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Built for Resilience

General contractor and design-builder maintains self-performance, client relationships

Zartman Sept17 1
At Zartman Construction, Timothy Clark, vice president of operations, David Zartman, PE, president, and Dan Zartman, PE, project manager and estimator.
For more than 40 years, Zartman Construction Inc. has endured the ups and downs of the construction business. The company’s longevity is attributable to many things, but the main thread is its positive company culture.

Timothy Clark, vice president of operations at the Northumberland, Pa.-based general contractor and design-builder, says, “It’s family owned, and it’s run that way, with a family concept in mind. They take care of their people.”

David Zartman, PE, president at Zartman Construction, began working at the family business with his father and the company’s founder, Gene Zartman, in 1983. Gene Zartman, who retired about 10 years ago, was good at delegating responsibility to employees. “It always was, if you performed, you did fine,” David Zartman says. “And there was an expectation of performing, and I think that has carried through. It wasn’t unreasonable; it was a two-way street.”

The general contractor and design-builder self-performs a significant amount of its construction projects. The majority of its jobs come from repeat clients and decades-long business relationships. Further adding to the company’s ability to withstand downturns and prosper during market expansions, Zartman Construction is a diversified business. In addition to commercial construction, it offers millwright labor, equipment rental and other related services.

Self-Performing Construction

Zartman Construction self-performs everything from pouring foundations to erecting and assembling metal building systems, installing roofs and walls, framing and finishing. Clark says self-performance gives his company the ability to maintain schedules. “By maintaining control of the schedule, it helps us control costs; we’re not hostage to a subcontractor,” he says.

In addition to more control over timing, self-performing much of the work allows Zartman Construction to more closely manage the quality of workmanship. “Not only do we manage the schedule, we manage the quality,” David Zartman says.

Part of the reason why his company self-performs many tasks is because the local subcontractor base in rural Pennsylvania is not as extensive as those in urban centers. “We’ve maintained the traditional general contractor,” David Zartman says. “Typically, 50 to 80 years ago every general contractor did certain trades, and we haven’t really deviated from that,” he says. “Other [companies] have drifted into construction management or managing 100 percent [subcontractors] on the job; we don’t do that.” It’s an old business model, but, as David Zartman says, “It seems to be working.”

A 54,000-square-foot expansion project completed by Zartman Construction for GE Inspection Technologies in Lewistown, Pa., in December 2012, included a production area with three overhead cranes.

Repeat Clients

Zartman Construction is focused on maintaining positive relationships with clients. As much as three-quarters of its business comes from returning clients. David Zartman says his company has been able to cultivate a high repeat level of repeat business for a variety of reasons including providing high-quality service throughout communication and construction. “We make sure the jobs are done right,” he says. “And we’ve gone out of our way to fix stuff that’s been not right, and that goes a long way. The guys we have don’t want to cut corners, they like to look at their work at the end of a day and say it’s a nice job.”

When issues arise, it’s critical to address it immediately, David Zartman says. “If you have a problem, you hit it head on, you don’t ignore them,” he says. “You just take care of things. If you take care of business, business takes care of you. And I think that’s what our culture is.”

Clark says the frequency of owners returning to do more business with Zartman Construction is the best kind of advertisement for its high-quality work. “We try and use as many testimonials as possible from our past customers, but with such a high repeat business, it kind of speaks for itself,” he says.

Representing the third generation in the family business, Dan Zartman, PE, is project manager and estimator at Zartman Construction. He says part of the key to developing relationships that lead to clients with multiple projects is educating them. “We work with customers across several different market sectors, all with varying degrees of experience. Making the time to address all of their needs can be difficult, but is essential. And you have to make sure you’re appropriately targeting your audience. You may be building for somebody that you’ve worked with for years, and you’ve already established a set of the norms, or you might be building for a first time customer. For both audiences, [our company makes sure we’re] responsive, listening and, most importantly, treating them fairly.”

Three cranes Zartman Construction uses for projects, and rents to other contractors: a 225-ton crane, 160-ton crane and 100-ton crane.

Diversified Business

Another contributing factor to Zartman Construction’s long-term stability has been the diversification of its services. In addition to designing and constructing buildings, the company does more than $1 million annually in equipment rental, and about an equal amount in millwright labor.

Zartman Construction rents cranes, lifts, concrete pumps, excavation equipment, trucks, trailers, storage containers, waste disposal equipment and welders. For its millwright service, the company has done a variety of equipment installations and reconfigurations for manufacturers, retailers and other types of businesses.

Zartman Construction’s diverse construction methods, with metal building systems, structural steel and concrete tilt-up, also contributes to its sustainability. “That’s one nice thing about us, with being able to offer all these different types of construction, that definitely weighs in on our growth,” Clark says.

Since May, David Zartman says his company’s construction business has spiked to a level it hasn’t been at since the effects of the recession began in 2008. It is on pace to exceed $30 million in annual revenue. "The market’s been reasonable, but this year it just kind of went crazy on us,” he says. “We probably added 25 or 30 guys in a matter of two or three months just because the work load increased. We had the capacity, we just didn’t have the work; and finally the work showed up. So this has been a pretty busy year.”

Looking forward, David Zartman says continuing to focus on the fundamentals that brought the business through more than four decades will no doubt lead to future success. “It’s an endless cycle, you’re constantly working yourself out of work. In the big scheme of things, it’s just keep doing a good job at what we do. We don’t have a product line expectation or doing anything different, we just want to keep plugging away.”