This focused approach to targeting projects has made it easier for Birdwell & Associates to market its quality and values with new clients. Birdwell says the company educates its clients on its preferred construction methods and how those methods result in a quality finished project. "A lot of clients assume, no matter what you do during the construction process, there is always a final step that will make it better. We have had clients think they didn't need quality processes because they thought they could just polish a floor at the end of a project and make it look pretty. But what they didn't understand is if a slab isn't durable, or the mix design isn't chosen correctly or the correct processes are not followed through the design and construction phase, the floor can fail and fall apart," Bryan says.
Part of the company's approach in marketing quality construction is helping its customers see the value in a job well done. The Birdwell & Associates team will take a project proposal, explain the benefits of the proposed construction methods and also suggest to its client ways it can save money and have a better end product. "We are not a design/build firm, but we act like one," Bryan explains. "We'll come in and look at a project and offer value and ideas on how we can improve the end product. Some of our suggestions have led to design changes that saved the owner hundreds of thousands of dollars. We've also had numerous jobs that ended up moving to an exposed concrete finish because of the quality of the floor we can provide."
This approach also rings true on the concrete paving projects the company takes on. Birdwell & Associates explains to clients the importance of a geotechnical report to determine what the existing soils will allow. In addition, they highlight proper subgrade compaction, load transfer considerations and how pervious concrete might play into the design. The company also presents a long-term cost evaluation in regard to durability and reduced maintenance costs over the life of the pavement. Since asphalt and concrete are on a pretty level playing field when it comes to price, Bryan says the final decision on whether an owner will choose a concrete parking lot over asphalt often comes down to aesthetics.
"A business owner sees the benefits in a more appealing pavement for people entering his store. He knows customers and visitors won't track petroleum into his building and he will have a clean, white parking lot for safety and lighting purposes," Bryan explains.
When it comes to promoting these systems to municipalities, the company works with city officials, architects and engineers to find out what their needs are. They try to get involved with a project early in order to provide construction education. "We're not out there just to sell the product. I'll be honest and let a client know if the project would be better suited to asphalt," Bryan says. "We've done millions of square feet of parking lot paving that is still in great condition. As long as oil prices keep going up, more people will use concrete. We make sure we design and install our projects in ways that will help the industry long term."
In a difficult market, success comes for companies that can differentiate and offer a service better than its competition. For Birdwell & Associate, that differentiating characteristic is the company's commitment to educating its employees on construction practices.
Many of its workers are certified Flatwork Technicians and Finishers as well as Commercial/Industrial Flatwork Finishers through the American Concrete Institute (ACI), and some are certified through the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA) for pervious concrete placement. Bryan personally conducts in-house training with his staff, sharing with them what he calls his "hands-on, common sense approach to concrete." He teaches employees the fundamentals of concrete, taking a craftsman-style approach to training step-by-step so they understand the characteristics of concrete.
"We live in a society that has become so fast paced; we are encouraged to use shortcuts and achieve quick results that appear satisfactory. People think 'equipment will fix this' or 'polishing will fix that'," he says. "We are training our employees to understand the characteristics of concrete — from subgrade to finishing — so they're not just employees who go out on the job and jump on a machine or grab a trowel or shovel. They understand the whole concept of the job and how their performance affects the entire process."
The commitment to training works. "We are giving our employees core values so they are not just working for a paycheck. They finish at the end of the day and wait for slab test results, double-check formwork and grade, or maintain equipment because they know everything matters to the end product," Bryan says.