A Passion for Plaster
Cooper Plastering Corporation is a traditional plastering firm headquartered in Edison, New Jersey. Its specialized professional plastering installations include a variety of decorative and functional services for an extensive list of clients.
Some of these services include ornamental and Venetian plaster, stucco, acoustical plaster, glass fiber reinforced gypsum (GFRG) and exterior insulation and finish systems (EIFS). It is a custom designer, manufacturer and installer of plaster crown, vaults, columns and ceiling medallions.
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” This was touted by Steve Jobs. Indeed, those who possess a passion for what they do in any aspect of life are the personification of confidence, enthusiasm and ambition. Passionate individuals entice those around them to share in a common vision – an all-consuming drive that propels them forward. And more often than not, passion translates into perfection.
For Cooper Plastering Corporation President Jim Cooper, Senior, this passion resonates throughout every project undertaken. Rather than being considered merely a trade, plastering is one of the oldest crafts in the building industry. Jim established this family owned and operated business in 1998.
The company has an average of about twenty-five union field employees, and its clients include general and interior contractors. It operates as a subcontractor in the tri-state area – New Jersey, Connecticut and New York – with some of the largest contractors in Manhattan.
Projects have included those in the educational, pharmaceutical, residential and sports and recreation industries. It also does a great deal of work in the financial sector according to the company’s Chief Estimator Jim Cooper, Junior. “We do a lot of work for the private hedge funds.” Some projects included those for Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan as well as work on the new Freedom Tower.
Jim Jr. explains that Cooper Plastering receives a fair share of huge projects that may last anywhere from six months to two years. Lately, the typical time for projects has been a couple of weeks to a month. “Those are good because you build a lot of relationships that way.”
These smaller projects also build the company’s reputation. “They’re always tight schedules. We’re a finish trade, so we’re at the end. Being able to finish the job on time for the owner is a big deal. A lot of people respect the fact that we’re able to accomplish it most of the time.”
Jim Jr. is responsible for most of the pre-construction details once a project is secured. Jim Sr. becomes involved once the project is mobilized. Preconstruction meetings with contractors, designers, architects and the client ensure that “we submit the product that they like and make sure they get all their samples and such,” and, “make sure that everyone is on the same page with us and we’re on the same page with them. We’re working with three, four [and] five different trades on any given project that we’re going to have to work in conjunction with.”
Once a project is initiated, Cooper Plastering is very fortunate because, “our foremen act like superintendents, and they’re very conscientious. They do a very good job of communicating with us. Some of these jobs kind of run themselves. We have a built-in schedule in our heads.” About halfway through the project, “we’ll start to see where progress is going and we always try to make a good finish at the end,” Jim Jr. says.
Jim Jr. elaborates further on the importance of good communication skills throughout a project, explaining that sometimes architects design ideas that may not necessarily work but, “we have to try to make them happy because they have a vision, and their client – the owner – has a vision.”
Sometimes, trying to engage everyone in sharing the same vision can be a difficult task especially when the perceived vision is unique and doesn’t fall within the realm of what has been attempted before. “Luckily, we’ve seen a lot of different things. We’ve seen, I would say, every ceiling light you can imagine. So it’s one thing we’re never scared about… We do a lot of ceiling work… We try to use past experiences to help us with some of these unique things.”
Mediocrity in business doesn’t attract clients. Being attuned to and listening to clients specific requirements does. It takes a coordinated team effort to achieve total client satisfaction and the competitive edge. For this reason, “Jim Sr. is very particular about who works for the company,” says Jim Jr.
As an apprentice plasterer, Jim Sr. eventually became a foreman and an apprentice instructor and, at one time, was president of the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association of the United States and Canada (OPCMIA). Plasterers and cement masons do have to be certified and trained, usually for three or four years through apprenticeship or on the job training. It can be physically demanding and requires a good understanding of creative direction. It is not something that anyone is capable of doing.
Jim Sr. has, “very high standards for his employees,” says Jim Jr. “He has a very good reputation as a plasterer by trade.”
Safety is of the utmost importance in plastering as it is for any aspect of the construction industry. Some risks factors include strain and fatigue, particularly with long working hours, falls from scaffolding, being hit by falling objects, excessive noise and dust exposure and eye injuries.
Cooper Plastering takes its safety responsibilities seriously so that its employees arrive home safely at the end of the day. Jr. explains that, “safety is key. There’s two ways to look at safety: one is knowledge, and the other is equipment. We make sure all of our [employees] are always trained in the latest OSHA 30 classes.”
The company also ensures that all equipment such as that used for slinging and load handling, tower scaffolds and ladders is, “all up to code and up to standards.” Having the proper safety gear is also vitally important. “Safety now – definitely in the Manhattan industry – has become pretty much the first issue on every job.”
Cooper Plastering has aligned itself with affiliations such as the Plastering and Spray Fireproofing Association of Greater New York, the New York and Connecticut Plasterers’ Union and the New Jersey District Council of Mason Tenders.
“The plastering industry is a very small fish in the pond,” says Jim Jr., adding that there are approximately fifteen to twenty contractors that the company competes with. “We’re all very special and well known. If we’re mentioned in the same breath with a lot of them, it kind of gives us validity.”
Representation with such associations provides both networking opportunities and a collective knowledge base, increased purchasing power and enhanced reputations. “We’re all union contractors, so we’re all kind of sharing the same workforce. It’s good to have a cordial relationship, and the associations give us that avenue.”
Being one of the largest plastering firms on the East Coast is something of which Cooper Plastering is particularly proud. Its location has offered the company a distinct advantage and the competitive edge. “We’re located in central Jersey, and we’re an hour from the city,” continues Jim Jr. “We’re an hour from Philadelphia and a couple hours to Boston and D.C. Being centralized here gives us an ability to cover a big geographic area.”
He also says that the company specializes in a unique product – acoustical plaster – which it has, “mastered over the course of the last few years. It’s a very proprietary product. In every sector, there are probably three or four companies that are certified to do it.”
There has been a surging demand for acoustical plaster over the past five years, especially in universities. Acoustical plaster is a high-end product, and it is, “more esthetically pleasing than ceiling tile … it is very efficient.” Its use is being seen more often in office spaces, conference rooms and board rooms.
Jim Jr. adds that with the building of the Freedom Tower, “I would hope that a lot of the floors would be fit out with some sort of acoustical value and hopefully high-end product like the ones that we do. It’s definitely our number one niche, and it’s something that we’re well known for in the industry.”
Jim Jr. suggests that the Resorts World Casino, (RWNYC), part of the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, New York, was a particularly challenging and biggest project the company had ever undertaken.
The casino attracts about ten million guests and generates close to two billion dollars annually. “We did the stucco work,” he says. “It needed to be done in a very tight time frame … the building was started from scratch.”
There were approximately forty employees working two shifts. “The biggest challenge was supervising the manpower along with all of our other work we had at the time and hitting the schedule in time for the opening.” The casino opened in December 2011.
Cooper Plastering Corporation has a reputation for art and craftsmanship that is appreciated by clients. Jim Jr. concludes by saying that when people hear Jim Cooper Senior talking about plaster, “it’s pretty hard to go with someone else. He’s very passionate about it.”