Beyond the Build

Customer Relationships

Think Long Term: Build Strong Subcontractor Relationships

Over the years, I have seen building contractors take unfair advantage of subcontractors. I’ve seen subs abused, used and in some cases driven out of business. To me, this isn’t the way to approach construction or life, particularly in these tough economic times. It’s all about helping each other get through the downturn so we can all be stronger on the other end.

I contribute a large part of our success as a company to our partner consultants, subcontractor and vendors. We have a group of “go tos” who’ve not only fulfilled their obligations, but have gone the extra mile to help our team, and subsequently our customer relationships. These folks go beyond the typical buy and the sell. We look out for each other, giving leads and identifying potential project fits. That’s what business partnerships are really all about.

Baker Construction Services has been a prime example. Several years ago we had a project in the Highlands section of the Virginia mountains. It was a tough job from the start, made more challenging when the DOT changed plans substantially mid-winter. We were still expected to deliver a final product that April.

Baker was our lead civil sub and they were tremendous. They took a can-do attitude that January and stood shoulder to shoulder with us as we worked through a very wet, cold winter. Together, we delivered on time. It is guys like Bart DeVore and Chad Baker who make it easier for me to sleep at night.

Hopefully one of our legacies will be that while we drive for the right balance of quality and cost, we treat people fairly in business. We look beyond the job itself by seeking projects that build ongoing relationships that last for years. As a team leader, what can you do to develop these kinds of partnerships?

Think long term. View the relationship upstream and downstream. Think only in the present and you’ll surely get burned.

Work as a team. A better product is developed when everyone involved is treated equally. The sum is greater than the parts.

“Do unto others…” Treat others as you would wish to be treated.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

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