architect, general contractor and (sub)contractors on any project. How well are those relationships working? What might improve them? Our recent technology articles indicate some GCs prefer to work with contractors who are using the latest innovations, and we wanted to find out how general this trend was, and if there are other trends that will help maintain good relationships. We reached out to AWCI GC and contractor members for their views.

    

So, how are the GCs, contractors and architects getting along?

    

Like most of those who responded, Devin Deller, vice president for WPI in Wilsonville, Ore., is positive. “We are getting along very well,” he says. “Most contractors and architects realize that bringing on a company like WPI early is essential to project planning and success. Through this process we are building better and better relationships with both.”

    

“In general we are getting along with most GCs in our market,” says Jeff Dreisewerd, director of operations at T.J. Wies Contracting Inc. in Lake St. Louis, Mo. “We started talking to them more than usual because of the COVID-19 crisis, reporting on the health of our sick or quarantined employees. Now we are communicating more on material shortages and delays to keep them informed of possible impacts on schedules.”

    

Richard Ostrom, president of RAM Acoustical Corporation in Pennsylvania, confirms, “Our GCs have been great—solid in their methods on the job site and congenial in their

approach to our company.”

    

Ariana Marsiglia is operations manager at Alain Hirsch Construction Corp. (AHCC), a general contractor in Long Beach, Calif. She says, “The GC and vendor relationship is of the utmost importance. If we don’t take care of our contractors, make sure we answer their questions, not finger-point when there are problems, and ensure timely payment, they will leave us and go and work for someone who will.”

    

Mike Espeset, president of Story Construction, a general contractor in Ames, Iowa, confirms that their relationships with their contractors are generally good. “We are in a small market where we see one another as companies quite often,” he says, “As a result, we need to figure out how we work together and get along as there are not many options for avoiding one another.”

    

Some contractors have concerns about how the trend toward digital communication will affect relationships in the future. Dean Lakey, director of business development at T.J. Wies Contracting, explains, “We have excellent relationships with our GC partners and are now starting to build relationships with the A/E community through our prefab operation. Our struggle going forward is going to be with the newer generation of employees, both internal and external. They like to live digitally—all email, text and social media. All three of these formats have become very valuable business tools, but none can replace real human interaction. Those of us who still get in front of our customer have a better relationship and potential for long-term partnering on business opportunities.”

    

Craig Kaminski, sales manager at Marek Brothers Systems, Inc. in Austin, Texas, shares this concern: “Most projects we do are with partners we have worked with over many years, and relationships have been formed. The trick is persuading the newer generation of our estimators/PMs to build those relationships with the newer GC folks.”

    

However, there are specific issues. Christine Luizzia-McGuire, president of Golden Crown Contractors, Inc. in New Jersey, notes, “We generally get along with most of our architects and engineers, but I notice that some fail to take responsibility for errors in project design, which leads to change orders and potentially frustrated owners.”

    

Jerry Reicks, president and CEO of JARCO Builders Ltd. in Iowa, says, “In reality, there are ‘good and bad’ GCs, and for every GC, each project has a ‘good or bad’ superintendent. If you have a good GC and a good superintendent, we get along great. A bad GC and bad superintendent makes for a train wreck. GCs are just as stressed as we are with the demands and lack of understanding on the part of many owners,” he adds.

    

“For the most part, the GCs are great to work with,” says Gilly Turgeon, president of Green Mountain Drywall Company in Vermont, “but I wish that some had more knowledgeable supervisors.” He continues, “Architects are a whole different bear. They sure can put ideas on paper, but they often lack details on how to build those ideas.”

    

“In general, we are getting along with them well,” sums up Scott Bleich, principal of Hartland in Iowa. “We have a strong local brand backed by years of service and quality. Where we are all struggling is making sure we communicate well with each other.”


Always Room for Improvement

What needs to change to make things work better?

    

Marsiglia looked at both sides of the equation: “For the contractors, more technical savviness would help. In a fast-paced world, keeping up with technology developments would be a great asset. For us, more communication and time to build, fewer requests for negotiation. The more at ease we can make our contractors feel, the more effective they are.”

    

Mike Taylor, executive vice president of Liddle Brothers Contractors in Tennessee, wants “better communication from the GC.”

    

“We believe that poor communication or lack of communication is the root cause of most issues in the workplace,” concurs Bleich. “Communication needs to improve.”

    

Kaminski notes, “If there is open communication and you have made a personal, face-to-face connection with the architect/GC, they are typically happy to come out, walk a job, and check out an area where you may have a better idea as far as constructing something.”

    

“Architects and engineers generally should ensure that the design and existing conditions are in sync, thereby reducing problems in the field,” recommends Luizzia-McGuire. “In their submittals, GCs should ensure that product and installation are as specified in the drawing.”

    

Michael Mazzone, president of Statewide General Contracting & Construction, Inc. in Hawaii, suggests, “The biggest issue I have is they draw a detail that cannot be built that way. They need to trust that we are the professionals in our scope, that we have been doing this work for many years and might have a better way.”

    

“We all need to trust each other a little better,” says Ed Dougherty, general manager at Tedco Insulation, Inc. in Kennett Square, Pa. “We joined forces to be a team, not adversaries.”

    

Greg Eckstrom, vice president of California Drywall in San Jose, says, “We are all dealing with an unstable supply chain for materials, extremely long lead times and virtually weekly price increases. So we are in constant contact with our vendors and clients to lock down guaranteed pricing and material delivery to ensure timely project completion.”

    

Mike Espeset says, “Our [GC] struggles tend to be around project planning and resources to support the plan. Having all of the crews plan and understand the workflow on the project is key. We have a system for engaging companies in this. When all participate, it is really good.”

    

Adam Barbee, estimator/project manager at Daley’s Drywall & Taping in Campbell, Calif., says, “The GC needs to be able to stand up to the architect, design team and owner, so we avoid a premature start that hurts us all financially. We need to slow down and gather all the information to ensure a smooth and fast start to the project. We’ll get to the finish line faster.”

    

“There has always been a divide between GC supers and PMs,” says Rick Wagner, owner of Richard Wagner Enterprises, LLC, in North Carolina. “We would like to see them follow better-defined roles.”

    

Bill Fritz, CEO of Mission Interior Decorating LLC in Texas, suggests, “Ideally, GCs would bid with the same group of subs to acquire the project. Proper management of sequencing subs to work together to time manage the project is profitable for everyone.”


Latest Technology?

Research suggests that GCs favor contractors who are employing the latest technology. We asked AWCI members if they had noticed such a trend.

    

Espeset expresses the Story Construction GC viewpoint: “We want technology that supports the crews and the work. Technology for technology’s sake is a distraction. We have found BIM that supports coordination at the site, and prefabrication off-site is really powerful.”

    

Dave DeHorn, chief estimator at the Brady Company/Los Angeles, has noticed the trend and points out the positive and negative: “Almost all GCs require you to submit a bid through their web-based software program in lieu of a bid letter directly to the GC.” He gives an example of a very poor system that requires hours of extra work to submit the bid correctly. On the other hand, he cites online meetings as “a very good use of time management as it has deleted travel time to meet with the GC.”

    

A number of contractors including Dreisewerd, Eckstrom, Bleich, Ostrom and Turgeon observed that the trend often goes the other way, with the contractors introducing more advanced technical methods to the GCs. Dreisewerd says, “We are always letting our customers know the latest technologies we are using, pushing it to them and letting them know what is out there. One example is [an exterior panel system] we are using. We have invited many GCs to tour our facility and see what we are capable of doing for their projects.”

    

General contractor Marsiglia says, “The latest technology is important but not critical. We have digitized our entire management system: sending out requests for bids, contracts, uploading images, distributing drawings and releasing meeting minutes all through our cloud-based system. The days of printing and mailing drawings or waiting by the fax for a proposal are long gone.”

    

Wagner says, “We have customers on both ends of that spectrum: some still want to handle every little detail on the phone, others never call, relying on email or cloud-based communication. We like to blend both. PMs are usually too busy to take regular calls, so email documents showing what was said. Some supers like the phone, others group text. We like to see changes and extras documented in texts or emails in case there is confusion later.”


Trends That Will Contribute

What other trends in the industry will contribute to successful relationships between GCs, A/E and contractors?

    

“Prefabrication, modularization and offsite construction are extremely important to our future success,” says Lakey. “We are constantly trying to find ways to take work offsite and make it safer, more efficient and provide schedule and cost certainty to our partners.”

    

“Prefabrication is a real big trend that is here to stay,” confirms Dreisewerd.

    

Devin says, “Coordination meetings with GC/architect/engineers, and including trade partners like WPI, are happening on most large projects now.”

    

Espeset says, “Visual systems to see work, collaboration among trades, accountability for planned work and focus on predictable production all help not only in relationships between GCs and contractors but also between all contractors on a site.”

    

“The tech world and the programs/apps the GC and architects use as a hub will further develop to make things more organized and smoother,” Barbee predicts.

    

Burnum concludes, “The future is definitely a more collaborative environment where we all have a share in the experience. Contractors offer design assist and value engineering, and the design team listens and incorporates these changes into the design. Ultimately, the owner wins by having a more successful experience that may drive future building. Trust has to be developed among the partners. This is critical and the most difficult component.”

    

Increased trust, improved communication and the strategic use of technology without losing sight of long-standing and proven values seem to be the keys to stronger relationships in the construction industry.


David C Phillips, a freelance writer and photographer, is an original founding partner at Words & Images.

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