Albanelli Cement Contractors is a family business. President Paul Albanelli runs the company with his first cousin, Vice President Wayne Albanelli. Their fathers and grandfather started the company in 1950 as residential concrete contractors. The company changed over the years, with the Albanellis getting into light commercial work in the 1960s, working on grocery stores, gas stations and the like.
Paul and Wayne got their first taste of the family business in the field around the age of 13. After college in the 1980s, both men became more heavily involved with the operations of the business and eventually took over the company in 1993. They maintained the overall feel of the family-owned business, but made a few subtle changes that made it a more professional organization. "One thing about our fathers' business was they had only a few customers, and when those customers were slow, they were slow," Paul explains. "When we came in we increased our customer base so through our growth period never more than 18 percent of business was with one customer. And we try to keep it that way today."
Paul explains that in his father and uncle's day, safety was "unheard of." He and Wayne have made a major commitment to safety in their organization, one of the characteristics of their company they believe sets them apart from their competition. "Even though we're small, I like to think we're big on safety, training, customer service, and material and equipment technology. We can't afford to buy all the equipment technology out there, but we know about it and who has it in case we need it," Paul says.
Paul and Wayne led the company through roughly 20 years of expansion from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. In the late 1990s, the auto companies were booming and fueling a need for hospitals, schools and other commercial and public building projects. But the economy in the Detroit area has been on a slow decline over the last six years, Paul explains. "We didn't see a sharp drop off like the people in New York or Arizona saw," he says. "We've been riding the toboggan downhill for a while."
Despite the slow decline in the Detroit market, Albanelli Cement Contractors was able to stay strong in the commercial realm with its peak year occurring in 2007. But the economy has changed things drastically for the company since then. Albanelli Cement Contractors typically delivered 50 building projects a year; as of the end of July 2009, they've completed only five. Ten years ago they saw one or two bids per job, and now they're competing against 15 to 20 other contractors for some projects. The company's annual sales for 2009 will be 50 percent off from its peak in 2007, and they've gone from a full-time field staff of nearly 50 workers down to 30 people working on an as-needed basis.
Moving outside the zone
Contractors all over the country are seeing their markets change, with jobs harder to come by and bidding more competitive. In order to keep the lights on and their workers in the field, Albanelli Cement Contractors has made a push outside its normal areas of work to seek out jobs it wouldn't typically take. "A lot of the jobs we're doing right now we wouldn't have looked at in 2007, but now they're like jewels," Paul explains.
Paul says about 70 percent of the company's current job lineup is of a non-typical type to the company. Jobs like renovation, municipal projects like parks and river walks, and lots of work in decorative concrete.
"Since no one is building buildings, people are trying to get into other areas," he explains. "We started looking at jobs in the road builders' realm. We don't like to go there, but we will."
While new building isn't a booming market, renovation is more prominent. "There is a lot of vacant space that needs to be absorbed before building comes back," Paul says. "We've done some refurbishment jobs, where they take a store, rip out the floor and put in a Whole Foods or something similar. We'll see a lot of that, especially in Michigan."