Contractor to Contractor: Spilker Masonry Company
Ken Spilker founded Spilker Masonry Company in 1954. Ken's sons purchased the company in 1983: Tim Spilker, president; Mike Spilker, vice president; and Matt Spilker, secretary/treasurer. The company has grown and prospered and today is capable of bonding and managing any size masonry job. It is one of the top mason contractors in the Northwest. This month, we get Tim Spilker's thoughts on a variety of topics.
Masonry: What do you feel is the biggest misconception about the masonry industry?
Tim Spilker: That masonry wall systems are too expensive. This is a common theme that we deal with on an almost daily basis. In the Northwest, competition among suppliers has kept material prices in check. This, coupled with meaningful collective bargaining efforts and improvements in technology, scaffolding and equipment, keeps masonry a viable and competitive wall system.
Masonry: What would you do to change that misconception?
Spilker: It has been our experience that early discussions with owners/developers and designers can usually dispel that belief. When we find out about an upcoming project, we will contact the architect, usually through our local Promotion Group's Executive Director, to offer suggestions or begin discussions on how we can help provide a masonry wall system. We have found that working directly with the designers, we can sell them on the benefits of masonry colors, textures, permanence, maintenance and insurance costs along with sensible details and layout to keep costs down while providing a viable wall system.
Masonry: What are your three biggest concerns in keeping your company successful?
Spilker: Number one would be recruiting and training. We need to recruit and retain young people in our trade. Our workforce is aging and retiring at an earlier age. The successes of the union retirement plans have been giving some of our employees the option for an early retirement at age 55. We need to replace this workforce soon, as there is a lack of qualified and trained masons and tenders in our industry. In our area, we have made it mandatory to receive eight hours of upgrade training every year for all bricklayers so they continue their education and improve their skills.
Number two on my list would be ergonomics. The State of Washington has implemented an ergonomics rule that affects all industries within the state. Although it is in its early stages and implementation is somewhat fuzzy, this rule could have a devastating impact on the construction industry, especially the masonry industry where so much of the work is repetitive motion.
The third concern is the economy. The short-term impact of the down economy is being felt right now. Although I believe the long-term outlook is promising, in the short-term private projects are being delayed or put on hold due to the turmoil since September 11. Another factor is the losses provided by the stock market — capital expenditures have been put on hold for the short term, as well.
Masonry: What do you feel is the industry's biggest challenge in the near future?
Spilker: I think our industry needs to be proactive. I think that in masonry's "perfect world," all contractors would belong to and be active in our National Association and local and regional associations to work toward the common good. We have been fortunate in our region to have a healthy and active contractor's association that meets monthly to discuss industry problems. That, along with a promotion fund established 25 years ago, helps us to get our name out there through community service projects, awards programs, grants to universities, and social programs with architects, engineers and developers.
Masonry: Where do you think the masonry industry is going to be 10 years from now?
Spilker: I think the masonry industry will continue to stay strong. I believe there is a perception that masonry equates to durability, strength, aesthetics, ease of maintenance and quality. We should promote these strengths along with a quality workforce and new technologies to ensure that masonry continues to be a viable wall system 50 years from now, not just ten years in the future.
Masonry: What do you think will be the masonry industry's biggest competitor in 10 years?
Spilker: Our biggest competition will be from new, lighter weight, less labor-intensive wall systems — from composite panels to Styrofoam sandwich systems. We need to be proactive and meet the challenges these systems will be dealing us. Therefore, I go back to the belief that we need to sell the strengths of masonry wall systems, not just the bottom line, to short-term thinkers.
Masonry: What do you feel are the most critical issues you'll face with future government regulations?
Spilker: Ergonomics would have to top that list. This has the potential of being a devastating regulation. Taxes and over-regulation would be others. I had the pleasure to be on the legislative committee that selected Marian Marshall as the new Director of Government Affairs. I believe that we need an active presence on Capitol Hill to address the issues that impact our business and our industry. I also believe that this position will allow us access and provide us clout targeted to the laws and legislators that will be critical to us all. This has been long overdue and should provide us with dividends in the future.
Masonry: Which group do you feel has the bigger impact on masonry's future — architects, engineers or general contractors?
Spilker: The architect. As I mentioned earlier, we have had success contacting an architect early in the game on a potential project to help in budget costing, detailing and selling the strengths of masonry construction. The architect has a lot of influence and makes recommendations to the owner as far as materials incorporated into a project. I think it is money well spent to be active with your local AIA (American Institute of Architects).
Masonry: What do you like most about being a member of MCAA?
Spilker: Being as active as possible on a national platform that is important to our industry. I like the sharing of information on a national level. It is important to share the strengths and weaknesses of our industry with contractors from many parts of the country.
About the Author
Masonry, the official publication of the Mason Contractors Association of America, covers every aspect of the mason contractor profession - equipment and techniques, building codes and standards, business planning, promoting your business, legal issues and more. Read or subscribe to Masonry magazine at www.masonrymagazine.com.