Surviving and Thriving
Damon-Marcus Company has stayed busy while keeping its workers safe throughout the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown with comprehensive measures to maintain employee health in the face of the coronavirus. This full-service mechanical contractor is based in Bartlett, Tennessee and licensed to work in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi. The company offers welding, plumbing, mechanical work, sheet metal, pipefitting, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) projects. It also performs maintenance on HVAC and plumbing equipment.
“We fortunately didn’t have to shut down. I guess we are considered essential, especially in healthcare and areas like that. We did have projects that were either put on hold or were cancelled. We were fortunate enough not to have to reduce our staff and were able to keep all our staff going,” reports Vice President Scott Daniel.
Keeping staff safe and healthy is part of Damon-Marcus’ culture of transparency, integrity, and concern for its workforce. Damon-Marcus also prides itself on being self-reliant. To this end, all company services, aside from insulation, HVAC controls, and test and balance tasks are self-performed.
“We don’t like to be dependent on anyone. We like to have as much control as we can over our destiny,” explains Co-Founder and Acting President Marc Parker.
Further evidence of this independent streak can be found in the fact Damon-Marcus maintains a thirty-thousand-square-foot, in-house facility to fabricate sheet metal and pre-fabricate piping for installations in the field.
The company is typically hired for work involving hospitals, industrial and medical manufacturing facilities, and schools. Education and healthcare are the two busiest sectors for Damon-Marcus. Regardless of the sector involved, “our two biggest revenue generators are new construction and retrofit on existing facilities,” adds Daniel.
Damon-Marcus is usually brought into projects as a sub-contractor. The company has proven flexible in such matters, however. “There are times when we bid jobs and we are the prime contractor working for a client and general contractors and subs work for us and we manage them. We’re not always a sub-contractor. This past year, over a third of our business was done directly for the owner or the client,” says Parker.
Back in the 1980s, Parker was a second-generation sheet metal worker. In 1985, he founded Damon-Marcus, along with a fellow sheet metal worker named Danny McGroom, now retired. The focus at first was solely on sheet-metal work.
“We were both working for a contractor in our area that is no longer in our area. We just decided if we can do this for a contractor, we can do it for ourselves,” recalls Parker.
Operations at Damon-Marcus were small-scale at first. Besides Parker and McGroom, the only other employee in the early days was Gloria Parker. To write invoices and reports, she acquired an old, manual typewriter at a yard sale. The fledgling firm did estimates at night, and fabricated and installed during the day. There were a lot of long days and weekends working during those early years.
Damon-Marcus was initially based “in a building that was twenty-seven feet wide and one hundred feet long,” reports Parker. The company grew quickly, and a few years after launching, built a larger facility using its own forces to erect the building. The company focus began to expand as well as its workforce. Allen Deck, Vice President, rounds out the company’s team of principals.
“We moved forward,” Parker recalls of the early 1990s, “from being a sheet metal contractor that subcontracted with other mechanical contractors to where we became fully-licensed mechanical and plumbing contractors.” In 2006, the company moved into its current headquarters in Bartlett.
Damon-Marcus has experienced healthy revenues in recent years and “recently added some outside storage on some of the land we own,” says Daniel.
“There are times when we’re bursting at the seams. And then, the market goes up and down. You have a pandemic [for example]. We can probably do $40 million in this facility right now, so we don’t see a need on the near horizon for a bigger facility,” adds Parker.
When COVID-19 hit earlier this year, Damon-Marcus made sure its workers “followed all the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines, as far as social distancing, [hand sanitizer], and masks,” and moved its employees around different worksites to ensure they stayed safe, says Daniel.
When a person from outside the company tested positive for COVID-19 on a worksite, Damon-Marcus pulled its employees off the job and had them tested. The firm waited until the test results all came back negative before transferring the workers to another job. Not a single worker from Damon-Marcus has tested positive for the coronavirus to date.
This emphasis on health and safety is not a new development at Damon-Marcus. Once hired, employees go through a detailed safety orientation course. The company sends workplace safety experts to visit jobsites to conduct reviews and report any perceived problems so they can be remedied. In addition to these measures, Damon-Marcus hosts regular tool box talks with its workforce to discuss safety matters.
That workforce has expanded quite a bit from the company’s early days. Damon-Marcus Company currently employs over ninety workers and is a union shop, affiliated with locals representing sheet metal workers, plumbers, and steamfitters.
Having a unionized staff means front-line workers are skilled and thoroughly trained. Damon-Marcus also employs a designated superintendent for each trade who “oversees day-to-day operations and installations and reports back to us,” explains Daniel.
In addition, each worksite has a foreman who “may have five to twenty people under him. We’re like the army. We have a chain of command. If somebody is not performing, we take the necessary actions to get that person to where they can perform correctly,” adds Parker.
“We look for employees who are well-qualified and willing to learn and be trained in a particular trade. Their attitude is important. We’re looking for individuals who want to make a career out of the construction industry and whatever particular trade that we are bringing them in. If they don’t know anything, we put them with qualified journeymen to teach them,” says Daniel.
“All of our craftsmen go through a five-year apprenticeship to learn their particular trade. When they come out, they are qualified craftsmen,” adds Parker.
As for the biggest challenge facing the company, he points to the industry-wide lack of young people entering skilled trades to replace aging workers on the verge of retirement. Damon-Marcus is working hard to entice young people to join its ranks. “You’ve got to have the workers to get the work done. Even though there’s a pandemic right now, there’s not a surplus of skilled workers out there,” he says.
“The younger generation is looking for the glamour. We have implemented new technologies; we’re using computers; we just made a substantial investment on software out in the field. We’re trying to keep up with the times. I think [such measures will make] some of the younger generation more interested in the construction industry,” adds Daniel.
The company has a website and social media presence but otherwise does not do much advertising. “We’re well-known in this area and usually are on select bid lists with facilities. General contractors enjoy us being on their projects because of our reputation for quality work and ability to meet their schedule. We’ve really have not needed to advertise,” states Parker.
Daniel envisions “continued growth” for the firm. “We’ve been pretty good the last couple years.” Damon-Marcus is committed to growing the maintenance and services side of the business and has brought in a service manager and market development personnel to facilitate expansion in that area.
For his part, Parker wants the company to continue adding new technology to enhance its existing capabilities. The main goal, however, is to maintain Damon-Marcus’ excellent reputation in the industry. It has set itself apart from the competition through quality workmanship, good customer relations, and reliability.
“We’ve been doing this for thirty-five years, and we always have been on time and on budget. We have always made sure the client was satisfied when their project is finished. We’ve never missed a deadline, and we’ve been under some pretty tight deadlines too. We’re able to sleep very well at night,” he says.
“We have a lot of blue-chip customers,” he notes. “We want them to come back again and use our services. We take care of them. We give them what they need. We add value to what they are doing, because they know they can depend on us. They know they’re going to get quality work. We may work around the clock or on weekends to do something for a healthcare facility or educational facility, because they have to be functional come Monday morning. We take care of people.”