Contractor to Contractor: Central Masonry Corporation
Neal House - Central Masonry Corporation, Littleton, Colo.
Like many MCAA members, Neal House has learned from the ground-up what it takes to create a masonry business that works. With a passion for learning the trade, he started out in the industry by working with some of the largest masonry firms in the western U.S. Before he started Central Masonry Corporation (CMC), he knew that understanding business management, as well as masonry, was key to his success. "You need a strong desire to be a business owner," says House, "and I wouldn't recommend going into the construction business to just anyone." House certainly has the desire and business sense, and he took the time to share a little bit of it with us.
Masonry: What do you think has been the key to your company's growth and success over the years?
House: The key to our company's growth is taking every opportunity available and making the best of it. In other words, we will collaborate with each general contractor and organize our forces to timely complete projects in a very professional manner, focusing on quality to the satisfaction of each and every building owner.
Our foremen are highly trained in-house, and we will spend years training them as an assistant foreman before we will use them on any project as foreman. Consequently, our foremen do not make many mistakes. Another key to this is to keep them focused on each project they are building. If we concentrate and manage each project efficiently, the foremen are very successful in bringing the project into budget.
Also, another primary factor in construction business success is your financial controls. CMC has a very professional accounting staff. They are critical in maintaining flow, helping with various field issues, and allowing review of each project's finances.
Masonry: You strive to work with and motivate owners, architects, engineers, contractors and your own personnel to effectively use CMC's services. How do you accomplish this?
House: CMC is a leader in the masonry industry, and our goal is to give the owner, engineers and general contractor a quality project that will fulfill their most demanding requirements. CMC is requested time and again to build projects for the same architects and general contractors who are some of the most renowned in the local industry. Although we do not please all, our entire management staff is honest, fair and professional, and I confidently think there is not a substantial contractor we have worked with who would differ.
Masonry: With approximately 250 crewmembers, 15 foremen, two project managers and two estimators, and averaging over 60 projects a year, how do you keep track and on top of what's going on in your company?
House: First, we seek to employ the most professional and knowledgeable people in the masonry industry.
Next, we consistently send our project managers, estimators, office staff and project foremen to construction management courses and seminars. We also do in-house training bi-weekly for all managers.
Finally, since we have brought most of our foremen up from masons, I can trust them and their decisions. My management people relay information and/or research each scenario in a timely fashion. At that point, I can give them a reasonable solution so they can keep moving forward.
Masonry: Why have you added budget analysis and value engineering to your company's repertoire, and how has it helped?
House: With all parties concentrating on getting a project into budget so it can be built, cost is a primary concern.
Most new building owners cannot afford to spend dollars unnecessarily. We are requested on almost every project to perform value engineering and, even if we're not, we go ahead and evaluate certain material on all of the projects we build. Sometimes we see alternate material that will give them the look they are after, while at the same time saving them thousands of dollars.
Several times projects have been over budget, but we have brought them back into budget by recommending alternate, less costly material. Consequently, these projects moved forward.
Masonry: Central Masonry utilizes a company web site in its marketing plan. How has this tool affected your business?
House: Our short-range plan is to provide a web site that is user-friendly and a place for people to find out about us. Employees can see if we have a job opening, general contractors can request bids from us or review our safety record, and architects can review the size and complexity of our projects and ask questions.
Masonry: On your web site, you stress the importance of safety and training, and actually list the OSHA violations that you have received over the years, which are minor and few. What do you do differently that others might learn from?
House: CMC has given OSHA safety training to our key personnel for years and sent our employees to several safety seminars. We stress safety with all of our employees as a normal part of doing business. Each employee receives a copy of the company safety policy in English or Spanish and signs a form that he or she has read, understands and will comply with company safety policy.
We have never been so careless as to get someone severely injured. We discard, tag or repair all damaged equipment, and our entire scaffold is thoroughly gone through every time it comes into our yard from a project. In addition, CMC employs a safety consultant to inspect our projects monthly, and this consulting company is available to us in an hour's notice.
We also have an attorney on retainer for any issue that we think may be incorrect in an OSHA inspector's judgment.
Masonry: Looking back over the years, what was your most difficult masonry project and how did you overcome the obstacles?
House: CMC has built several large, extremely difficult structural masonry projects over the years. When a project demands us to expedite the schedule, and one or two foremen cannot keep up with the general contractor's progress, we will add enough key personnel to answer the necessary problems. On occasion, we've had to put several foremen, a Project Manager or a bookkeeper on-site to help with these issues. It is cost-effective for us to pay for the extra personnel versus the alternative.
Masonry: What do you feel is the biggest misconception about the masonry industry?
House: That all people in the masonry business are qualified to build a project. Consequently, when unqualified masonry contractors construct projects without quality control, building professionals will often design masonry out and use alternate materials on their next project.
The other major misconception is the fact that some architects and owners think there is a better building material and a more cost-effective way to build a building. The only way this theory works is when an owner knows he or she is creating a building for the short-term before it is replaced with a permanent structure. In the long-run, the dollars saved at the front end of a non-masonry project are quickly used after the building has been maintained for a few years.
Masonry: What are your three biggest concerns in keeping your company successful?
House: My main concerns about keeping the company successful is having enough large projects to bid in order to maintain a profit margin and keep all of our foremen performing quality work on their own projects.
Another is to continue to help our preferred general contractors build each project so they can secure high-profile projects, negotiate work, and have continued success.
And finally, to have enough work to get competitive pricing from our suppliers and keep our overhead low.
Masonry: What do you feel is the industry's biggest challenge in the near future?
House: Although a lot of quality architects design with masonry today, there is a lot of misleading information about a shortage of masons. Even at the busiest times I have seen in Denver, we have never had so much trouble getting masons that a local newspaper advertisement didn't remedy it.
Masonry: Where do you think the masonry industry is going to be 10 years from now?
House: The exceptionally qualified architects have always designed with masonry because of the many benefits it offers. Due to economics, I think the savvy owners will want to build a longer lasting structure that can only be achieved with the use of masonry construction.
I think there will be more masonry structures built in the United States then ever before.
Masonry: What do you think will be the masonry industry's biggest competitor in 10 years?
House: Masonry does not have an equal that can compete, whether it is structural or veneer on steel studs. I think precast concrete will be the only material that has an opportunity, but masonry is a much better value and less expensive.
Wood frame construction is going to bow out to steel frame construction. There may be a composite material that will gain popularity, but will not have much effect within the next 10 years.
Masonry: What do you feel are the most critical issues you'll face with future government regulations?
House: Paying increased tax is, and will continue to be, the number one issue. The IRS will be doing more to protect their interests, including audits, rules and certification of tax returns with harsher penalties for violators, consequently increasing the need for accurate accounting. They will become more involved, forcing the home building industry to the same. This will drive the cost of a home upward so the American Dream may be a thing of the past.
Masonry: Which group do you feel has the bigger impact on masonry's future: architects, engineers or general contractors?
House: Definitely structural engineers have the bigger impact on masonry today and in the future.
The architects have the ability to sway the owners into designing with alternate materials, but there is not another material or even a close choice that allows both maintenance and design elements on exterior and interior walls like masonry.
The significant general contractors appreciate masonry structures because of the ease and beauty of their project ? provided they contract with a qualified mason subcontractor.
Masonry: What do you like most about being a member of MCAA?
House: The MCAA keeps us up-to-date and informed of changing issues, meetings, exhibits, OSHA legislation, promotional and instructional literature, along with publications, resources and extensive programs to keep masonry use at an all-time high. The tools, information and professional network that the MCAA provides to the masonry industry can make a significant impact and move us into a secure future.
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.