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October 17, 2011

What Skills Do I Need to Start a Construction Company?
Filed under: Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

The Construction business consists of three main items:

  1. Get Work
  2. Do Work
  3. Keep Score

Let’s start with the middle one. You need to have experience producing great results. If you achieve mid-level results for your current boss, don’t bother going into business for yourself. To succeed, you need to be that guy that already succeeds in your current job.

That doesn’t mean you need to be a master craftsman or have the highest technical skills on the jobsite. You must be competent in your trade and your crew needs to exceed expectations in production, quality, safety and schedule. If you can’t manage a crew to successful outcomes, don’t go into your own business. Put another way, you must be a leader. That means you take charge and others follow.

Most guys contemplating a construction start-up feel confident in their ability to do work. If that’s true for you, then consider your ability to get work. Don’t be afraid to say the S word here. You need to do Sales. That doesn’t mean telemarketing skills or the fast talking of a used car salesperson. Construction Start-Up sales requires the ability to initiate contacts, be organized with follow-ups and accept rejection. It sure helps to have a winning personality (to be someone that people tend to like), though you don’t need a specific personality type. To be successful in getting work, you need to be a bit creative, organized and willing to deal with fellow bipeds.

The Keep Score part scares many would-be entrepreneurs. It shouldn’t. Though the tasks are different from sales, the organizational skills are the same. The administrative portion of a construction company can be set-up well with some expert consulting advice. In fact, by utilizing new technologies such as cloud computing and smart phones, you could easily be operating at a more advanced level than most big firms. So if you can get the work and do the work, you can learn to keep score well.

Remember, when considering the construction industry, smart and fast beats big and slow.


October 10, 2011

Stealing Bridges and Buying Buildings to Scrap
Filed under: Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

The increase in scrap metal prices has changed behavior. Lex just shot me an article about a Western PA bridge that was stolen for scrap, titled How Does an Entire Bridge Go Mission? Since the 50′ long bridge was on an abandoned rail line and in a remote area, the theives (perhaps unemployed construction workers?) took what police estimated to be a month to demo and scrap the bridge.

The photo above, not of the stolen bridge but a stock photo, gives a sense of how much steel could be recycled from the caper. It hardly seems worth going to jail, especially considering that a only a few scrap yards exist and would need to be investigated, but someone thought it worth the risk.

Another, less risky, venture I recently read about in the Central Penn Business News involved demo companies buying old industrial properties just for the scrap value of the buildings. With the dismal real estate market, particularly in old industrial areas, some firms actually can profit from purchasing early industrial buildings (which probably have lots of copper wiring and heavy steel structures) and scrapping the buildings. Then the property can be sold later when the market rebounds.

We recently demolished an old school building to build a church and I was amazed at the scrap prices we received. Keep the value of recycling in mind as you make renovation decisions. Some options now deserve some analysis that previously would have been dismissed immediately. The world, she’s a changing.


October 6, 2011

The Guy Working Next to Me
Filed under: Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

Five years ago, Charlie Roberts, a disturbed young man, stormed an Amish school here and took lots of kids hostage. You probably read about the Nickel Mines Amish school shooting. Roberts shot ten Amish schoolgirls, execution style. Five of those girls survived and five didn’t.

A few years before that, Charlie was working for a local overhead door firm, installing doors on a new factory we were building. As I walked the project and chatted with workers, I never considered the possibility that one of them would soon be a mass murderer.

I offer no insight into why Charlie did that terrible crime or even what folks should do to try to prevent future crazy acts. I simply have no idea.

A recent news story about the response of Charlie’s Mom touched me, though. Terri Roberts lost a son the day of the Nickel Mines shooting, as well as her sense of peace that life somehow makes sense. She can’t bring her son back, or those that perished. What Terri did do, though, inspires and amazes me.

Several months after the shooting, Terri and her husband were visiting some of the Amish victims. As was widely reported, the Amish families forgave Charlie and his family almost immediately, not holding a grudge for an act that was impossible to understand. As Terri talked with the families, she learned of Rosanna King, one of the wounded girls who can’t walk, talk or eat, but is aware of her surroundings.

Terri began a weekly visit to Rosanna. The Huffington Post article describes it so well:

Almost every Thursday evening since, Terri has visited the Kings for several hours, singing to Rosanna, cleaning her bedclothes, bathing her limp body and reading her Bible stories.

After the first few visits, Terri cried all the way home. “Lord, I can’t do this,” she said. But she went back the next week, and the next.

“She’s got to be an awful strong woman to be able to do that,” said Rosanna’s father, Christ King. “Some of the evenings that Terri is there, Rosanna has a rough time or cries a lot. You can’t help but think about what happened and why she is like she is. I don’t know that I’d be that strong.”

I share this redemption story to inspire you and me. Let’s try to live as our best selves today. Let’s do the hard work that we discover in our path.


July 26, 2011

Get Smarter About Lifting Heavy Loads
Filed under: Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

I just discovered a great rigging calculator that helps you size webbing or wire rope for many pick configurations. Liftall: Products for Better Lifting manufactures lifting components here in Lancaster, PA. It’s hard to keep those Pennsylvania Dutchman down. The schematic for the two leg configuration is shown below.

The calculator also include a Basket hitch for box, Basket hitch for roll (shown below), three leg hitch and 4 leg hitch.

I think it would make a helpful smart phone app, fitting nicely with the Steel Beam Design app, Wood Beam Design app and Steel Shapes app. We’ll see.

We are just getting started on the next batch of apps, so let us know if you have any suggestions that would make your construction life better.

Speaking of phone apps that make your life better, iKamaSutra works for me. Reviewed as “A stylish way to spice up your sex life”, this tastefully done app will certainly get your creative juices flowing. By the way, sorry if you find this last recommendation offensive. It’s not meant to be…just me passing on a good app.


July 15, 2011

Friday Fun: Blowing Up Bridges to Opera
Filed under: Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

Sorry for the shortage of posts recently. It seems I’m not that busy so I get nothing done. Here’s a fun video that will make you smile.



July 9, 2011

When to Start Your Construction Business
Filed under: Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

My wife tells me, “Timing is everything”. While she’s not talking about business issues, I find the timing of ventures matters. A good concept, executed at the wrong time, does’t fair better than a bad concept. So if you’ve long dreamed of being your own boss in this crazy construction industry, make sure to consider the timing of the launch as a key point.

Guess what? I think it’s getting close to being a great time to launch a new construction business. We all know that John D. Rockefeller quote, “The time to buy is when the blood is running in the streets”. If you have capital, you want  to make purchases at the bottom of the market cost cycle. If you plan to start a new business, though, you don’t want to start at the bottom of the cycle (too much market confusion with firms going bankrupt and crazy low pricing). You want to use the bottom to be planning your business launch and gathering needed equipment.

Then, as the industry outlook becomes clearly better, you want to launch your firm towards the beginning of the upswing. Don’t try to time the bottom and hit it exactly, but use that time to be intensely planning your firm.

The exciting idea I mentioned the end of last week? We will be adding lots of resources to to help Construction Start-Ups navigate the road to success. Whether you want to  start a trade firm (concrete contractor, masonry contractor, electrical contractor, etc.) or a general contracting firm or a CM firm, we will be providing lots of free (or low cost) resources to help. We’ll be addressing how to topics like:

  1. Get customers
  2. Estimate pricing
  3. Track job costs
  4. Manage design documents
  5. Deal with changes
  6. Set-up banking and insurance
  7. Do the work
  8. Get paid
  9. Get more customers

Whether you are the entrepreneurial or helping the start-up team grow, you’ll find more practical, simple resources for getting the most important things done. We’ll try to be your Dutch Uncle, telling you the things you need to hear.

As I considered this new direction for, I realized no one else in the industry helps  new firms trying to break into the business. Obviously, existing construction firms have a strong disincentive from helping their employees break out as competitors. Consultants tend to avoid start-ups due to the almost universal shortage of cash in young firms.

Because of the breakthroughs in cloud computing, some new technologies can drastically reduce the cost of entry into the construction business. We will be highlighting lots of these technologies.

So, if you have the hankering to work for yourself, to start a construction related company, what should you be doing now? Take time every day to work on planning. Think about the areas that will be challenging (like job pricing or getting new customers) and work on better understanding them. Use your current job as a specific training ground for your proposed business. Don’t just scheme randomly, but work specifically, with a clear plan for things you need to learn and do.

Please don’t in any way cheat or steal from your current employer. Give them a better than a good day’s work for a day’s pay. Just pay attention to the things you can learn as you do your job. Bide your time and be ready to launch as the industry curve rises.


May 6, 2011

Construction Cheaters Going to Jail…Where They Belong
Filed under: Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

Lehr Construction Corp renovated office buildings in NYC and ran a scheme that reportedly cheated $30M from their customers. Working for marquis clients like Fidelity Investments and The Economist magazine, Lehr ran an over-invoicing scam.

Lehr utilized both an open book,  Construction Management side of the company that worked on a percentage mark-up on costs along with a General Contracting side that worked at lump sum bids. The management colluded with selected sub-contractors to inflate their invoices on the CM projects, then to low ball the GC projects. Therefore Lehr over-billed their CM customers (and increased their CM fees) while being able to obtain much more GC work at better margins.

I’m not sure the old adage that cheaters never win is always true, but it’s mostly true. These stinking cheaters got caught (and went bankrupt as well) and are going on trial. The charge of enterprise corruption carries a jail term of 25 years. The VPs of finance, operations and estimating are all on the hot seat.

How do guys like these not expect to be caught? Is the arrogance that high? Or just the stupidity? These are crimes with lots of other parties involved. People, for the most part, don’t keep secrets well.

“Sadly, greed and corruption impose a hidden, billion-dollar-a-year tax on New York City’s construction industry,” said New York District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., whose office is investigating the industry.

These cheaters didn’t win. Even the other guys who haven’t gotten caught have to go through life knowing they are scum balls. I encourage you not to just take the high road, but take the highest road. Behave in such a way that even the appearance of impropriety is absent. Set your personal standards so high that everyone who works with you or knows you has a clear sense of your high integrity. Live like somebody is always watching…because it’s true.


April 19, 2011

Here’s to my New Best Friend, Mike Rowe
Filed under: Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

Mike Rowe, the Dirty Jobs guy from TV, recently launched a new website called Trades Hub. He wants to direct his many fans with construction interest toward technical answers.


I was pleasantly surprised when the folks at the site requested Construction Knowledge to be one of the featured Friends on the sidebar. They will be using some of my posts and putting them out there to a much larger audience. So what’s not to like about that? TBW even acted a bit impressed, which is not a common event in my life.

Here’s the news release just received:

Mike Rowe Is No Expert, But He Knows Where to Find Them

After being an apprentice on nearly 300 dirty jobs, Mike Rowe is still no expert, but he sure knows where to find them. In 2008, Mike launched mikeroweWORKS, a website dedicated to championing the cause of hard workers and reinvigorating the skilled trades.  Since then, mrW has provided resources, news, and a community forum for folks from all kinds of trades. Now, with the launch of the Trades Hub, the goals of mrW can be expanded even further and across many more website portals.

Think of Trade Hubs as a “first cousin” to mrW. With this new platform, we’ll be able to pull together even more experts from such diverse trade fields as constructionplumbinglandscaping, manufacturing, machinery and HVAC just to name a few.

Here’s what you can look for at the Trades Hub:

More High Quality Content: The mrW Trades Hub will be pulling together all kinds of blogs, articles and news stories relating to the trades, by the trades and for the trades. They will be updated throughout the day.

One Stop Shop: With an easy to navigate site, users will be able to quickly source out those areas of interest that appeal to them on any given day. The links will take them right to where they want to go without sorting through all kinds of search engine pages for the right site.

Finding the Diamond in the Rough: When you consider the millions of new pages and posts uploaded across the internet everyday it’s hard to find the best representations for your interests. Trade Hubs takes internet searching to the next level by identifying those popular blog and websites that might normally go unnoticed if you’re not a regular subscriber.

Building Up the Trades Community: “The skills gap is a real concern that’s getting more worrisome every day.  Fewer skilled tradesmen in the workforce will affect us all.  Younger folks need to have a better understanding of how they can benefit from learning a trade, and parents need to encourage their kids to consider this worthwhile and important path.  mrW strives to reinvigorate the trades.  The mrW Trades Hub will help us in that effort.”


March 30, 2011

Female Construction Supervisors Out-Earn Men
Filed under: Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

In the overall US Economy, a Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that women earn $0.81 compared to $1.00 for men. However, there are some exceptions. A recent Forbes article titled 15 Jobs Where Women Earn More than Men listed Construction Supervisor. Apparently 97% of Construction Supervisors are men, but those few women make more.

The article states, “Researchers have found that both sexes fare better when they are in the minority,” says Caren Goldberg, a management professor at American University’s business school in Washington, D.C. “Women who choose male-dominated jobs are likely perceived as “atypical” or less consistent with the stereotypes associated with women, which are also associated with lower-paying jobs.”

With the relatively high wages and the enjoyment of building things in the construction industry, I’ve always wondered why more woman don’t participate. I wonder if Port-A-Potties have anything to do with it?


March 25, 2011

So You Think You’ve Got a Big Tool?
Filed under: Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

We love our tools in construction. We always want to have the right tool for the job, knowing how much better everything goes. When it comes to heavy equipment, the bigger the more impressive.

Lex sent me this photo of a tunnel drilling rig, which staggers the imagination.

Look at that man crawling on the rocks, he appears to be an action figure. They are completing the NEAT Gotthard Base Tunnel that crosses the Alps in Switzerland. The huge construction project should complete in May 2016 and will cut the travel time dramatically from Zurich to Milan. The sketch below fascinates me as well.

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