The Sustainable Circle of Business in Construction
The importance of quality and competition in construction.
Buildings have walls, ceilings and floors, and similarities abound. We all grapple with some of the same issues, such as deflection limits to minimizing cracks in our finishes. Dealing with engineers on deflection limits can be challenging. Engineers know structural integrity and design to ensure safety but they may not understand the nuances of materials and best practices to reduce cracking in brittle finishes that go beyond mere deflection. I have found it doesn’t matter if it is walls, floors or ceilings, engineers seem to take offense to comments regarding vibrations or internal stresses as an insult. I have learned to make it clear that I am not questioning the integrity of the engineering design or safety of the structure. Wall, ceiling and floor contractors share issues of trade stacking, overzealous inspections, compressing work schedules and risk shifting. It is tough to grow market-share, let alone survive in a world that seems to just get more and more low price driven.
My flooring group may have figured out a good way to weed out many of the bad actors in contracting. The first rule is to agree that competition is good. It inspires us to be better and keeps us moving forward and America seems to agree. A world-wide study surveyed various countries on risk taking and attitudes on competition. On the question of, “Do you like competition?” The “yes” answers were: Americans (77-82 percent), EU citizens (55-65 percent) Chinese (65-69 percent). So, apparently, it is in our nature to compete.
Concerns arise when we are all not on a level playing field. Those that cheat or steal have an unfair advantage. Unlike a sporting event, there may be no impartial referee or umpire. Cheaters love the environment where they have total control but everyone loses. The building owners think they got a deal but in reality, work is likely below industry standard and may fail.
My flooring group has a steadfast commitment to a rigorous contractor membership approval. Most associations require a form, a check and you are a member. This is not so with my flooring group. An e-mail from the United Arab Emirates I received sums it up best. Alaa says that he searched our website and could not find the membership form to join our group. I let him know we are a bit different. We verify references, inspect one’s work and require training classes be taken. The process takes two-years and some do not make it. That is the interesting part of my day, to call a contractor after two years and say, “Sorry, you did not make it.” I have learned to thicken my skin.
But this process helps the overall industry. Quality improves as no member wants to be subject to possibly being dropped and start over. Alaa explained he is bidding on a job in Qatar and the architect will not drop the requirement of membership to our group. This is part of the sustainable circle. Instill quality as your goal, hold true to that goal and it will pay dividends to the industry, contractors and even building owners. While cheating ruins an industry, upholding quality and having a fair referee with teeth allows for good competition. Everyone wins.
Contractors who should not be in business are weeded out. In time, the architects get the message and support the circle and it becomes sustainable, it is good business. Most know that membership or even certification is often overlooked when the price is the driving factor. That is because most architects cave in at that point. What would make them hold strong?
One of the largest wall and ceiling subcontractors in the United States wanted to join our flooring group. He was shocked at how tough it was to get in and was even annoyed. However, after several in-person discussions, he could see the long-term benefits of a level playing field that discourages cheating. He is bidding on a major job and was informed, that they will get the project only when they are approved as a member. The U.S. architect is holding firm too.
As pressure mounts, this major player is still frustrated, and I am on his speed dial. He will see that when he finally is a member, it will be a better world built on fair competition and a level playing field. I texted him to let him know he was approved. His excitement on hearing the news was palpable and a 180 degree turn around from two years ago when we first started the process. The final piece to the sustainable circle is a third-party inspection program. Architects strive for quality assurance and will hold when you provide competitive prices backed by experienced inspectors that are truly third party and fair. This makes the circle complete, good for everyone and sustainable.