Contractor to Contractor: Pyramid Masonry Contractors, Inc.
Established in 1976 by C.L. Cook, John Doherty and the Pyramid Masonry staff pride themselves on quality craftsmanship and on-time performance. This has led to not only 80 Target store buildings and renovations, but also award-winning work, such as the Church of Apostles, Atlanta, Ga., which garnered them the highest award, the Award of Excellence, from the Masonry Association of Georgia. The Pyramid Masonry staff has also taken initiative to promote apprenticeship training. Doherty has been the finance committee chairman for the apprenticeship program for over 15 years and has helped in raising approximately $750,000 for training. Doherty broke away from his busy schedule to speak with Masonry magazine about his proactive approach.
Masonry: What do you feel is the biggest misconception about the masonry industry?
Doherty: A misconception that I feel we have in the masonry industry, this would also speak to the construction industry as a whole, is that people view our industry as a haven for the uneducated. Sure, at some levels, we have people who probably don't have high school diplomas, but throughout our trade, some of our top bricklayers, project managers, superintendents and cost estimators — they are leaders in this industry. They could be leaders in other industries also. I think that's where the misconception is, that we don't have the talent that a lot of the other industries have.
Masonry: What would you do to change that misconception?
Doherty: I basically think it's going to be a situation of 'train, train, train,' from entry level positions, on up. The education has got to become forefront for the people in our industry to get that misconception gone. We are a place where good people can come to work, earn a living, and stay in the industry for the rest of their life.
Masonry: Do you think there's enough continued education for workers who are in the industry?
Doherty: No, there's not. There's very little continuing education available. You can get in to some blueprint reading and maybe a little bit of estimating through AJC - AGC, but as far as the masonry groups are able to put on, no there's not.
Masonry: What are your three biggest concerns in keeping your company successful?
Doherty: First and foremost, we need to attract good, young people — commonsense folks — whether they're college students or high school graduates. I think that's the first thing we've got to do is make ourselves attractive to those folks, so they see our trade as an alternative. Not everybody is a computer guru. Working with your hands is definitely not an out-of-mode thing yet; it's definitely going to be around for a long time.
Obviously I feel that training at all levels is critically important — ongoing and initial training.
Finally, I think it's important that we, as a company, stay on the cutting edge with industry trends, from new products to new construction methods, to make us more efficient.
Masonry: What do you feel is the industry's biggest challenge in the near future?
Doherty: I think this is a two-fold thing. Obviously, the biggest challenge is attracting the people — the qualified people — to our industry. I think that's the biggest thing that we've got to look out for in the next five or ten years.
Something that affects the people here in the office, for bidding work: there's this trend in the industry called e-bidding, or reverse auctions. Some of the owners of businesses that are heading projects that bid see this as a method to assure themselves of getting low bids.
What happens is you go online and you put your bid out online; other bidders come on and they put their bids out. If a bidder comes in $10,000 below you, you see his price, and during an allotted timeframe you're able to cut your price. So it's bid-shopping, that is all it is. It's a trend that we really don't want to get into.
We did almost 80 Target stores, and now Target is moving toward this trend and I'm just hoping that if enough people work at blocking it, it will go away. [The fact that we've work on 80 of their stores] has no bearing. They've changed their position in the last six months and we were told that if we want to do any further Target work, we would have to e-bid some of these things. We value them as clients and we're going to go along with it for a while and see how it works out.
Masonry: Where do you think the masonry industry is going to be 10 years from now?
Doherty: I'm afraid that our industry is coming to a crossroads, and I say that because — like our block and veneer systems — it seems we're always on the forefront of what's being value-engineered out of projects. Education about the long-term reliability of our systems to owners and architects, this is something that's got to happen so these things don't continue to take place.
In North Carolina, for instance, the majority of our work is probably veneer work. The block walls that used to be used for stairwells and elevator shafts and things like that are almost a thing of the past. I don't believe people are looking at long-term reliability of masonry systems; rather they're just looking at what's the initial cost.
Masonry: What do you think will be the masonry industry's biggest competitor in 10 years?
Doherty: In ten years, it will be, obviously, still drywall on interior and exterior installation systems, just because of the cost factor.
Masonry: What do you feel are the most critical issues you'll face with future government regulations?
Doherty: I really think that OSHA is going to be our biggest headache. I can't say that everything they are doing is bad — I think a lot of what they are doing is very good. Unfortunately, they don't, in a lot of instances, come up with a lot of guidelines that are very definitive, and they leave things to inspectors', I don't want to say whims, but it's almost that. Things are not black and white; there are too many gray areas. And this has also created a lot of problems for us.
There are a lot of owner-controlled insurance programs going on in the industry right now, where the owners are picking up the workman's comp and general liability coverage. The insurance companies that are monitoring these for them are putting out a lot of requirements for projects, in the interest of keeping insurance costs down, but unfortunately they're adding to the cost of the work taking place — it's almost a false economy. I don't think they see that yet. They are very concerned about making money and saving money in the insurance end of it, and I don't think they realize they're losing money on the actual construction end of it.
Masonry: Which group do you feel has the bigger impact on masonry's future: architects, engineers or general contractors?
Doherty: I feel that architects are the key. I think that if they're sold on our products and they can sell the owners, then our products will be in the jobs. I think this would be a tremendous impact. They also impact us greatly at the construction end. Today, we get more sets of drawings that are design development, not for construction. Too many things are left up to people's imagination about how things are supposed to go together, because the drawings are not in as great of shape as they need to be. This leaves too much to people's imaginations, which unfortunately has cost impacts and it creates conflicts. How they do their jobs, as far as drawings, and how they are sold on our products are critical to our industry.
Masonry: What do you like most about being a member of MCAA?
Doherty: The biggest thing about it is they offer a nationwide effort toward achieving our industry goals. They pose as a united front and a focal point for people looking at our industry. MCAA also takes the lead in a lot of things, like code requirements and safety issues nationwide, and these are things that the individual contractors cannot do on their own. That focus that MCAA has had and, I'm sure, will continue to have is probably the biggest thing to me. What they do for the industry as a whole, that the individuals cannot do.
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.