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Measuring the Competitive Advantage

Your People Play a Huge Role in Your Company’s Success—or Failure

Any company has a fairly shrewd idea of the strengths that give it an advantage over its competition. It is this competitive advantage that enables it to win. This can mean winning the job due to strong skills in estimating and bidding. It can mean being the workplace of choice for the best qualified new hires. Perhaps a company maintains a zero-incident/injury safety record, which makes it a better company to work for or with, and to hire. Each company is unique in terms of its strengths.


In this article, we asked our AWCI member contractors what it is that gives them that competitive edge, how this manifests itself in the marketplace and what metrics they use to judge whether they are winning or not with regard to their competitive advantage. We received many interesting and varied answers, given here in no particular order, with some definite common denominators.

LS Drywall

Zoya Sather, operations manager at LS Drywall, Inc. in Mentor, Minn., says, “We strive to be problem solvers, proactive versus reactive, professional, safe and let our quality speak for itself. Because of these key strengths, we have a list of repeating clients coming to us for bids, including budget numbers, negotiated contracts or simply to help on a project that’s falling behind. Even for the small projects, 99% of the time we come through, doing whatever is in our power to help. Because we can pick up the pieces and jump to the rescue at short notice, we are one of the first steel stud, drywall, ACT companies that clients think of when looking for help on a project.”

Gallegos Corporation

Scott Christensen, Denver regional president for the Gallegos Corporation, puts their competitive advantage down to “reputation for quality, adherence to specs, low experience modification rate, high bond capacity and a 50-year history of top performance in the Colorado market.”


“Due to the hyper-competitive bidding environment (especially on the GC side), these factors are less important right now,” he continues. “However, we still win work when the client demands a higher level of quality and management.” As far as the metrics Gallegos uses to judge their competitive advantage success, Christensen explains, “We do detailed bid tracking to help monitor open market versus negotiated-project success rates, and we can watch the trends in the market as these tendencies change over the years.”

Performance Contracting

“We have some competitive advantages related to our size, our financial strength, and our safety performance,” says Shawn Burnum, president of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry and vice president of operations for Performance Contracting, Inc., in Kansas. We also offer a fuller range of services than some other competitors. We have a client focus and work to build positive relationships throughout our industry. Because we are employee-owned, everyone is invested in our success, and the opportunities we can present professionals working in our industry are unique and rewarding. Finally, we work hard at having fun and have built a culture focused on ‘people first.’”


“People are naturally drawn to strong, successful teams,” adds Burnum. “That is how you attract the best new-hires. You can measure your strength by seeing if people are interested in new employment opportunities, working hard for a promotion, trying to recruit a friend or being willing to relocate for a new opportunity. I don’t need a report to tell me if the team is running efficiently. You see it on their faces, and you feel the energy in the room. This is how we measure the success of our competitive advantage.”

Advanced Masonry/Drywall Systems

“We manage our overhead, treat our employees with respect and pay them what they deserve, maintain good relationships with our material vendors and strive for the highest quality attainable in order to satisfy the client—we always work to exceed expectations,” says Ron Karp, principal at Advanced Masonry Systems/Advanced Drywall Systems in Florida. “Because we provide high quality products at competitive (not cheap) prices, we find our repeat clients have provided us with enough work that we can be very selective with regard to the projects we pursue. Being selective in securing projects that are a good fit has allowed us to fly a little under the radar without having to chase work. Because our services are not looked at strictly based on price, price and price, we are able to secure strong enough margins to pay our personnel a stronger wage than most.”


The metrics of the company’s competitive advantage success? “We track costs, and we talk with our clients daily,” Karp says.

California Drywall Company

Greg Eckstrom, vice president of the California Drywall Company in San Jose, defines his company’s competitive advantage: “People. It all starts with hiring good people—in the field, in the office, in our warehouses and in our prefabrication operation. Once they join the company, we work to give them the training and tools to succeed.


“Leadership team is another important element. Our leadership team has been with the company on average over 20 years, and they understand and instill our vision, mission and values in all of our employees. This ensures we are all working toward the same goals and objectives.


“Relationships: While low bid may win, ours is a relationship business—with general contractors, architects, contractors and owners. Over 90% of our business is repeat business with general contractors, so long-term, good relationships are essential.


“Innovation: California Drywall’s history is one of innovation. The company was founded in 1946 on the innovative premise that drywall would replace lath and plaster for interior walls. Throughout the 1950s, the company was an early adopter and tester of various taping tools created by Bob and Stan Ames including the bazooka and boxes. In the 1970s, the company was one of the first in the region to add light-gauge steel-framing capabilities. Today, we are leading the way in prefabrication and industrialized construction. We produce prefabricated wall panels, custom drywall shapes, pre-assembled soffits and ceilings, kits, assemblies and more.”


The results? “In terms of winning work,” Eckstrom says, “our people and processes offer solutions to our clients. Our clients understand that we will look at their project and offer engineering and prefabrication solutions that give them better quality, less waste, schedule certainty, manpower efficiency, increased productivity and safer job sites.”


And the metrics? “From a work standpoint, repeat business is one metric,” he says. “We are also seeing clients bring us in earlier—like MEP trades—so we can assist in the design and engineering of our scope of work. From an employee standpoint, our turnover rate is extremely low. We have numerous field and office personnel who have been with the company 10, 20, 30 and even 40 years. That, in our book, is success.”

Heartland Companies

“It all begins with our people, our Heartland family,” affirms Scott Bleich, principal at Heartland Companies in Iowa. “We have the absolute best team of craftspeople, management, administrative professionals, etc. They are not only talented, but they are also all dedicated to their craft and service to others. Our number one core value is family, and with that we take care of one another and respect each other like family. We take great care of our employees, so they’ll take great care of our customers. When this happens, our customers know we will deliver on service, quality and a fair price. This also plays itself out with employee retention and recruitment. Taking care of our people and enhancing our culture makes it the place everyone wants to work and subsequently the company everyone wants to hire.”


Bleich doesn’t judge their success by specific metrics: “Metrics for this are tough to come by as this is not a transactional process, more a consistent and never-ending journey. The minute you start measuring this and have metrics for it is when you think you have arrived. I never want to think we are done with this.”

Statewide General Contracting & Construction

Michael Mazzone, president of Statewide General Contracting & Construction, Inc. Hawaii, says his company’s competitive advantage comes from “customer service and flexibility—which means we continue to work with general contractors and reduce their stress in running projects.


“This is measured by the bid invitations and no-bid projects we continue to receive.”

Mission Interiors Contracting

“Knowing the marketplace and the type of projects at which we excel, as well as knowing which types of projects are not in our area of expertise, gives us a competitive advantage,” says Bill Fritz, president of Mission Interiors Contracting Inc. in Texas. “Repetition is the advantage along with having a close relationship with the GC’s field superintendents in order to coordinate project scheduling.


“Consistent pricing and shortened time frames of completion are very important to the general contractor,” Fritz continues. “Consistent work and proper pay scale attract new hires.”


Metrics? “Consistent material and labor pricing along with the ability to work with the same general contractors and their field superintendents help build great relationships for future business.”


Bill McKibban, vice president of AIMM Inc. in New Jersey, feels that their longevity and experience really set them apart. “In a world where ‘new’ is thought as always being better than ‘old,’ our years of experience are one of our strengths,” he says. “The fact that we are the oldest installation company in our market of office systems furniture, hotel furniture, fixtures and equipment allows us to guide our customers around the pitfalls we have run into over the years. Being in business for so long has permitted us to develop long-term and multigenerational relationships with our customers. We also belong to Facilities Services Network, an exclusive nationwide group of installation companies, like AIMM Inc., that focus on bringing a ‘best practice’ approach to how we run our company and projects.”


How does this competitive advantage show up in the day-to-day world? “Furniture dealers, manufacturers and end users know when AIMM Inc. is involved with a job, we will bring our experience, expertise, professionalism and unique skills to the project from the beginning. We are usually brought in early on larger projects to provide a labor budget, and as the work progresses our input helps identify and resolve issues that emerge. Again, experience counts.”


“As for metrics,” McKibban continues, “Our job costing reports will show if a project is running smoothly for our client, the end user and for us. We monitor our ‘day’s sales outstanding’ report: A satisfied customer is a quick-paying customer. Another metric we use is our win/lose report regarding our proposals. A higher win percentage shows we are satisfying our clients and remaining competitive.”

Richard Wagner Enterprises

Rick Wagner, senior project manager at Richard Wagner Enterprises, LLC in North Carolina, says, “Our competitive advantage comes from personalized service, being available when a customer needs us on jobs, on the phone or by email, and from having two sons and a daughter working in the business who care as much as I do to maintain professionalism and quality. The result is repeat, happy customers who refer us to other new customers.


“The metrics we use to judge the success are the degree of hard work, dedication to excellence and great family values that transfer to every employee or sub on our team.”

Green Mountain Drywall

“Having great employees that can do a project on schedule with quality workmanship,” is the main competitive advantage for Gilly Turgeon, president at Green Mountain Drywall in Vermont. “This is reflected in the fact that most of our work is with repeat clients and general contractors. They know our reputation for completing projects. We pay our employees competitive wages, and they are paid every week. We also obtain very good pricing on materials from our suppliers, which sometimes gives us an edge on bid day.”


As for metrics, Turgeon simply says, “The bottom line at the end of the year!”

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

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