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Top Metal Contractors 2011: A dollar and a dream

Many of the contractors featured in our third annual Top Metal Contractors started from the ground up. They learned the business with their hands-working in the field and eventually starting their own business. One contractor started his training as a high school student, another began his business with not much more than a pickup truck and a tool box. One company is the realization of the dreams of two best friends, who punched the clock for 14 years together before making it a reality. Some of our featured contractors have been in business for decades, while others are just getting started.

Whether beginning or carrying on a tradition, it's a testament to these companies that they have come out ahead of the competition despite tough times. The reason is usually tied to a core set of values-how they treat clients and employees, and how they approach doing business in general.

One thing they all have in common is strong relationships with quality manufacturers, making sure they're providing not only the best service, but the best possible materials for a job.

We at Metal Construction News emphasize that this is not a ranking or comprehensive list, but rather a snapshot look inside six top metal contractors that are doing things the right way. We encourage you to read on to find out more about what makes them successful.

 

A.R. Chesson Construction Co. Inc.
Williamston, N.C.

(252) 792-4486

www.archesson.com

Manufacturer affiliation: Metallic Building Co., www.metallic.com

 

Throughout his high school and college years, Al Chesson worked with his uncle, who was a general contractor in eastern North Carolina. After graduating college, his uncle became sick with cancer, and Chesson helped him with the business. When his uncle passed away, Chesson started his own company in 1981. It was a tough economic time for the country and some thought it wasn't the best time to start a business, but 30 years later A.R. Chesson Construction Co. Inc. is still going strong.

"The things you learn in hard times tend to stick with you throughout," Chesson said, remarking on how his early experience with the business was good preparation for the last couple of years.

Chesson said the company has grown with eastern North Carolina over the last 30 years and in the last seven to eight years the demand for pre-engineered structures in the area has gone up. A.R. Chesson Construction is a dealer for Metallic Building Co., and Chesson said the efficiency, cost and ease of construction have made metal buildings more attractive. Additionally, metal buildings offer more accessories, such as skylights, insulation and energy-saving features.

"Metal buildings have been able to adapt for uses such as fire stations, [municipal buildings], waste water treatment plants-architects and engineers have seen the utility of pre-engineered buildings," Chesson said.

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Standout Qualities

A.R. Chesson Construction attempts to construct every building as if they were the owner of the facility.

"Each owner demands quality, cost and time efficiency. Assuming the mindset of the owner allows us to anticipate the operating efficiency of all systems, lower maintenance costs and create long-term value," said Executive Vice President Ed Powell.

Using time tested methods of creating value and efficiency, and incorporating new sustainable technologies combined with integrity is the company's innovative approach. Chesson and Powell have experienced many firms operating with a bottom line mentality while dismissing integrity as they react to subcontractors, suppliers and owners.

"Remembering the Golden Rule is our innovative approach," Chesson said. "That approach has and will work for millenniums."

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The Work

 

Applications the company works on include additions and renovations of all sizes and types. Its specialty is to use basic pre-engineered methods, add energy-saving features and install aesthetic finishes to remove any negative connotation attached to the use of "a metal building."

A recent challenge was the design, permitting and construction of a 220,000-square-foot facility that needed to be done within a six month time frame while not disrupting on-site manufacturing processes. Coordination of civil and structural engineering with the various trades, and introducing the entire team to the demands of the project in the beginning was the key to success.

Guiding Principles

Chesson said much of his philosophy is carried over from the lessons of his father and grandfather, which they learned during the Great Depression, particularly saving and retaining earnings. This allowed the company to not only survive the recent recession, but do it without layoffs.

Chesson said treating its employees fairly, as well as its subcontractors, has allowed them to be in good position for when the economy turns around. In turn, the people working at A.R. Chesson Construction work well with the customers, so that they keep coming back.

 

AARA Architectural Metals

Phoenix

(602) 437-9323

www.aarametals.com

Manufacturer affiliation: Ultra Seam Inc., www.ultraseam.com; AARA also works non-exclusively with Sheffield Metals International, www.coolrmetal.com

 

AARA started in Phoenix in 1976 as a home improvement contractor specializing in metal siding and fascia systems. Shortly after, AARA evolved into a full-service metal roofing contractor and manufacturer. For 35 years, they have served the Arizona market and developed an excellent reputation, becoming known for their integrity, quality and expertise in the standing-seam metal roofing industry.

Over those years, AARA has grown steadily and now employs 28 people. General Manager Jerry Spores said, "We are one of the few standing-seam metal roof manufacturers who designs, manufactures and installs our products. We are committed to total success on every project."

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Standout Qualities

AARA's success has been built on quality and customer service. Management directly oversees each project from preconstruction to manufacturing and production to material installation. That attention has led AARA to attract Arizona's top architects and general contractors.

If anything, AARA is known for its flexible attitude. Each project is unique and may require on-the-job innovation and resources. The team is highly adaptable and can make adjustments based on job-site circumstances or design needs. The core crews have been employed by AARA for more than 15 years and set the bar high for quality workmanship.

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The Work

Metal roofing is the foundation for AARA, and in recent years it has seen a tremendous growth in the use of metal as more designers call for sustainable building products. The company doesn't limit itself on the application and supports customers to meet their needs whether they're big or small.

Recently, designers that AARA work with have been using metal in innovative ways, including exterior wall cladding and interior applications. The company has been working with Sheffield Metal's SOLR thin-film solar laminate, and is integrating solar into the metal roof system and upgrading the aesthetics of the buildings. Sheffield Metals also produces coil material for AARA.

New products and innovations have helped the company meet the challenges of the marketplace and it seems that most recent challenges have been in retrofitting. The change in the economy shifted many building owners into renovations of existing buildings rather than constructing a new building. A retrofit roof system can completely update and change the exterior appearance of a building while providing an efficient roof system for years to come.

Ultra Seam Inc.'s standing-seam metal roof systems are designed, manufactured and tested to meet the highest quality standards in the industry. AARA's innovative methods are always job specific, and each project is individually designed and engineered.

"Our involvement begins at the earliest stages of design. We work directly with architects creating large projects while focusing on the smallest of details," Spores said. "We are always available to meet with our clients to develop a system that meets their needs with the most cost-effective approach."

AARA has successfully completed numerous projects, including through traditional hard bid and design-build, as well as alternative delivery method projects in Arizona.

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Guiding Principles

AARA's business plan has been the same for 35 years: manufacture the highest quality standing-seam metal roof systems, employ experienced and proficient craftsman and stand behind their products and quality workmanship. This approach has kept them on top.

"Our reputation speaks volumes. It's one of our most valued assets, earned through the hard work, quality and through the successful relationships we've built over 35 years in business," Spores added.

AARA prides itself by serving clients who know they can call and get immediate attention-even for the most complex designs. The company strives to review each project detail for new and innovative updates and revisions.

 

Cary & Associates Builders Inc.

Sebastopol, Calif.

(707) 829-8589

www.carybuilders.com

Manufacturer affiliation: Metallic Building Co., www.metallic.com

 

In 1984, Bob Cary launched a sole proprietor construction company with only a pickup truck, checkbook, toolbox and a small crew of iron workers. He set out to sell and build commercial metal buildings using the skills he learned as a Navy Seabee in Vietnam combined with five years as a metal building project manager working for other general contractors. Twenty-six years later, Cary & Associates Builders Inc. is a licensed California corporation having successfully built hundreds of new projects and delighting in a very long list of loyal and satisfied customers. The small pickup truck and toolbox turned into heavy duty trucks, trailers, tractors, mobile offices and sophisticated computer systems.

The company currently employs four full-time office staff and two to 12 field employees (depending on the specific needs of a given project or multiple projects). Cary & Associates Builders is a Metallic Building Co. product representative, and has been ranked among the top 10 builders for Metallic sales volume in the U.S. in recent years.

"We are proud of the many awards and honors through the years," said Cary, who is also on the President's Advisory Committee for Metallic. One Cary & Associates Builders project, Copain Wine Cellars, Healdsburg, Calif., was on the cover of Metal Construction News in July 2008.

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Standout Qualities

 

Cary & Associates Builders follows the concept of quality workmanship. Cary believes in teamwork and encourages owner participation in establishing budget, design and construction phases.

"Our policy is to conduct our business with integrity and loyalty to our clients," he said. "We are very loyal to our clients and they have been loyal to us."

To that end, Cary & Associates has worked diligently to promote design-build projects and to provide customers with the finest building their dreams and budgets permit.

Cary & Associates' innovative methods and flexibility create the unique ability to integrate pre-engineered metal building systems with complex conventional designs.

"The design-build approach we use is the best avenue for the client and the contractor. It allows the planning, specifying, designing, estimating and construction to be combined under a single source of responsibility to provide improved handling of solutions with significantly better value than other construction methods," Cary said. "We believe that pairing specific design professionals and funding sources with each customer provides a more stable platform and assurance of a professionally completed building."

The Cary & Associates office is truly a close knit team.

"We function more like a family unit and are there for each other through the good times and the bad," Cary said. "It has often been stated that rather than hire, we adopt. Every member of our staff believes that the customer comes first. We often develop lifetime friendships with our clients. These methods and attitudes are what contribute to Cary's success. The majority of our business comes from referrals, word of mouth and repeat customers."

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The Work

 

Through 26 years of experience with metal buildings, Cary & Associates has learned the intricacies and flexibility needed to adapt a metal structure to traditional designs.

"Many owners want the strength of metal but the look of a conventional structure. We cover a wide variety of ground when it comes to innovative buildings," Cary said.

Some recent projects with Metallic buildings include an 85,000-square-foot building for Kelseyville Lumber; a 42,000-square-foot warehouse and loading dock for Manzana Apple Products; a 20,000-square-foot fermentation facility for Copain Winery; a 40,597-square-foot building for Freeman Lexus; and, a two-story 33,800-square-foot auditorium, along with a new 64,125-square-foot two-story classroom and library for Capital Christian Center.

There are many challenges in the design-build metal building business, according to Cary. One recent example was Sonoma Wine Co. The challenge was to design a 26,000-square-foot canopy that could be lifted into place over an operational wine processing plant. The structure had to be designed so that the columns and roof structure would not interfere with existing wine storage tanks. All work had to be performed without inhibiting their daily operations. The project was designed, engineered and completed as planned.

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Guiding Principles

 

"Whether in good times or difficult ones, Cary & Associates Builders conducts business with integrity and loyalty to our clients," Cary said. "Design-build projects are diligently promoted since we believe that in all economic climates our customers should receive a quality building. This can be achieved through the use of design-build and value engineering concepts. In other words, our clients should always expect far more building for their dollar!"

Cary also keeps in mind the person behind the building.

"We are here for them and will work for their best interests. During bad economic times, our staff pulls together with whatever measures it takes to ensure that both our customers and staff are getting through any difficulties, whether personal or professional. That's who we are."

 

Design Systems Builders Inc.

Nashville, Tenn.

(615) 367-2434

www.dsb-inc.com

Manufacturer affiliation: Butler Manufacturing, www.butlermfg.com

 

Design Systems Builders Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of T.W. Frierson Contractor Inc., was created in 1976 to erect the products and systems of Butler Manufacturing Inc. Today, DSB's crews safely erect 1.5 to 3 million square feet of Butler products each year, placing the company among the highest producers of Butler products in North America. As TWF's business has grown, so has DSB's. Since 2000, DSB has annually purchased an average of $5 million of Butler materials.

"We've quickly realized that if you're going to be successful in the pre-engineered market you need to be your own erector," said Del Hickman, who co-owns DSB along with Dean Taylor. "In the late 1970s, we began doing that. We think between our relationship with Butler, erecting the materials ourselves and being confident in the installation, we're doing some really good things."

DSB has 120 employees and works exclusively with Butler.

"We don't erect or purchase any other pre-engineered products," Hickman said. "We never have and we never will."

Design Systems1

Standout Qualities

More than 90 percent of DSB's work is repeat and referral business, and those numbers have actually increased over the tough last couple of years.

"We wish we were the only contractors in middle Tennessee, but there's a bunch of good people here doing construction," Hickman said. "Building the building is not the magic formula. It's the experience you give the owner. Our employees understand that the project they're working on today is actually a project for the future."

Hickman said the trust DBS has established with its clients allows them to sell a premium product in Butler buildings. In fact, DBS is so confident in its ability to get the job done right that it doesn't sell Butler's warranty. Hickman said because DBS does the erection itself, it should be done right, and if it isn't, DBS will fix the problem itself.

Design Systems 3

The Work

DBS is an industrial and commercial general contractor, pursuing work in industrial, heavy industrial and manufacturing; distribution and logistics; commercial-anything from a small office to a bank; and faith-based construction, completing three churches per year.

Recent projects include a FedEx sorting facility and a battery plant for Nissan's new Leaf, an electric car.

Hickman said while Butler accounts for slightly more than half of its volume, it doesn't try to force a pre-engineered solution on a project where it's not a good fit. DBS does try to use Butler products on conventional construction when applicable, as working with metal and pre-engineered buildings is an essential part of its business, giving it a broader footprint in the market.

Guiding Principles

When describing the company philosophy, Hickman went back to the idea that the building his employees are working on today means a great deal to the company's future success. The concept came to fruition when, in 2009 and 2010, DBS' referral rate went from 80 percent to nearly 100 percent. During the toughest times, customers went back to who they knew they could trust.

DBS also does not do public or hard-bid work.

"We're a negotiating contractor. We'll bid projects with limited qualified competitors. If we can't find out who our competition is, we won't provide a price," Hickman said. "We have to know what our chances of a job are. We're about the relationship, not the low bid. It's not just about making money, because that will happen 10-fold if you do the right thing."

 

Southern Rib Roof Inc.

Collierville, Tenn.

(800) 876-9062

www.ribroof.com

Manufacturer affiliation: Chief Buildings, www.chiefbuildings.com; McElroy Metal, www.mcelroymetal.com

 

Southern Rib Roof Inc. started in June 2009 with a goal to create a long-standing heritage in the metal building and metal roofing industry. The company was inspired by another company founded in the early 1980s, which had a major impact on the self-storage and standing-seam roof industry.

Southern Rib Roof recognized that there was still a growing demand for these products and other similar building systems. The growth of the company has come from continuing to expand its product offerings.

Adding to that is a combination of highly skilled individuals and a rigorous standard for quality and customer service. "We have so much talent within our staff that we are able to take on new challenges daily," said Nick Robbins, president.

Recently, Southern Rib partnered with Chief Buildings, becoming an authorized distributor of their metal building systems. Robbins attributes that success to the quality of the employees. Now, the opportunity arrives to seek numerous contracts in the Memphis, Tenn., area as well as other parts of the United States and Canada for both public and private use.

Southern Rib

Standout Qualities

Southern Rib Roof has a commitment to unrivaled customer service. It uses this philosophy to set itself apart from other similar businesses. Although it is a relatively small business, it has the knowledge and ability of a company many times its size. One key benefit Southern Rib Roof provides is the ability to get personal attention from each member of its team.

"To facilitate that, each team member is cross-trained in all aspects of our business," Robbins said.

The company created an exclusive department for a retrofit roofing division based on the potential of two members of its project management team, who have between 20 and 30 years of experience in the field installation of metal roofing systems and showed a natural ability with customer service. After extensive training in estimating and sales, they started selling, and in just over a year, and with the help of the entire staff, they have estimated, sold and project-managed well over a million square feet of retrofit roofing projects.

The above-mentioned example translates to each level of the company.

Southern Rib2

The Work

The primary focus recently has been the self-storage industry and retrofit roofing of various types of commercial and industrial facilities. Southern Rib Roof has always diversified the types of construction services offered, but has recently aggressively sought out a wider variety of opportunities in select markets. The goal in 2011 is to continue to enhance the recognition of its brand in these markets while continuing to serve the self-storage industry on a national and international level.

In 2010, Southern Rib Roof landed the design and supply of a retrofit roofing system for an armory in Idaho. This job was very challenging from a design perspective since it utilized a very complex framing system that had to be specifically designed. The staff spent many days on-site before the design began to become familiar with the needs of this system.

"This is a typical example of our preplanning," Robbins said.

The company also recently completed the Storage Depot in Bordentown, N.J. The client knew from day one that he wanted to have an option to add solar panels to this roofing system at a future date. Southern Roof Rib worked closely with the owner, Paul Szkotak, and provided engineering that would allow for the addition. Because this project was an expansion of an existing two-story building, it had the challenge of matching many of the colors and profiles of the previous phase down to the particular shine of the Galvalume partition panels.

Germantown Storage in Memphis is a project that stands out among the rest due to the ability of the owner, Jack Johnson, to make great use of land that many would find too challenging because of the complications from TVA electric easements. McElroy Metals manufactured all steel materials for these three projects.

Guiding Principles

The underlying philosophy of Southern Rib Roof is that everyone comes to work every day with a positive attitude. The clients want to do business with people who bring a positive approach into each day of construction. The goal is to reduce the amount of stress that is often associated with this line of work. This philosophy has given the company an excellent retention rate with its client base.

 

Striplin Walker Construction Inc.

El Dorado Hills, Calif.

(916) 941-4988

www.striplinwalker.com

Manufacturer affiliations: Metallic Building Co., www.metallic.com; All Weather Insulated Panels, www.awipanels.com; Kingspan Insulated Panels, www.kingspanpanels.us; DBCI Coil Door Systems, www.dbci.com; Bay Insulation Co., www.bayinsulation.com; Schweiss Doors, www.bifold.com

 

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Randy Striplin and Brian Walker are best friends, their families are close and working together from the ground up in the construction industry for 14 years prior to 2001, they had always dreamed of starting their own business. They had been talking about it seemingly forever and 10 years ago they finally pulled the trigger.

Striplin Walker Construction Inc. now employs an average of 12 people. The company started off as a steel erector and became a full-service design-build firm that is a distributor for Metallic Building Co.

Striplin said business improved throughout the first seven years, only hitting a bump in the road the last couple of years because of the economy.

"Unfortunately, we're dealing with steel increases, and China is driving the market. It's tough to sell steel buildings to people when you tell them the prices are going up," Striplin added.

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Standout Qualities

One of the things Striplin Walker prides itself on is an open book policy.

"I have no problem opening my contract figures for clients so they feel warm and fuzzy about where all that money's going. So they don't feel they're being overcharged," Striplin said.

Striplin Walker believes in honesty, integrity, quality and qualified workmanship to create aesthetically pleasing architectural design-build projects.

Along with its efficient erecting practices, the company takes safety very seriously. In a dangerous trade, Striplin Walker makes sure to meet and exceed OSHA standards, along with equipment certifications, CPR and drug testing requirements.

"Our employees are working directly with customers and business owners to continue the wonderful working relationship we have," Striplin said.

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The Work

Striplin Walker works primarily with pre-engineered metal building systems, architectural panels, custom insulated panels and innovative roofing products. The company specializes in marketplaces, winery facilities, hangar buildings, warehouse and manufacturing structures, agricultural facilities and small shop garages.

Recent projects include Oxbow Public Market in Napa, Calif., and the Opus One Vineyard Maintenance Facility in Oakville, Calif. Both projects were Metallic buildings. The Oxbow Market also features materials from IPS (Insulated Panel Systems); Bay Insulation Co.; and R&S Manufacturing and Sales Co. Inc. Opus One features additional materials from Kingspan and Schweiss Doors.

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Guiding Principles

 

"We don't take on any more work than we can handle," Striplin said. "We stay true to our word on all commitments and this allows us to maintain a good customer portfolio. We primarily work off of referrals from word of mouth. I don't do public works. It's so competitive and cutthroat.

"We take pride in making sure all of our T's are crossed and i's are dotted, making sure the customer gets exactly what he's looking for and the bang for his buck."

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