In an economy where new home building is down dramatically from where it was two years ago, it sounds like a risky proposition for a concrete company to remain focused on its residential roots. But with a niche in custom home foundations and a new focus on green building, Bartley Corp. has kept its residential base strong.
Bartley Corp. is a family-owned concrete contractor located in Silver Spring, Md. The company performs work throughout the Washington D.C. metro area and serves areas as far as West Virginia and Southern Pennsylvania. About 30 percent of the company's sales stem from light commercial jobs like self-storage facilities and mid-rise office buildings, but the company continues to rely on its residential roots despite a nationwide decline in the market. "The heart and soul of our company is residential foundations with everything else branching off that," says Jim Bartley, vice president of residential for Bartley Corp.
Despite the hard times that have fallen on the residential market, Bartley Corp. has been able to maintain its residential/commercial sales percentages. But that isn't to say Bartley Corp. hasn't seen changes in the last year. The company's fiscal year ended in September with a 15 percent decrease in sales from the previous year, and the company expects at least another 15 percent decline for fiscal year 2009. But Bartley Corp., experienced in weathering construction cycles, had a rainy day fund and took to making some changes. Their foremen no longer have their own trucks and instead ride to jobs in the supply trucks with the rest of the crews. Bartley Corp. has also taken steps to reduce overhead and encourages everyone in the company to focus on cost cutting on a daily basis. "We emphasize to the crews in the field about making good decisions about materials. We also pay closer attention to job readiness, making sure that the builder really is ready for us to start working," Bartley explains.
Bartley Corp. has also seen changes in regards to finding jobs. "Our work was our marketing. We relied heavily on referrals and repeat business," says Greg Stone, vice president of marketing and development. "We're pulling out of an economy where we didn't have to promote, but now we need to promote."
To overcome some of the growing pains associated with marketing and finding work, Stone says, "We've had to go outside our normal customer base. We use Dodge reports for lead referrals and have started to dig out info on commercial jobs."
The company also hired Andy Bartley to focus on marketing materials, promotional brochures, developing the website and expanding the customer database. He was also responsible for organizing the material needed for Bartley Corp. to become a CFA Certified Contractor through the Concrete Foundations Association (CFA), a designation that sets the company apart from its competition. "In a slow market you don't always want to add people, but he is the right kind of person to add," Bartley explains. "He can focus on those things so everyone else can focus on their areas of expertise."
Bartley Corp. began as a cast-in-place residential concrete foundation company in the 1970s when aluminum forming was in its infancy. Buck Bartley, Jim's father and founder of the company, says his main competition in the early days was block contractors. He worked to market directly to builders about the benefits of cast-in-place concrete. "Most builders switched pretty quickly because we were far superior over block. We could pour foundations year round, could do footings and other concrete work on the job, and it's just a better product - more water-tight and good for custom work," Buck explains. He adds that custom builders were slower to jump on concrete than track builders, but after one custom builder decided to build his own home with a concrete foundation he spread the word about the benefits.