To combat this issue, Balmer says his company hand-picks its commercial jobs, avoiding those that demand holding a 10 percent retention and gravitating toward jobs where it can work with architects and designers directly. Balmer Bros. has had a crew working on a ready mix plant project since summer, pouring walls up to 30 ft. high. But he says they're the only contractor there and he's able to work directly with the owner, and if he needs plan changes or adjustments he can get them by talking to the engineer.
For contractors who might take on a commercial job with a less-than-desirable situation with balancing subcontractors' schedules and such on the jobsite, Stevens says you need to spend extra time in planning so your field staff isn't wasting time on the jobsite. "I see office staff as leverage," he says. "If the office and support staff have things in order and planning is running smoothly on their end, then work will run smoother for the field staff too."
Randy Wilkerson is president of Sustainable Building Strategies in Tennessee and North Carolina. He distributes ICF forms along with other certified green building components and consults on green building projects. He's seen the residential ICF market slow down in the central East Coast region while the commercial market is taking off in areas like movie theaters, multi-family buildings and schools. Wilkerson says it's important for contractors breaking into the commercial market to understand the building codes they're working with. "When you've got an architect or engineer who's going to sign off on a wall inspection on a commercial project, you may have much higher requirements for steel reinforcing and such than you would on a similar residential application," he says.
Wilkerson also says it's important to be aware of increased OSHA visits on commercial projects, too. So make sure your employees are being properly trained and following safety rules and that your equipment is in good working order. In addition, most commercial general contractors will have a staff safety inspector who will require weekly safety meetings and written verification of compliance.
In preparation for the residential downturn and because he's been wanting to increase commercial work for a while now, Justesen has invested in equipment to help increase his commercial load at Formco, namely precast retaining wall blocks and a rock slinger truck. He also has his former track home manager researching and training in vertical overlays with stamping and staining so Formco can offer customers a finish on top of the foam panels on their insulated cast-in-place walls.
Justesen also hired a new sales person to target mid to heavy commercial and manufacturing foundation work, and an equipment investment came along with that as well. "We have invested in a big panel forming system that works similar to our aluminum forms but allows us to keep up with quality and introduces cost efficiency when we're up against general contractors for jobs," he explains.
Justesen says another type of equipment technology that's a must for commercial work is laser layout equipment and AutoCad capabilities. "We get plans from the structural engineer, precaster and steel beam guy and we can marry those all up on the computer to identify the locations of the hold downs, anchors and so forth," he says. "If you get those early enough you can find problems in the design and you can help them out and they're very willing to work with you. That's a must to provide the professional level of service that the architect and engineer are expecting."
Wilkerson says when it comes to commercial jobs, time is money, and the key to increasing your profit is by reducing cycle times. One way you can do that is with equipment. "I recommend commercial ICF builders have power rebar cutters and benders because of jobsite speed," he says. "They save you time in terms of having to order out your rebar and lentil hooks, stirrups, scallops and things like that." Wilkerson adds that power rebar tying tools, hand tools, laser leveling equipment, and more bracing and alignment systems are also important.
"Another piece of equipment they might want to look into is man lifts, telehandlers, all-terrain scissor lifts, equipment like that. On commercial projects it's essential that you have them because you're going to be dealing with multiple stories," he says.