Earlier this year, Martinson Construction installed a GPS fleet tracking system on its trucks, pump trucks and skid-steer loaders. Despite a relatively short time frame with the system, the company is already seeing its value. “In the first week, we caught a couple of trucks that were idling two to three hours on a jobsite. The drivers said they forgot to turn them off,” relates Dave Martinson. “Since then, we’ve seen our trucks go right to the job and shut off. I don’t know if we had a problem with idling or extra stops before, but I know we don’t now.”
GPS fleet tracking is just one example of the tools and ideas Martinson Construction is implementing in an effort to become more efficient, and ultimately more profitable. The third-generation construction company, owned by brothers Dave and Scott Martinson, is also moving to cut back on lost and forgotten tools, stop unauthorized purchases, track equipment maintenance schedules, and write policies and procedures that help employees perform duties consistently.
“Five years ago, we didn’t have to worry about these issues. But material prices have gone up, and increased competition keeps us from increasing prices. We had to turn to technology,” Dave says.
While the company welcomes new technologies that help it complete tasks and work faster, Dave and Scott understand there are some things that can’t be replaced, namely the values on which their father and grandfather built the company — quality, customer service and dedication to its most valuable asset, its employees.
Martinson Construction is a residential and commercial contractor in Waterloo, Iowa. It has 65 employees and runs three wall crews and four flatwork crews. Dave and Scott’s grandfather Vern Martinson started the company in 1950. Legend has it, Vern borrowed $200 to buy a mixer so he could build foundations as a brick and block mason. Dave and Scott’s father, Jerry, took over the business in the mid-1960s. Shortly thereafter, the cast-in-place basement movement made its way to Iowa, and Jerry embraced that change and moved the company into poured walls and concrete flatwork.
Dave and Scott started with the company in the 1980s. Dave’s interests naturally led him to the walls crew, while Scott’s interests led him to the flatwork side of the company. Martinson Construction does about 60 percent of its sales in walls, and 40 percent in flatwork. While its mix of residential, commercial and public work can fluctuate greatly year to year, its split between walls and floors is consistent.
When Dave and Scott started their construction careers, everyone was in the field. Eventually that changed. Dave says technology had a lot to do with it. “The computerization of estimating, billing and invoicing pushed us indoors,” he says. “And the volume of work simply required more office time.”
Martinson Construction had always sought out efficiencies. The company utilizes concrete pumping, total station layout, crane trucks to move wall forms, and a laser-guided screed for flatwork — all equipment that takes some of the hardest work out of concrete construction. But a few recent software programs have moved the company to an even higher level of efficiency. One helps the company control costs on tools. “We felt like we were wasting too much money on tools. We were always getting calls from customers saying we left some equipment at their jobsite, then we’d have to take the time to go pick it up. And employees had too much freedom to run into the hardware store and buy tools. We wouldn’t know until we saw the receipt,” Dave explains.