Top Metal Contractors: In good times and bad

By Administrator To give you an idea of the consistency and experience of the five contractors featured in our second annual Top Metal Contractors feature, it might be helpful to know that, on average, they have been in business about 50 years. One company started in 1933. The youngest of the group has been around… Continue reading Top Metal Contractors: In good times and bad
By Administrator

To give you an idea of the consistency and experience of the five contractors featured in our second annual Top Metal Contractors feature, it might be helpful to know that, on average, they have been in business about 50 years. One company started in 1933. The youngest of the group has been around 17 years, but its owner has worked with metal buildings for nearly twice that long. These Top Metal Contractors have been through multiple recessions and multiple wars. Despite the volatility around them, they have come through on the other side.

You will find common themes among this group. A shared interest and dedication to building strong relationships with customers, who come back again and again, is perhaps chief among them. There is also an awareness among the five companies of the need to be flexible and versatile in order to handle various market conditions.

A couple of them are family businesses that have been run by three and four generations. One has as many as 70 employees, while another has only three. There is no magic formula to their success, but it seems that all of them have solid a vision for how they want to run their companies and they don’t waver from it.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, or a definitive ranking of any kind, but simply a sample of metal building contractors who do what they do extremely well. We’ll take a look at their operations, how they have made it through the recent difficult times, what has guided them in the past and how they plan to move forward.


Facility Builders & Erectors Inc.
Anaheim, Calif.
(714) 577-8060
Manufacturer affiliation:
Butler Manufacturing,
Kansas City, Mo.,

Facility Builders & Erectors Inc. is a southern California general contractor based in Anaheim. Its primary focus is building for the industrial community of the country. This includes a diversity of the U.S. industry, including manufacturing, transportation, distribution, warehousing, trash and recycling, along with the administrative functions to support those operations.

Each of FB&E’s projects are unique in both the end product and the delivery method.Its projects may include everything from 200- ton (180-metric ton) press foundations, multiple crane loads, high bay structures, specialty interiors and utility systems, as well as support offices and employee facilities. Its delivery methods are tailored to work with its client and the project needs.

FB&E acts as a design-build contractor, construction manager, general contractor and specialty subcontractor for the building structure only.

“Being able to adapt to each of our clients’ needs is a key part our or business approach at FB&E,” said President Ken Thomson.

“I have been working with metal buildings for 30 years and 25 of those, primarily with Butler Manufacturing,” Thomson continued.”We have designed and built everything from a 2,500-square-foot
[232-m2] metal building home to a 250,000-square-foot [23,225-m2] specialty manufacturing environment.”

FB&E’s erection crews have put up a number of hangars for both the military and private industry, one of largest being home for a Boeing 747. The company’s erection program is designed for large clear span and complex structures.

“We are uniquely tooled and experienced to handle the diverse challenges that are associated with erecting these larger structures,”Thomson said. “Insulation systems, metal panels and components are playing a greater role in the buildings we are designing and building. Metal buildings are becoming more sophisticated to meet operating demands energy efficiency and aesthetic values. Even in today’s economy these issues are becoming more important as life cycle ownership costs are being more closely assessed.”


Surviving the Recession:
When FB&E saw the slowdown coming, it was faced with two issues. It was coming off a series of major projects that were all finishing at the same time and the economic slowdown shut off a number of future projects that left its pipeline of work fairly empty.

“At that point we made a deliberate decision to keep a core staff level that would allow us to continue to operate as an organization with the depth and capacity required to meet the demands and expectations of the type of work we do,” Thomson said. “We tightened the financial belt, conserved our cash and decided to invest in our employees. We had shortened work weeks with some, participated in Work Share programs with others. We even created our own stimulus projects to keep some of our tradesmen as a part of the FB&E team.”

FB&E did not cut back on its safety training and programs. “With up to 60 employees on multiple projects at one time, we needed to ensure our commitment to safety would not be to be a victim of the economy,” Thomson said. “Employee training and certifications from CPR to all types of equipment certifications, our guys are current on all fronts.”

The company was fortunate enough to land a large erection contract that kept 30 of its employees busy through the fall, as well as three to four backlogged projects that have carried it though this current season.

“We do see a few of our clients making the facility investments in their operations this year. This makes us very optimistic about the future workload,” Thomson said. “We are licensed throughout the western United States and are tooled to work from tight urban environments to physically remote locations. This flexibility keeps a number of project options open to us.”

Guiding Principles:
“Our philosophy we impart to all our employees is that we want our customers for life,”Thomson explained. “Therefore every decision we make on the job is based on what is right for our client in the long run, not just for the short term. We have always placed a high value on respect and trust in all we do. Our clients appreciate it and we live by it.

“Our philosophy toward our employees is similar. Our crews do a great job. That isn’t an accident. Professionalism in our industry shows during the building process and the finished product. Our collective skill set in the company exceeds 300 years of experience. We will always invest in continuing to raise the bar of quality and skills with our employees.”

FB&E works hard to define its clients’ needs and expectations and a project’s parameters. It keeps everyone informed and its work is executed with maximum safety and effort.

“As we move forward, these things will never change at FB&E,” Thomson said. “As the dynamics of the market change, we will need to adapt to those conditions. I have no doubt that metal systems and products will be at the core of our business as they have for the last several years.”


KACIN General Contractors
Murrysville, Pa.
(724) 327-2225
Manufacturer affiliation:
Behlen Building Systems,
Columbus, Neb.,


Celebrating its 50th year in business, KACIN General Contractors, Murrysville, Pa., is primarily a design-build firm on the commercial side. It also has a division that does development work for residential and mixed-use developments. KACIN handles design-build for many different applications, including small manufacturing, warehouses and car dealers.


“There are a lot of smaller but growing privately held companies around the Pittsburgh market that we have developed relationships with that have resulted in mostly repeat and referral business,” said Vice President Jeff Ferris.

KACIN recently won Columbus, Neb.-based Behlen Building Systems’ 2009 Building of the Year Award in the automotive category for constructing the #1 Cochran Collision Center in the Pittsburgh suburb of Robinson. The 15,000-square-foot (1,394- m2) structure features an eco-friendly paint booth that uses only water-soluble coatings, a large mezzanine structure for storing parts, spacious offices and a fenced-in vehicle storage area. KACIN is a Behlen representative.


Surviving the Recession:
“We have continued to work to build relationships,” Ferris said, “and we were fortunate to have enough work in the pipeline to get through until now. We are hopeful that the projects we are working with now will continue to move forward.”

Ferris said a focus on customer satisfaction and relationship development has served the company well in the midst of a difficult economy.

Guiding Principles:
“We strive to give our clients superior quality at the most competitive price, thus creating the highest value for their construction dollar,” Ferris said. “Everyone on our staff and all our subcontractors have bought in to this approach.”


Pioneer Construction
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Manufacturer affiliation:
Varco Pruden Buildings,
Memphis, Tenn.,

Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Pioneer Construction is a fourth generation family-owned business focused on providing exceptional construction solutions for its clients. It is dedicated to building facilities that perform-on time and on budget.

“With over 77 years of experience [the business was founded in 1933], we have been fortunate to build many landmark environments in which people learn, heal, worship, work, govern,play, shop and live,” said Director of Business Development & Sales Chris Beckering.


“We have intentionally developed diverse project experience so we can apply best practices from a broad range of construction types to benefit each assignment. As a true builder employing over 200 talented craft and trade professionals, we offer unmatched self-performance ability and quality control.”

With expertise in a variety of delivery methods including general contracting, design/ build and construction management, Pioneer customizes its approach based on the specifics of each project and the goals of its clients.

“Our cultural commitment to sustainable design and construction, safety, inclusion, and community involvement distinguish us within our industry,” Beckering said.

Pioneer is an authorized builder for Memphis, Tenn.-based Varco Pruden Buildings and has extensive experience with pre-engineered metal building systems and metal cladding systems, and self-performs structural steel erection services.

The well diversified company serves 28 construction sub-markets. The bulk of Pioneer’s current workload is in educational construction and health care related construction.Pioneer also delivers customized metal solutions via its Metal Tech Building Specialists division. These services include: standing seam metal roofing, wall panel systems, metal soffit and fascia systems, coping caps and gravel stops, cornice systems, aluminum composite wall panels, and custom gutters and downspouts.


Pioneer became the first contractor in the Midwest to receive the Associated Builders and Contractors Green Contractor certification in 2009, and only the ninth in the nation. Pioneer also received ABC’s Construction Safety Award of Excellence and Award of Excellence for Pre-engineered Metal Construction in 2009, and an Award of Excellence for Structural Steel Construction in 2008. Pioneer also has several pre-engineered metal buildings in Varco Pruden’s Building Hall of Fame.

Surviving the Recession: “Pioneer continues to experience success as a result of exceptional relationships with our clients built on trust,” Beckering said. “Our reputation for delivering quality construction on time and on budget and our ability to provide creative solutions drives our continued business development. The overwhelming majority of our business comes from repeat business with our clients and the direct referrals they provide.”

“Pioneer will continue to innovate in anticipation of our clients’ needs, particularlyin the areas of sustainable and LEED certified construction, life cycle costing and building information modeling.”

Guiding Principles: Beckering further stressed that the philosophy of the company depends on building relationships that last by delivering quality construction in a timely and cost-effective manner.


Schlosser Steel Buildings Inc.
Hatfield, Pa.
(215) 723-9883
Manufacturer affiliation:
Star Building Systems,
Oklahoma City,


In business since 1967, Schlosser Steel Buildings Inc., Hatfield, Pa., is an engineering oriented company focusing on design, supply and erection of metal buildings. It operates with only three full-time employees, with subcontractors doing the erecting. The company’s three employees are engineers, two of them registered in Pennsylvania and the third working on becoming licensed by 2011. The goal is to offer owners the best value by offering design alternatives to best meet their needs.

Schlosser has constructed metal buildings for many types of uses from church and recreational to heavy industrial.


“Our main focus is on industrial and midsize commercial. Our engineering expertise gives us the best advantage in an industrial setting with complex structures that have cranes, mezzanines or high design loads,” said Vice President Jonathan Trumbore, P.E.

Surviving the Recession:
“Construction today is a drawn out process compared to even five to 10 years ago,” Trumbore said. “Startup delays due to permitting and finances have actually helped to spread out this downturn. I believe we are just now getting to the toughest times in commercial construction. A lot of companies have survived to this point on work that was on the books for the last year or more.


“We are in a good position moving forward. The main reason is due to our business philosophy of not extending ourselves beyond our means and being very selective about what types of projects we chase.”

Schlosser has had to get lean and take work with little to no margin, but its past relationships with suppliers and customers have helped it continue to find work.

“We are being more aggressive on pricing and looking into different markets that we traditionally had gone after,” Trumbore noted.

Guiding Principles:
“We want to be dependable and different with a good attitude,” Trumbore said. “Really the approach we take to the market is to come up with the best value as opposed to always competing on price.”


Snodgrass and Sons Construction Co. Inc.
Wichita, Kan.
(316) 687-3110
Manufacturer affiliation:
Liberty Building Systems,
Memphis, Tenn.,


Snodgrass and Sons Construction Co. Inc. isa third generation contractor in Wichita, Kan. The company was started by current President David Snodgrass’ grandfather in 1948. It wasthe beginning of a tradition of being a well-liked contractor whose customers come back.

The primary focus at Snodgrass & Sons is government, industrial and commercial projects.The company, which employs approximately 70 people, does much of its work as a civil contractor, but the construction of metal buildings has been an important piece of its business for nearly 30 years. The majority of its projects are a combination warehouse/ office structures. Snodgrass has also found a niche in retrofit roofing.


Surviving the Recession:
Snodgrass & Sons made it through the recession by maintaining close relationships with existing customers, as well as focusing on government work and service contracts for the likes of Boeing,the Air Force and the local utility company.

“A contractor has to be reasonably diverse,”Snodgrass said. “It’s not just a guy who does civil work all the time. You have to do some building and have the flexibility to handle what’s being brought to the marketplace. Having 50-plus years of experience in this market allows us to do a lot of things to survive. Our customers have brought us a wide variety of types of projects.

“Most contractors today just have to be extremely well managed. I think we have to be very competitive and very aggressive,as well as very well skilled to be able to go where the work is-kind of lean and mean. There’s very little fat in our market.”

Guiding Principles:
Skill, integrity and responsibility is the credo at Snodgrass & Sons, adhering to the philosophy of the Association of General Contractors.

“We try to emulate those values,” Snodgrass said. “We’re family owned, we treat people well.”

Snodgrass said most of his employees are paid a notch above market value, but he thinks that translates into having some of the better people working for him. Most of them have 20 years or more of experience.


“We certainly enjoy our craft and trade,” Snodgrass concluded. “We’re looking forward to some better years. We enjoy working with all of our employees and our customers. We feel like we provide a service. We use our skills and management time to try and improve the plan, and make sure everyone is happy with the end result.”