Contractor to Contractor: MJM Masonry, Inc.
In the beginning, MJM Masonry was a small operation mainly devoted to fireplaces and other small jobs. As the company's reputation began to grow, so did business — today, MJM Masonry is one of the largest masonry companies in Massachusetts. Mark McCullough, who heads the MJM team, attributes his company's success to hard work and viewing a challenge as an attraction. McCullough spoke with Masonry magazine about his company's diverse offerings, his philosophy on safety, and where he sees the future of the masonry industry heading.
Masonry: Tell us a little about MJM Masonry's history.
McCullough: We started out like a lot of guys — small. It was just a laborer and myself. We were doing chimneys, steps and that sort of thing. Now we've grown into a mostly commercial operation, although we do custom masonry.
Masonry: What steps did your company take to create this growth?
McCullough: As we grew a little bit, guys my age when we were getting started, they'd end up with a better job from where we met. They were usually in an office and they had capabilities of deciding who is going to do the masonry work. They would get us into their office and give us an opportunity to bid on the project. That's happened a number of times, and it gave us the growth that way.
Masonry: Your website places an emphasis on safety. Tell us some of the steps you take to increase safety on the job.
McCullough: We have a full-time safety officer. One of the things he does is to visit each job twice a week. Once a week, he gives a toolbox talk to each crew on each job. He provides safety glasses, earplugs, helmets, everything the guys need.
Masonry: MJM completes almost every type of masonry work, from commercial, residential, educational and industrial, to repointing, historic restoration and hardscaping. How are you able to offer such a broad range of services?
McCullough: Just having a larger crew with guys with different talents.
Masonry: Tell us a little more about some of the custom masonry work that MJM Masonry completes.
McCullough: For example, on the Pingree School, we had to mimic the masons' styles back when that was originally built. We had to basically use the same tools, which came down to a big, three-pound hammer and a number of different size chisels. We had to basically cut every size stone the way they did years ago, the way they did when the Pingree School was built.
We had to teach 12 guys a style that was different because of the stone. The stone was milled right from that site back when it was built, so it was a little softer in some spots, a little harder in others. We had to figure out how those guys put that together and then duplicate it, which is different from practices today.
Masonry: Your company has won awards for both the Pingree School and Lexington Christian Academy. To what do you attribute this award-winning work, and how has it affected business?
McCullough: With any success, hard work is dominant. Wanting to do well is also a must. The challenge that came with those two projects was the attraction. People said they would be very hard projects to do given all the different complications. I agreed, but I also felt with the right people, we could do them. The risks have paid off, as the success of these two projects opened many doors. Most importantly was that both sets of general contractors selected the correct mason contractor for the job, and both sets of clients are happy.
Masonry: What has been one of your most difficult projects, and how did you overcome the obstacles it presented?
McCullough: Probably the Pingree School, simulating the old-style stone cutting and just re-educating the guys on how we needed it done, which was magnified because of the size of the project and the focus on the stonework. The stonework was the main concern of the general contractor and the owners; it was the most talked-about portion of the project because it would stand out so much. We connected the original building with the new building.
Masonry: What advice would you give a budding mason contractor?
McCullough: Integrity, fortitude and perseverance are things you have to keep in mind. Nothing happens overnight. It's a lot of hard work. People have to see your work stand out over time before you really get credit for it.
Masonry: What do you feel is the biggest misconception about the masonry industry?
McCullough: Expense. People think that brick veneer is very expensive and, [at the point of purchase], it may be. But by the time you get done painting the house and completing maintenance thereafter... You usually get insurance breaks with masonry and there's little to no maintenance. There are many benefits you get with one-stop masonry veneer, as opposed to the costs associated with going other avenues. If people stick it out over a period of time, they'll see that masonry is not as expensive as it may seem.
Masonry: What would you do to change that misconception?
McCullough: Spread the word, as we always do. One of our mottos is, "Build with brick." Advertise the long-term savings. Educate clients about the security factor and all the design options available. Most people concur that it has great looking curb appeal. It is also associated with "green building."
Masonry: What are your three biggest concerns in keeping your company successful?
McCullough: Staying organized, training and insurance.
Masonry: What do you feel is the industry's biggest challenge in the near future?
McCullough: Probably labor and training more guys to become masons. Also, the expense of doing business — costs have kind of gotten out of control lately with trucking and the cost of fuel. Also, insurance has really gone through the roof.
Masonry: Where do you think the masonry industry is going to be 10 years from now?
McCullough: I think you're going to see masonry used a lot more. I think masonry is artwork. You can make a piece of art with different bonds, different types of bricks and different mortar colors. I think, previously, people were afraid of the expense associated with that, but if they investigate, they'll find that it's affordable and aesthetically, there are a million options.
Masonry: What do you think will be the masonry industry's biggest competitor in 10 years?
McCullough: Probably brick panels. They make them in a controlled environment and they ship them out. They're weather conducive to the job site. It seems to be an avenue that people are exploring.
Masonry: What do you feel are the most critical issues you'll face with future government regulations?
McCullough: They just passed a new health insurance law. I'm trying to discover what that's all about. OSHA is also another concern and being vigilant to incorporate any new standards that have come up.
Masonry: Which group do you feel has a bigger impact on masonry's future: architects, engineers or general contractors?
McCullough: Architects. They're the ones designing the buildings. The engineer has to make it strong regardless, but some of the brick designs I mentioned earlier are all incorporated by the architect.
Masonry: What do you like most about being a member of the MCAA?
McCullough: I guess the security. You feel like you've got someone behind you, which is why I joined.
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.