Clay Fischer, CEO of Woodland Construction Co., Jupiter, Fla., first got involved in tilt-up construction while working as a general superintendent for a general contractor in Atlanta, Ga., in the 1980s. In those days tilt-up was still gaining popularity and Clay identified the construction method as an emerging niche in the concrete industry with potential for growth and a chance for him to build his own firm specializing in tilt-up.
Clay got a break when his former employer was unable to finish five tilt-up projects and a bonding firm hired him to finish them. In 1987, Clay and his wife, Jeanne, started Woodland Construction, becoming one of the first tilt-up subcontractors in the country. Clay’s brother, Gary Fischer, started at Woodland eight months later. With their first set of projects under their belts and the tilt-up method gaining acceptance throughout the southeastern United States, other owners and general contractors in the region took notice and approached Woodland to manage their tilt-up projects. Today Woodland is one of the largest tilt-up contractors in the United States, focusing on unique and challenging jobs for customers in southeast Florida and beyond.
Building a business
Establishing a company, identifying your strengths and having the business wherewithal to keep your growth path focused around those strengths is a difficult proposition. Throw in the realities of business, including economic fluctuations, government regulations and customer relations, and your odds of succeeding become a challenge. Woodland weathered several economic waves over the company’s history. Clay says the first couple years started strong, but a recession hit in the early 1990s forcing the company to trim its employee rolls from 100 workers to 12. The market came back in 1992, but shortly after the widely destructive, Category 5 Hurricane Andrew hit southern Florida, bringing businesses, construction and life in general to a standstill.
In the mid- to late-1990s Woodland was again experiencing a strong economy and its management team worked to move the company forward with controlled growth. The company was met with growing pains, however, having difficulty keeping some foremen and superintendents motivated and maintaining quality in the field. “Our employees didn’t understand the business,” Clay says. “They knew the forming and construction side of things but didn’t understand how their work affected the company.”
A turning point came in 1997 when Woodland embraced the principles of open book management, sharing financials with its employees and educating them on the business side of the company by holding ‘Business 101’ courses for foremen, superintendents and the estimating crew. “That change made everyone aware of how their actions, big and small, made a financial impact on the company,” Clay says.
“We also stopped putting up with crap,” Clay continues. “We made sure employees knew things needed to be done ‘the Woodland Way.’ Once we got tough, life got better. And we realized some employees just weren’t a fit.”
The easy life
With an effective business model in place and motivated employees working toward a quality end product, Woodland was in a position to build the company it is today — a company focused on making tilt-up a logical choice for its customers. Through ease of scheduling, value engineering and problem solving experience on complicated projects, Woodland can deliver its customers a quality building without hassle whether the customer comes to Woodland with a job or Woodland pursues them. “We strive to make our customers’ lives as easy as we can,” Clay explains.
More than half of Woodland’s jobs come to the company through the design community. Woodland has built close, symbiotic relationships with several engineering and design firms in southeast Florida. “These companies know they can come to us and say, This is what we want. How do we build it?” Clay says. He adds that Woodland wins about 75 percent of the bids where it assisted in the design phase of the project.