Q: What proven business practices will help subcontractors build a better business?
A: Al Slattery started his brick and masonry construction company, Al Slattery Masonry, in 1987 with a small group of trade school students as his field crew. Like most small business owners, Slattery handled the estimating, paperwork, billings, ordering, scheduling and supervision by himself. Over time, he trained a foreman to direct one of his crews and moved another field journeyman in the office to help with estimating and project administration.
By focusing on training and working with the local trade school for more than 30 years, Slattery has developed an excellent team. Today, his company, based in Oklahoma City, has more than 60 employees and exceeds $6 million in annual sales. Slattery credits his wife and dedicated staff for much of the company’s success.
Build a Trained Workforce
Slattery works with and sponsors the local CareerTech trade high school to find potential masonry workers for his company. He and the instructor communicate regularly to choose students with the best attendance, dedication, attitude, loyalty and work ethic to enter into his apprenticeship program.
Slattery offers these students summer and part-time work as laborers and support workers. They start by mixing grout and mud for the bricklayers, and they become bricklayers over a two-year period. Through this program, excellent workers seek employment with his company.
Every morning, the foreman and operators arrive 30 minutes early to the jobsite to make preparations for the bricklayers. They perform the required layout, get equipment ready, start mixing mud and locate any tools needed for the crew to begin working at 7 a.m. This initial preparation keeps the production crews working the full day with little downtime.
Implement an Incentive Program
Slattery pays every field employee a base rate per hour and an incentive based on production achievement, attitude, skills and attendance. Workers only receive the incentive pay when their job productivity meets or exceeds the production goal for each job. As the market has driven bid prices down, this encourages crews to produce more, which makes the company more competitive.
To continue improving, Slattery recently hired a systems improvement engineer whose role is to constantly monitor operations and find ways the company can improve. He has found hundreds of ways to save money and improve quality and has implemented the following processes: small tools inventory, daily job checklists, controls for
equipment usage, fuel monitoring programs and systems installation.
Make People a Top Priority
Every year during the slow winter months, the company holds two-day training sessions for all foremen and key people. The agenda includes a review of systems and standards, improvement ideas and interaction exercises to develop teamwork.
Slattery’s commitment to continuous improvement is the key to his company’s success. Apply some of these sound principles, and your company will also grow with time.
A Week at a Glance
Slattery and his team have found these weekly meetings beneficial:
Daily job meeting—Slattery requires three-minute meetings on every job, every morning. The foreman reviews the daily production goals, tool and equipment requirements and safety issues with the entire crew. At the end of each day, the foreman measures productivity and reports this to the office. The foreman also discusses the work accomplished with the crew the following day. And the office also sends out five weekly meeting topics for the crew to review, such as equipment breakdowns, scaffolding safety and jobsite security.
Monday morning management meeting—The management team plans out the upcoming week, creates a winning game plan and prepares for upcoming activities. After the meeting, a report is generated and distributed to all key personnel and placed in a company binder for all to review. According to Slattery’s philosophy, anything that gets written down gets done.
Wednesday office staff meeting—The company discusses office and administrative issues, accidents, training, safety, job performance, job budgets versus actual costs, job overruns and projected profit, staffing, vehicles, bid results, upcoming bids and company direction.
Wednesday jobsite safety meeting—The foremen lead a 10-minute safety meeting every Wednesday on every job to discuss topics sent out from the office.
Friday foreman wrap-up meeting—Every Friday at 3 p.m., the foremen meet for 30 minutes to turn in field paperwork and timecards, discuss job issues and plan ahead for the next week. Each foreman gives a report on their project manpower, logistics, equipment, safety, percentage complete, paperwork and other jobsite production challenges. The bookkeeper also reviews timecards, job paperwork and safety reports for accuracy and completeness.
Construction Business Owner, October 2011