The Future of Construction Technology
General contractor and design-build specialist Vandervert Construction has been known for quality private commercial projects since 1975. From its humble roots forty-two years ago, the company has grown, is thriving and now employs sixty people.
Andrea Frye is the business development manager at Vandervert Construction in Spokane Washington. From her office, she described a company on the frontiers of the industry. “A huge accomplishment is being on the leading edge of modular construction over the past year.”
For four decades, Vandervert has taken on complex projects, with accelerated schedules, and the tightest budgets, and it has thrived. Seeking out projects specifically for difficulty has pushed its limits and expanded its ability to lead the industry.
With modular or pre-fabricated construction, seventy by fourteen foot, thirty-ton units are lifted and stacked in place by a huge, 360 ton hydraulic crane like building blocks. “The process can go from a foundation to a four-storey hotel in one week.”
The building in question was the first Courtyard by Marriott ever built utilizing modular construction. The crane set was a major event in the construction and hospitality industries. “Marriott Corporate executives and the president of Stonebridge Companies flew in as well as other developers and general contractors from across the country because it was groundbreaking. Marriot is looking to modular construction as the model for the future.”
Doing something new and different is not unusual for Vandervert, and the results speak for themselves. The company completed more than $80 million in work in 2016 through fifty-five projects including ground-up construction and tenant improvements.
Even though the company has grown through the years to meet the needs of a dynamically evolving marketplace, the core of the business is the relationship with the client, and Vandervert has built its reputation on providing added value through quality, integrity, and efficiency.
“We are extremely transparent in everything we say and do. We do only private construction because we believe in building enduring relationships rather than just being the lowest bid. About seventy-five percent of work comes from repeat clients or client referrals.”
The world-class team at Vandervert draws its strength from the owner’s relationship with the employees. “How you treat your employees is how your employees will treat your customers. Tim Stulc, the owner and president, cares about team members and making a difference. There is a culture of servant leadership. We invest in our people and help them get the training and education they need to continue to advance in their career. We encourage them to get involved and take an active role in strengthening and making a positive impact in the community.”
Maintaining transparency goes a long way in establishing trust. Vandervert Construction provides the client an itemized spreadsheet outlining everything included in a bid. “We want to have a conversation about pricing and help the owner understand where the numbers are coming from.” Rather than providing a lump sum bid, the company itemizes the budget in detail and offers the client a choice of subcontractor bids.
Communicating clearly about costs and price facilitates a strong bond. “We try to educate them and make them part of the process to make the best decisions. We also offer budget engineering solutions so we can explain to a client, ‘here’s your plan, but if you do that you are going to be at the top of your budget or over your budget, here are some alternatives that align with your budget and still achieve the look and feel you are going for.’”
The stellar reputation Vandervert enjoys goes beyond clients and employees; the trades know this is a great company to partner with as well. “When you’ve been around this long, you build relationships. Yes, that’s going to get preferred pricing, but they also get to know what our needs are, what our expectations are because they have that extensive history with us.”
Vandervert has earned its reputation for efficiency. “When we’re building, we’re building fast. The trades know the volume of work we do, and they come through for us with the accelerated time schedules that we have.”
“We operate with a compressed construction schedule. When you go by one of our projects there is a lot going on. We work out a way for multiple trades to work at once. For example, plumbing and electrical can both be on site working without interfering with each other.”
The company offers a vast range of general contracting services and self performs about 20 percent of the work including concrete forming and placing, rough and finish carpentry, along with door and specialty feature installation. Vandervert specializes in seeing the project from the client’s point of view.
“We take time to really understand the client. What is their brand? What is their vision? How can we bring that to life? If you build a restaurant, you have to create an experience. We take time and understand what they are trying to achieve.”
Working to get the client moved in as quickly as possible is always a top priority for the company. “Time matters. It’s a huge investment when someone is building a new office, hotel, store, or other structure.”
Vandervert Construction creates a unique single point of contact multidisciplinary project manager who communicates with the client. The one-on-one relationship helps in understanding and serving their needs and keeping communication clear.
To keep offering that single point of contact and enhanced service to clients outside of Spokane has taken a commitment to invest in employees across the region. “We have fulltime project managers, superintendents, and project teams that live throughout the state. Rather than traveling five hours or so to do a job, you work in a community where you live and your family lives. You are doing projects for people you go to church with or see at the store and community events, people you have built a relationship with.”
“Our people and the relationships each one builds sets Vandervert apart. Four decades later we are proud of the fact we still have some of the same clients from when we were just starting out. We’ve built a lot of new relationships too along the way. We’ve brought on big commercial companies, and we’re partnering with them in building chains of restaurants and retail stores throughout the west. Recently a new restaurant brand was coming to our market. We contacted them about the project and were told they utilize the same contractor for all of their locations and not interested in using a local contractor. They ended up talking to another national chain that we have a long standing relationship with and decided to partner with us.”
The thriving economy creates a familiar tale of woe in the building trade as demand for labor skyrockets. “Finding the skilled labor force we need when the construction industry is doing so well creates a challenge. Not many young people are going into the trades, but it’s also the management positions, from a superintendent to project management.”
Online recruiting sites, company website, social media, and word of mouth are all part of the matrix of networking Vandervert uses to recruit. “How are we going to find that next generation of talent that helps us to grow into the future? If anyone is basically employable, they can find a job. There’s a lot of work. Our company reputation gives us a competitive advantage in attracting and brining on highly qualified candidates.”
Even without the proposed infrastructure investment that has been promised by various levels of government, the demand for new buildings and upgrades is robust. “Construction is booming. Here in Spokane, the recession hit a few years after it hit the major cities. The construction boom similarly has taken a couple of years to reach us. From what we’re seeing, based on work we already have on the books for the years to come, things are going to continue to grow through 2020.”
What could be a greater endorsement than someone within your industry choosing you to build their facility? “DCI Engineering asked us to do their new office – We partnered with HDG Architecture to renovate a 1920s parking garage. It is now a sleek and modern downtown office building reflecting the civil and structural engineering focus of the company.”
Vandervert Construction performs work in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. While the company has expanded and now employs team members across the region, Vandervert remains committed to its Spokane roots. “We’ll be moving our head office downtown this summer, and that’s very exciting. We invest in our communities. We really believe that the downtown core is the heart of the town, and if you have a vital central core, the whole city will thrive.”
Companies that can anticipate where the construction industry is heading will stay at the front of the line. “Innovation is part of our culture. Embracing the latest technology, best practices, and construction methods allows for the evolution of convenience, efficiency, and effectiveness. New technology like BIM-3D modeling, and methods like modular construction are changing the industry. People and businesses care about being green and the environment; these new technologies enable a more efficient use of natural resources.”
The evolution of information technology will touch every facet of the industry in the coming decades. “In the field we have started to use iPads with all our blueprints on them. We can even overlay updated versions to see changes to the plans, and that will increase. We’re going to continue to change. It will be the standard that the client and everyone else can see the blueprint and see a rendering of the finished project before there’s even a shovel in the ground.”
“We’re innovative; we’re always looking for challenges and opportunities to push us and make us even better at what we do. We don’t follow the status quo of how things have always been done; we’re on the forefront and vanguard of the industry.”