Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Advice for Contractors: A Report from the ASCC Annual Conference

The American Society of Concrete Contractors Annual Conference, held in September, brought together a group of accomplished concrete contractors from all over the country. I attended the conference on behalf of BuildSite, with the hope of gaining insights about how the events of the past year have affected our customers. Not only did I hear about the issues top-of-mind to concrete contractors, but also I heard some great advice. So, I thought I’d pass along some of that advice in the hopes that some of our customers will take heart, knowing they are not alone during this tough time.

There were a few major themes stressed throughout the conference. The most prevalent and perhaps overarching theme was--you guessed it--coping with the current economy. At the early morning contractor round tables (starting at 6 am!), Rocky Geans mediated as contractors talked about staying busy and finding work in the down economy.

As a result of decreased project starts, contractors are facing more competition than ever. And more competition means that profit margins are getting cut down to practically—if not literally—zero. With so much pressure to keep bids extremely low, contractors wondered, when is it okay to walk away from a job? Low bids leave no room for error, and if anything unplanned happens, even a slight deviation in schedule, a company has a lot to lose. So, if you are struggling, is it ever wise to turn down work when you know it is being underbid?

The topic of walking away from a job was picked up by Clay Fischer of Woodland Construction Co. in his presentation "Putting Your Company in the Best Light." His advice to contractors was to avoid bidding every project that comes across their desks. No matter the economic climate, contractors are smart to pick and choose projects to bid where they can really make a difference. As Clay Fischer pointed out, sometimes saying "no" is good for future business. Owners will want you more once you show your willingness to walk away from a job.

Another obvious result of the economic downturn has been a drop in contractor morale. Joe Primavera of Sundek touched on the issue of morale in his portion of "Putting Your Company in the Best Light." He said he spends a lot of his time motivating struggling companies when times are very difficult. And these days, he is getting a lot of practice!

Joe’s advice? Go back to the basics. He advices contractors to focus on what got their company where it is today (well, before the crisis). Is your company known for quality workmanship? Put even more effort into your craft. Has your company thrived on referrals? Talk to your customers and find out how you can give them the very best customer service possible. Identify what it is you have done in the past to succeed, and focus on those core competencies. The companies who weather this economy with a solid reputation will be the ones in demand once the construction industry rebounds.

Are you a contractor who is struggling with these side effects of the economic downturn? You might find that ASCC has the support you need, especially during tough times like today. Give them a call, and better yet, tell them BuildSite sent you! Thanks to Bev Garnant, Molly Dallman, and all ASCC staff who gathered such a great group together for this year’s annual conference.

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