Leave a Mark
A San Antonio contractor discusses what it means to work beyond city borders and business trends in the industry.
“Have fun, will travel,” reads a card of a man. Though Mark Marlow has no resemblance to Richard Boone, he certainly holds a bit of the jet-set lifestyle like television’s gentleman gunfighter Paladin. Founder of San Antonio-based MK Marlow, Marlow’s fast-gun-for-hire services heeds the calling winds all over the great state of Texas in subcontracting.
While Marlow was finishing up his Bachelors of Construction Science degree at Texas A&M University and preparing to enter graduate school, he began working odd contracting jobs for his professors. Design Construct was founded in 1985 and evolved from a small, start-up general contracting business to performing mostly retail interior finish-out work in College Station, Texas.
In late 1987, the company relocated to Victoria, Texas, in order to pursue work on the numerous new retail strip centers that were being constructed. Once situated in the new digs, the need for a reliable and quality-minded drywall and acoustical ceiling contractor became apparent and an additional company, Acoustics Unlimited, was established by the partners. With strong growth in the 90s, the company was solely purchased in 1995 and renamed MK Marlow Co. Ltd. LLP.
The desire to expand outside the Victoria area led to targeting areas with a limited number of drywall contractors, so a satellite office was opened in Corpus Christi and in 2007, another office in San Antonio. The company focused on serving South, Southwest and Central Texas with additional projects completed statewide. In January 2010, a decision was made to reorganize the company under the name of MK Marlow Co. LLC. Today, the company specializes in drywall, steel framing, specialty panels, acoustical ceilings and insulation.
In order to operate more efficiently and better serve its customers, all operations, including project management, estimating, and purchasing were consolidated to San Antonio. Accounting and the corporate office remain in Victoria.
Mark Marlow was first introduced to the magazine at last year’s roundtable discussion that National Gypsum and Walls & Ceilings partnered on. Marlow was one of 10 contractors that shared his viewpoints on business, trends, products and other contracting issues. Out of these contractors, he was clearly in a better situation than his colleagues, in that the Great Recession had not quite impacted the San Antonio market in the same way. There are probably several reasons—some luck, some relative to the environment and strategic planning.
One advantage that the company has is its willingness to work in rural areas where competition is scarce.
“Our niche is the areas we work,” says Marlow, adding those regions to be south and south central Texas. “We work all these border and rural towns—all the places that no one else wants to work. The [Mexican] border has been a good market for us, as well.”
As any subcontractor will convey, another advantage to the company’s success depends a lot on the relationships that have been cultivated over the years. With almost 30 years in the game, MK Marlow has a handful of general contractors that it works closely with. However, in these last few years, the company has found it can’t simply rest on its laurels.
“In the early years, we had little to no competition until the early 2000s,” he says. “Our areas that used to be very non-competitive have become very competitive over the last few years.”
So how does he view the current business climate?
“I would say we are cautiously optimistic … I think the market is improving,” Marlow says. “But I think we all need to see when the market will go up. It’s still too cheap.”
In past years, Marlow says the company would go estimate the job and within one day could hear a response whether the contract was landed or not. In today’s competitive bidding process, it could take several months for a response, he says.
“It used to be that you could bid a job and you knew you got it that day; now it may take up to three months,” Marlow says. “Unless you have a really good relationship it may take time. I miss game day where you know you got the bid.”
In his spare time, Marlow is active in various associations. He also knows how to have a good time—sometimes, far from home. Recently, he spent a week in Nicaragua with friends. He says he enjoys “Anywhere South of where I stand.”
Ultimately, his long-term goal is to leave MK Marlow in sound and profitable shape to competent owners. Whether that’s in five, 10 or 20 years, who knows. W&C
Project: Victory Medical Center
Location: San Antonio
Square Feet: 95,000
Owners: Victory Healthcare and Medistar Corp.
General Contractor: Linbeck, Houston office
Subcontractor: MK Marlow Co. LLC
Contract Bid: Steel framing, Drywall, Exterior Sheathing,
Insulation and Acoustical Ceilings
Manufacturers: CEMCO, USG, Owens Corning