An Education in Waterproofing
George D. Alan Company
Do you know what can happen if you don’t properly waterproof a building? The George D. Alan Company (GDA) does.
The Texas-based commercial waterproofing company has been telling those who will listen about the hazards of poor waterproofing since 1993. The team has many stories and has done work in a variety of facilities, and the message is always the same: poor waterproofing can lead to disaster for a building.
The company was founded in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, Texas when three guys knowledgeable in waterproofing, construction, and business experience decided to put their names on the building. Daniel George Cain added his middle name, Steven D Wilson added his middle initial and Steven Alan Frank added his middle name to form the banner of The George D. Alan Company.
The company hit the ground running, providing solutions in the areas of not just waterproofing, but also caulking, moisture protection, fire-stopping, and restoration. It now has five locations; Austin, Dallas, and Houston in Texas; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Its roughly 250 employees toil in work that many people just do not think about until something goes wrong. Cain said educating the consumer is an issue; most just do not realize the havoc that poor waterproofing can wreak on a structure.
He recalled one project George D. Alan did recently. A medical facility that was less than ten years old had more leaks than some could count. The project ended up costing about eighty percent of the original cost of building the facility.
“The skin had to be taken off the building – the windows, the brick, metal panels, everything outside the drywall, insulation – everything, and reinstalled,” he recalled. “All of this had to be done while the facility was still operational, so it was an interesting one. It is very important to install moisture protection work correctly the first time. Fortunately, we were not part of the original project.”
The company deals mainly with commercial and industrial clients, multi-family builders, educational buildings and other facilities. Target, Lowes and Walmart are on its client list, as are apartments, other healthcare facilities, and even jails.
“I’ve never done time, let me be very clear on that,” said the humorous Cain. “But jails are interesting to work on. They are done with epoxy sealant, so prisoners can’t hide dope and shanks in doorways and windows.”
Evidently, one picks up all kinds of useful information in the waterproofing game.
Of course, these days, we must talk about COVID-19. George D. Alan had its share of downtime, like everyone else, but the company is holding strong thanks to its bid process.
“In this business, often we bid on a job a year before we actually start working on it, so the pipeline was actually pretty full when the pandemic first hit,” said Cain. “We did okay at the beginning, struggled a bit in the middle, and we’ve had to take some extra steps, but we’re doing well now. In fact, I’d say our numbers in 2019 and 2020 are pretty similar.”
He added that as far as business during the pandemic, anyone building or repairing hotels or offices would get hit hard, but multi-family units, hospitals, and schools are still being built or serviced. It helps, he said, to have customers that know how to pivot, as does George D. Alan.
“The most challenging projects for us,” Cain said, “are the ones that are also challenging for our clients. Compressed schedules, incomplete or confusing construction documents, and other specialty trade contractors struggling can cause problems. Construction is a team effort and we must constantly focus on working as a team so we can all be successful together.”
Another aspect is a worker shortage, which has affected many construction-based businesses over the last several decades. The worker shortage has been going on for a long time, causing some companies to hire some less-skilled people who would eventually have to be managed more thoroughly or pushed out. Construction isn’t for everybody.
“That makes it bad for everyone,” said Cain. “We’ve had to train a lot more and terminate a lot faster – the available talent with an eight percent unemployment rate is much different from a three percent rate.”
George D. Alan’s solution to all this is to vastly improve its training programs. Recognizing that it serves such a small part of the construction industry, management created training modules in both English and Spanish that are not found anywhere else. Some in-house training is supplied, as well as online training.
“So now, after starting our focus on training, we probably do more training than anyone else in the industry. It reduces cost and claims and increases customer service and employee engagement,” he said. “A well-trained guy makes fewer mistakes than a guy off the street.”
Cain said it helps to be always learning. New technology has brought the company to a point of instant communication that, even a decade ago, might not have been possible. For safety and quality control, if it has workers in the field who discover issues that need to be addressed, it is far easier now to bring those issues to management’s attention, even if there is a language barrier between management and the employees.
“They can snap a picture and send it to us or attach it to a report, and within minutes, we are working on a solution. We know exactly what is going on and what needs to be done,” he said. “That’s incredibly empowering. It brings the guy in the field [into the solution], and we can show the client what is happening in the field, and that’s a process that ten years ago would have taken two weeks.”
At the moment, the company is seeing the most growth in air and vapor barriers. The science is out there in full force, showing that a vapor barrier needs to be an integral part of a building and cutting corners does not add up, especially when it comes to energy cost. If there is moisture in the air, Cain explained, it costs a lot more to heat or cool that air. George D. Alan has seen a major increase in this aspect of the job over the last few years.
“Waterproofing used to be one percent of a construction project. Now it has more than doubled,” he said. “There’s a definite long-term benefit for owners to own buildings that are energy-efficient, cheaper to run and maintain, and we’re there to help.”
Cain sees some struggles coming with chemical technology in the future. Manufacturers are pressured to bring new products to the construction market, he said, and it is difficult to have construction products with a ten-year track record in all different kinds of applications and configurations. As a result, a potential situation could arise in which George D. Alan could install a product that is promised to be of good quality, only to have it turn out to be used in a manner that it was not designed for. Management tackles this problem by testing some of the products that are being used in the field so they can tell what works and what does not. This will hopefully create a better-quality experience for everyone involved.
Like a lot of companies, George D. Alan has a charitable side to it, giving to local charities like the SoupMobile, a non-profit organization that feeds and shelters the homeless in Dallas. SoupMobile serves over 200,000 meals per year and provides shelter and sponsors residences for formerly homeless people, including veterans. The company also helps the Denton State Supported Living Center in Denton, Texas, which assists people suffering from severe mental and physical disabilities.
How George D. Alan helps charities is a little different than most. If a project comes along that is not in the company’s wheelhouse, or it would not normally tackle, it will take it on, but require the client to donate to one of its charities.
“If a client needs something done on his house, something we wouldn’t normally do, we’ll tell him that we’ll do the work, but we ask them to donate,” said Cain. “The nice thing about that is that organization gets the check.” The charities have always been gracious about the donations and most of the clients have been glad to be a part of the charity’s efforts.
The future looks good for George D. Alan. Cain said he and his fellow management team, as well as their employees, are focused mainly on customers and doing the work right.
“Money is secondary. If you run your business right, you’ll make money, and if you do it correctly, you’ll make more money,” he said. “But focusing on customers and doing the job right is how we do things, and we always will.”