Beyond the Build

Customer Relationships

Let’s Not Forget What Got Us in the Game

Over the years, I have heard contractors, and for that matter, the many service providers in this industry, say something like, “I’m not interested. That job/customer is just too small for me.” While this can certainly be wise strategy, to me, a decision to exclude work needs to be approached with much wisdom. The reality is that we all have a finite amount of hours in our business lives to pursue the right projects and the right customers, seeking the right size in both these arenas.

When we started out, $1-2 million jobs were our norm. We still seek work of this size, but we also build $40 million projects, and everything in between. It’s always a balancing act, but if I only focused on the larger projects, I can be assured there would be a lot of loss in between. There are many reasons we take this approach, but the most compelling one is that during a financial crisis or a “run-of-the-mill, garden-variety” recession, the larger opportunities will be the first to fall off the table.

Years ago, I knew of a successful Georgia DOT contractor. The father had grown his business with the motto, “There’s nothing wrong with a million dollar job.” Half of his business was the larger jobs, the other half being modifications to highway overpasses, a smaller variety. The overpasses were not as exciting, but they routinely paid the light bill. When the son took over, he decided highway overpasses were not the cool thing to bid. They lost that work over a period of a few short years, then ultimately went out of business. If you have never been there, it’s not fun. Trust me.

Work comes and work goes, but never neglect what got you into the game.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.