The first attempt to control tool costs was with the Martinson Construction warehouse “store,” where workers can check out specialty tools they need for the day, like a total station or a hammer drill, or trade in an old piece of equipment or wear item for something new. The most recent control for cutting tool costs is with a tool-tracking system that utilizes barcodes and scanners to log where tools are and who has them. Dave explains there was always an expectation for employees to take care of tools, but there was no way to enforce those expectations. “We implemented a lot of rules over the years that weren’t enforceable because we didn’t have the tools to manage. Now we do,” he says.
Other technology systems include the GPS vehicle tracking system described earlier, which in addition to cutting down on excessive idling and “detours” to and from jobsites allows the office staff to track the company’s other equipment, like its pump truck or conveyor, in real time. A mobile payroll and job costing program works through employees’ smartphones. While automated payroll tracking isn’t new to Martinson Construction, the new system integrates automatically with the company’s accounting software. “It used to take 16 hours of office work to manually enter job costing information each week. Technology saved us time and made the system more accurate because it eliminated guessing,” Dave explains.
Dave emphasizes that while these technologies benefit the company’s bottom line, they also help employees. Stronger profits for the company allow for better opportunities for its workers, with stable jobs and competitive wages. In the case of equipment technologies, it makes their jobs easier, too.
“Technology makes concrete a good career. It used to be back-breaking labor, but now it’s a career,” Scott Martinson says. “Employees are running equipment not traditionally used in construction, like lasers and laser-guided screeds.”
“Technology allows employees to stay with us longer,” Dave adds. “It allows them to do construction work as they get older.”
What won’t change
Many second- and third-generation construction companies undergo evolutionary changes when young minds and modern ideas enter a family business. At Martinson Construction, Scott, Dave and their dad worked to ensure the new ideas never compromised the company’s quality and customer service.
“Dad taught us to be expediters — to help people get things done, and get things done right,” Scott explains. The company sets grade height for basements and stakes out basements. “We don’t charge for it, but it separates us from our competition. It’s a service to our customers, and it expedites our jobs, too. If we do it, there is no waiting around for someone else to do it. And we know it was done right.”
Another service the company offers is free and fast itemized estimates, which they will turn around in an hour if asked to do so. A well-planned procedure everyone follows for estimates allows them to meet such a challenging request.
“We are problem solvers. Builders ask us what they should do if they have an issue or questions,” Dave says. That trust is important, especially in the demanding homebuilding market. “With builders, you’re only as good as your last job,” he adds.
Dave and Scott understand there will always be customers who hire strictly on price. But their company’s reputation allows them to continue with high standards and avoid slashing prices to get a job. “There is a lot of competition in flatwork,” Scott says. “Our edge is our service and longevity, but sometimes we will see customers who choose someone cheaper. But then they find out why they are cheaper and often come back to us on the next job.”
While Scott and Dave continue to make the company their own, they have also started thinking about the next generation of Martinson Construction. “We brought technology and systems and procedures that allowed growth at our dad’s company, along with new energy. I can see that happening with us in the future — we might need that shot of new energy someday,” Dave says.
The next generation of Martinsons are too young to join the business full time (Dave’s oldest son works at the company summers between earning a business degree), but if their children decide to take over the family business, Dave and Scott will be ready. “Our goal is document processes so taking over the family business will be easier for the next generation. We want the right people in place in management positions and want the company to run more like a business. There’s a lot of stress in construction, and we want to set up a company where they don’t have to do everything,” Dave says.