D.I.Y. Construction

Every industry evolves over time, but none like construction.
What started as a small group of industry giants that employed armies of workers running the gamut from architects and engineers to carpenters and rivetters has evolved over time to an enormous group of small, nimble specialty firms.
But while conventional wisdom in the industry dictates that a company should be good at one thing and delegate the rest, there are a few companies that are bucking those constraints with a lofty goal in mind: be good at everything.
A Matter of Evolution
“Our business is cyclical,” said Dave Kollmann, President of the Flintco Cos.’ Oklahoma Division.
“In the early days, you had what was called the master builder,” a single firm that handled design, engineering, management and construction of a project, he said.
Kollmann said as the industry advanced it saw the rise of specialty contractors, firms that only built, for example, hospitals or schools.
Subcontracting evolved as a necessity as technology advanced, requiring more specific training to operate machinery or complete certain aspects of a project. The construction management model rose as a necessity of subcontracting.
Kollmann said due to Flintco’s longevity in the industry, it has been in a position to see the industry shift.
“In the early ‘70s, Flintco’s steel division was one of the largest steel contractors and suppliers in the industry,” Kollmann said. “Then, into the ‘80s and ‘90s, we went away from doing that to the construction management model.”
Control Freaks
Kollmann said his company turned back to self-performing certain aspects of its work during the construction boom of the last few years.
“When things got so busy over the last five years, (we) were kind of at the mercy of (our) subcontractors,” Kollmann said.
Sometimes that produced poor results.
“Before, if you were ready to get started, but your concrete guy was behind schedule on another job, you were out of luck until he was finished,” he said. “This way, we can get started exactly at our own pace. If we need to work overtime one night, we can just do it; we don’t have to go through a hundred steps to get our subcontractors to work overtime.”
It comes down to control, Kollmann said.
“We are control people in our industry, and at a certain point you lose control of the project,” he said. “It’s fine if you have good subcontractors, and we do, but it doesn’t always work out well.”
Flintco now self-performs much of its concrete work and specialty installation, the installing of doors and fixtures at the end of a project.
Kollmann said Flintco’s concrete division now has a 350-person workforce.
“It has been very successful,” Kollmann said. “We’ve got all of our own guys and all of our own equipment, and we can roll them out to a project whenever we need to.”
Jake Nabholz, Project Development Officer for Nabholz Construction, said his company also self-performs a good deal of work, including site preparation, excavation, streets and roadways, concrete, utilities and rough and finish carpentry.
“It’s definitely beneficial,” Nabholz said. “It makes you a little more competitive, and a little more in control of your own destiny.”
Recession Proof
Kollmann said aside from greater control, he sees vertical integration as a way to keep more of Flintco’s over 600-person Oklahoma workforce busy during the downturn.
“We have doubled [workers] up on some things to keep them busy, and we have done some solely contract work,” he said.
Kollmann said that, while Flintco has not done any concrete work for other contractors, he would not necessarily oppose the idea.
Nabholz said Northwest Excavation, a site utility division of Nabholz, does perform work for other contractors.
“We’ve definitely been trying to speed up that side of things,” he said.
Preferred Method
While Kollmann doesn’t necessarily see the return of the master builder business model returning any time soon (he made sure to stress Flintco’s continuing dependence on and good relationships with its subcontractors), he has noticed a movement in that direction.
“The federal government has been procuring more and more projects in a design-build manner,” Kollmann said.
In the design-build model, he said, architects and contractors work closely together from concept to completion.
“Before, you would hire an architect to design the building, then you would hire a construction company to build it,” Kollmann said.
He said using the old model produced a lot of wasted time, which translates to money, in which the architect and contractor would go back and forth on what was designed and what was actually possible and cost effective.
All of the military contracts being solicited in Oklahoma are design-build contracts, Kollmann said.
“The design-build concept is a definite move back toward the master builder model, which, at least in this case, is more efficient,” Kollmann said.

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