Healy, Long & Jevin (HLJ) is a Wilmington, Del., specialty concrete contractor servicing the Mid-Atlantic region with cast-in-place, post-tension and filigree structures; heavy foundations; architectural concrete; slab place and finish; concrete pumping; and concrete site work. Its history can be traced back to 1891, when company CEO Jack Healy's grandfather started a general contracting business that went on to help build Delaware through the late 1800s and 1900s. In 1978, Jack built upon his family's history in the construction industry when he started a specialty concrete contracting business with a since-retired partner. Today, HLJ's management team includes Jack, partner Mike Jevin who serves as president and chief estimator and Jack's son Sean Healy, secretary/treasurer.
HLJ has been quick to adopt new technologies and ideas over the years. In 2005, when HLJ's operations VP retired, the company took the opportunity to revamp its management team and change its attitude toward communication and the size of jobs it takes on. As luck would have it, those changes were put into place by the time the market started to turn in 2008, giving the company stronger footing to survive in a tougher economy and the skills it needed to succeed on a recent 140,000-square-foot industrial floor project that required hand placement of superflat floors.
Getting away from a 'crew company'
One key change HLJ made was increasing the scope of job sizes it pursued. Historically the company only went after medium-sized to large jobs. Those projects, sometimes in the range of tens of millions of dollars, were successful financially, but, as Jack explains, made each job feel like it was being run by an independent company with project superintendents who had their favorite crews and workers doing the same thing day in and day out. This created a "crew company" atmosphere and often a dip in work for field crews between big jobs. HLJ wanted to eliminate the crew company atmosphere and keep workers busy between the big jobs. The company set out to build a structure that would allow it to pick up jobs less than $250,000, what HLJ considers its small jobs.
"We wanted to take out the peaks and valleys," Sean explains. "With big jobs we didn't see a lot of consistency. We would have to hire a lot of people beyond our core workers, and when the job was over we would have to lay them off. We thought if we had more continuity of work, management could develop field people better, giving us a more professional field."
The first step in this change was to bring in estimating employees with experience in all types of construction. Jevin oversees the four-man estimating crew, which Sean says has the flexibility to bid a small place and finish job worth $10,000 to a new cast-in-place medical center worth $10 million.
HLJ looked for these small jobs in all the logical places. "We started calling current clients who said, 'Oh, we didn't know you guys bid that small stuff.' So we found a lot of our large clients had small jobs for us." The sales team also called on projects in industrial space, oil and gas refineries, and marine repair.
"Over the last three years we have quadrupled the amount of small projects we had performed in the previous 10 years and have gained many new customers by doing so," Sean says. The connections HLJ made on many of these small jobs have also led to large scale projects and the opportunity to pick up more work on jobs HLJ was already on. The small projects also eased cash flow between big jobs.
Jack explains the key to success on small projects is being realistic and knowing what the company's strengths are. "You can't be everything to everyone," he says. "We're not competitive on curbs or sidewalks, but if it's upside-down and backwards we are competitive. We can take on those unique industrial jobs."