Adventures in Drywall
Go Play in the Traffic
For the folks who read this column with any regularity, you may be fascinated or perhaps loathe that this magazine has continued to support, if not endorse, our musings. For those who may never read this, and the numbers are staggering, this column is most likely replete with information you couldn't use anyway. With the incredible proliferation of all forms of media over the last several months, we're happy to report that we've not sold out. We haven't traded our collective soul for the 15 minutes of fame that is desperately overdue; that, in fact, the media blitz has passed us by.
We can only wonder why.
Yet we've prepared our entire lives to be mere spectators. We relish the role. We've watched others in our industry invent things and slapped our heads in a why-didn't-I-think-of-that? manner countless times. Of course, this is a welcome respite from our respective wives slapping our empty heads.
We've seen others become millionaires with a single stroke of genius that gave life to all descriptions of technologies. Yes, there are drywall innovations that leave us breathless in their simplicity. Behold the drywall screw, which replaced the nail. The advent of ready-mixed compounds, dustless drywall sanders, automatic taping tools, corner trims that actually stay on the wall--even the twist-off beer bottle! Mechanical innovations continue to drive change to our industry, but marketing innovations have been largely disregarded.
Go tell it around the fountainThis month we doff our hard hats to a company we feel has taken the greatest advantage of a vital component of a cutting edge business: the e-commerce age. In past articles, we've paid homage to rock archivists. This month, we hail rock futurists.
Although we're not entirely sure how this works, nor do we consider it a valuable use of our ample time and limited resources to acquire this knowledge, there is a matrix of sorts, which determines the order in which a Web search produces results. For instance, type in "drywall" in a search, and it's a pretty good shot that among the top five search results will be USG, National Gypsum, Lafarge, Georgia-Pacific, etc. Try a search in "tools," and you'll probably end up in several of the online warehouse distribution facilities, or, if your luck runs out, hideous images of Bob Vila may invade your screen. A search in our favorite category produces: never mind. The point is that if you wish to get to the top of the Web, you better know how this matrix works or employ someone who does. Many of today's businesses judge their competitors and potential partners by their Web presence, or lack thereof. We thought we'd take a look at who's embracing this technology within the industry.
One of the first things that struck us was how few of the thousands of drywall contractors have really availed themselves of the Web as a means of promotion. Although architects and builders often search for contractors suited to specific mechanical applications via the Web, many of those in the drywall contracting industry either don't have a Web presence or don't regard it as necessary. If we were builders (which is a ridiculous thought), winning a bid in a city where we previously had no relationships and verbal contractor references didn't pan out for any number of reasons, what next? Where and how would we search for a drywall sub?
We could go to the yellow pages and thumb through meaningless listings that shed little light on what a particular company actually does. We could consult the local Chamber of Commerce and get a listing of only the largest businesses in town. But if we could type "drywall contractor" in a Web search and within seconds view a local contractor's credentials, complete with photography, testimonials and vital company statistics and information, wouldn't that be easier?
So that's what we did. We went surfing and found a few shining stars who have developed sites that are easy to find, have some character and provide lots of information.
Amazing spaceThe first and perhaps most prominent one we came across was Tri-State Drywall Inc. (www.tri-state-drywall.com), a commercial contracting firm out of Rockville, Md.
Tri-State Drywall was started by Jacques Pare and Maurice Guay and incorporated in 1977. Jacques and Maurice both started their careers with P & P Contractors in Maryland in 1964 and 1970, respectively. Their initial positions as field laborers (we all know the details of that job description) did what it has done for the best in the trade. It allowed them to see the business from its least glamorous side.
In the coming years, they mastered the skills of layout, framing and finishing. By 1973 both were running projects as foremen. They knew that with hard work, honesty and diligence they could manage their own company. Four years later, they went on their own.
Since its inception, Tri-State Drywall has completed more than 15 million square feet of commercial building space, grossing more than $130 million in revenue. Maurice Guay retired in 1994 and sold his stock to his sons, Michel Guay and Daniel Guay. Jacques continues to oversee the estimating and office responsibilities, while Michel and Daniel run the field operations. Tri-State's commitment to customer satisfaction has since solidified its client base. The fact that 90 percent of its annual revenue is being generated by repeat business is a testimonial to that corporate philosophy. These guys offer a number of drywall-related services including--but not limited to--interior core and metal framing, drywall and shaftwall systems and finishes, acoustical grids and ceiling tile, and CFRG and CFRC shapes. Among its recent accomplishments are the 156,000-square-foot Time-Life headquarters building in Alexandria, Va., which is a radius showcase, and the National Rifle Association headquarters, which, believe it or not, actually houses a shooting range (we can only hope that anger management is an integral part of the employee induction process).
Another company that caught our eye with its Web presence was Ritsema Associates of Michigan (www.ritsema.com), a 46-year-old drywall firm that began as a lathing and plastering operation and has since evolved to a full-service drywall company including hanging, finishing, acoustical insulation, EIFS, fire proofing, carpentry and flooring. Started by then-21-year-old Herb Ritsema of Grand Rapids, in 1955, its Web site includes an interesting, detailed and very personal history of the company. Some of the company's long-time employees and associates are chronicled, and the reader gets a feel for the employer's loyalty. Among Herb Ritsema's phrases to live by, "Excellence is not an event ... it's a habit." Well said.
One of the best looking sites we saw was ICR drywall (www.icrdywall.com) of Tyngsboro, Mass. Its mission statement, "To provide our customers with the best possible service," couldn't be much more direct. We don't know about you, but we get real tired of hearing the "vertical integration through a multi-tiered strategic alliance" kind of crap. Give it to us straight. That's what ICR's Web site and mission statement does. There's a photographic tour of ongoing and recent jobs, as well as a summary of its qualifications.
Sites worth seeingThe best site in terms of its overall visibility, graphics and ease of navigation was Baker Drywall's (www.bakerdrywall.com) of Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston. Its links to its suppliers and office staff are impressive. The project page doesn't list any specifics, but if you'd be hard pressed to find a commercial structure that it couldn't do or hasn't done. The company's been in business for 27 years, and has won several national awards for interior finishing.
If you get a chance, check out some of these sites. We're not saying that a few pretty pictures and some text on the Internet is a surefire recipe for success, but it is an inexpensive and effective way to get your message to the masses. Whether you're a multi-million dollar commercial firm or a guy with a pickup truck and a dog, the only limitations to your Web presence is your imagination. Even if you're not computer savvy, you can have one of your kids or your 15-year-old neighbor with the bad haircut and nose ring help you develop a site. Telling people who you are and what you've done in person is great, but you won't always be there when a builder needs a sub and people are becoming more inclined to check for your business on the Net than the yellow pages.
While we haven't solicited our readership as often as we used to, we still get a kick out of some of the stories people have shared with us over the last couple of years. As we've said before, drop us a note on a scrap piece of drywall. If you make us laugh, we'll change the names and some of the details, print your story and call it our own. Writing about drywall each month isn't just an adventure ... it's a job, and one we hope to keep.