Turning Back Time

The Durable Restoration Company

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The Durable Restoration Company is a general construction company that specializes in traditional historical restoration techniques and methods, using materials that are historically correct. The company has approximately one hundred employees at five offices spread throughout the country and is dedicated to bringing buildings back to their original condition.
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The Durable Restoration Company started as The Durable Slate Company, a roofing company that specialized in repairing slate work. It gradually added copper and metal roofing projects.

“From there, we evolved into doing historical masonry,” says Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Gary Howes. “But at first, it didn’t work very well. We used a modern mortar with historic brick, but the mortar wasn’t holding up. It wasn’t lasting; it was causing problems, and at that point, we realized there must be something more to doing mason work than what we understood it to be.

“We had to learn how to do masonry work the traditional way,” says Howes. “So, we just started picking up specific trades, one at a time. Eventually, we had a big enough repertoire that we could do the historic exterior envelope of a building. It’s like we evolved one piece at a time. Over that period of time, we picked up an acquired sum of employees that had special experience in historical mortar and historical construction, and we assembled a crew that had the right skill set.”

One thing that sets Durable Restoration Company apart is how most of its work is done in-house. “Most restoration companies specialize in something, whether it’s masonry or construction management or interiors,” says Howes. “But we’re capable of doing all that in-house. Our employees do the work. We subcontract very little of our work and most of the clients we deal with find that appealing because it is a one-source-of-responsibility situation which means we control the workmanship and schedule better.”

The Durable Restoration Company is very proud of its accomplishments. “We did a full restoration of the Frank Lloyd Wright House in Springfield, Ohio. That was a complete interior-exterior renovation,” says Howes. “We brought the building back to its original Frank Lloyd Wright design, down to every single detail – the furniture and everything.

“We re-did the whole thing – inside and out,” says Howes. “It was originally designed to be a single home for a family, and over the years, it was converted into a six-unit apartment building. So, we brought it back to its original look. Its purpose is a museum for the community, and it looks, and it is furnished just like it was when it was originally built.”

Though some projects take as long as two years to complete, Durable Restoration Company never loses its dedication to returning a building to its original look. “We try to stay true to what the original architect had in mind for the building when it was originally constructed,” says Howes. “We want to do everything we possibly can to complement what was originally intended for the building to appear and function like. So, our first approach is to make sure that everything that they did, really did work and function as intended.

“It’s said that ‘they don’t build them like they used to,’ but sometimes, there are failures in the old designs that don’t work so well. So, there are times when we have to make adjustments and bring in a modern technique to offset deficiencies, but we try to conceal it so that you don’t see it. In situations like the Frank Lloyd Wright House, we had to do some things to enhance those structural deficiencies, but not allow it to be visible to the public eye.”

The Durable Restoration Company and the Durable Slate Company are one entity but are branded as two different companies. “There is one ownership,” says Howes. “But there are two companies; one is branded to specialize in historical slate roofing while the other is branded in historical restoration. The crews and management teams are different, as are the guys that do the estimating and evaluating.”

One challenge faced by The Durable Restoration Company is finding employees who want to do historical restoration for a living. “There are not as many people interested in working in the trades as there used to be,” says Howes. “. We are trying to acquire and retain quality craftsmen because they are going to be working on some important buildings, and it is hard to put a price tag on some of these places. So, we are kind of picky about who we want to hire and employ. Our goal is to find the right person that fits these unique qualifications, and it is becoming more of a challenge.”

As a result, it has also had to learn how to do in-house training. “Basically, we have to train everybody from scratch, on how to do historical restoration work. Even if someone comes to us with a lot of construction experience, it’s probably not going to be in historical restoration work. So, we have to take what they do know and what they’ve learned, and convert that into what they need (for this type of work).”

The Durable Restoration Company’s primary marketing tool is its visibility via the internet. “The internet has really become a strong marketing tool for us,” says Howes. “We now have a pretty good resume of clients, so when people type in key search words, we’re pretty easy to find.”

Because of its need for workers, company’s approach to marketing is evolving. “We’re just now getting to the point where we realize we have to actually become marketers for potential employees. In the past, we would use traditional help-wanted ads, Craigslist or something like that, when looking for employees,” says Howes. “But we’re currently putting together a marketing strategy to market our company as an employer, not just as a company to be hired for restoration work.

“We’re really focusing on our in-house training program and recruitment,” says Howes. “Without more quality employees, we’re limited in how much further we can branch out. We need qualified workers, so we’re focused on being able to acquire and/or attract quality men and women that really have a passion for doing historical restoration and doing it correctly.”

The company is dedicated to its clients and in helping them avoid disappointment. “When it comes to restoration work, a lot of times, the projects are bigger than the funds can support,” says Howes. “The work that needs doing needs to be done correctly, and can sometimes be a budget buster. So, we try to recommend to our clients or prospective clients that they do what they can afford to do, one hundred percent right, even if it’s not one hundred percent of the project, rather than have them try to get the whole project done with the money they have by trying to value-engineer everything down to a poor/poorer or lesser quality and soliciting the cheaper contractor with the cheaper incorrect materials.

“That can be a really colossal waste of money because it just doesn’t last; it doesn’t work,” says Howes. “From my experience, in the long run, people aren’t typically happy with that. It’s a hard call, because people have a building that they want to restore, and they want it back to the way it was, right now. But, a lot of the times, the budget won’t allow for that. So, if they’ve got enough money to do half the project, one hundred percent correct, we would rather see them do that than try to take whatever money they have to complete the whole project to a lesser standard because when that happens, those projects tend to fail.”

For the Durable Restoration Company, with work all over the country, there is no lack of exciting work opportunities as it continues to focus on its employees and trying to turn back time for buildings by returning them to their original look, texture, color, and condition.

Addressing the Ongoing Labour Shortage

For years, the construction industry across North America has seen fewer skilled tradespeople enter the workforce, creating challenges in getting projects completed on time and within budget. While the labour shortage is not new, it is reaching a breaking point.

March 23, 2019, 3:39 PM EDT