Building On Tradition, And Evolving
Written By Ken Lambert, CSI
Many general contractors across the country are seeking the elusive recipe for success. After an impressive 100 years in business, Western Pennsylvania based Fairchance Construction Company has plenty to say about it, and more to show.
Plenty of construction companies talk about tradition and an “old-school” work ethic, but Fairchance can actually back up the clichés. What started as a lumber & building materials supplier in 188 morphed into a contracting firm in 1916, via the great grandfather of the current President, Ed Balling.
“We have been incredibly blessed, to have a thriving business now in its 4th generation. It really is rather remarkable, but I feel it is all based on the tradition and footprint that was given to us by my grandfather and my father,” states Ed Balling. “They instilled that kind of work ethic within me early on. I worked in the field, hauling and setting block- alongside all the other guys,”.
Brian Gaudiano, Vice-President, believes the fact that he and Ed have physically worked in the field sets them apart from a lot of commercial construction companies these days. “I worked several years as a carpenter before getting into supervisory roles and into management, and that experience has helped me and it helps Fairchance in our everyday business,”.
Fairchance’s success goes deeper than just tradition and work ethic. Their management has strategically focused on project diversity, as well as partnering with a well-known industry name.
Fairchance has been a Butler Building contractor for nearly 50 years, and has built over 100 Butler projects along the way- be it pre-engineered buildings or reroofing solutions. This partnership has generated millions of dollars of revenue for Fairchance, and many more leads and opportunities along the way.
With Butler, they are able to provide projects and buildings that can be completed quicker, utilizing better energy-efficiency, while often times being less expensive.
Diversity has long been a key element to the company’s strategic management efforts. This includes varying types of projects, construction elements, newer construction technologies like insulated concrete forms (ICF), as well as getting into the development and joint-venture arena.
“In certain cases, with some hotels, apartments buildings, or non-profits, it can make a lot of sense for us to take some kind of equity stake of a building or perhaps offer a lease-back option,” says Ed. The company’s willingness to take a serious look at these options have increased its opportunities and signed contracts.
While typical general contracting is implemented in many cases, Fairchance also offers construction management services in addition to design-build arrangements. They are also licensed in 5 states, although they have worked all over the East Coast and even the Bahamas.
Lastly, the company constructs and fabricates its own custom casework for most of its projects. This is yet another way it sets itself apart from some of its competitors.
Most of their contracts are private projects, mainly bidding By-Invite only. Referrals and repeat customers are what keeps this engine running. They very rarely bid a public, Plan-and-Spec project. Business and building owners like Mike Wood, a successful auto dealer, have hired Fairchance numerous times through the years.
Clearly, building and actively maintaining relationships with owners and developers are instrumental to the success of Fairchance. That solidifies its business development efforts, but Fairchance believes that its relationships with its employees, subcontractors, and suppliers are just as important.
Employees are seen like part of the extended family, and treated as such. Everyone’s opinion is valued and heard, from the mason tender on upwards. As a result, they have a good core group of tradesmen and superintendents.
Brian brags, “I think we have some of the best superintendents around. They really are like conductors out there, in a symphony,”. If different trades and subs and others are all doing their own thing or with different priorities, the end result will be poor. “Our supers do a great job with keeping everyone on the same page.” Brian Gaudiano-Vice President
Most of their subcontractors have been with Fairchance for many years and several projects. Brian states that this close relationships with different subcontractors and trades allow better project efficiency and less loose-ends and contractual disagreements.
Likewise, vendor relations are crucial to the success of any commercial project. Fairchance aims to treat suppliers fairly, and relies on them to further improve their project performance and schedule.
One of the crowning achievements of Fairchance is a design-build project in conjunction with McMillen Engineering, called Calfrac Well Services. This state-of-the-art headquarters facility encompassed three buildings totaling over 100,000 s.f. of finished space, on a 45 acre campus. Approximately 260,000 cubic yards of material had to be cut and filled. Specialty engineering considerations included a chemical containment facility, as well as slab construction that would withstand a 100,000 pound truck.
Other major completed projects of significance include: South Hills Toyota, Hilton Garden Inn, Yester Square Apartments, RW Sleighter Architects and Engineers Office Building, and a project at Fallingwater. This Fallingwater annex building is part of a historic and unique property in western Pennsylvania which was originally designed by America’s most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.
Fairchance regularly deals with project challenges that mirrors those of many other contractors in the industry. These include: design, schedule, locations/site logistics, unsuitable soils, historic buildings/preservation, etc.
Most in commercial construction have seen over the past decade or so that the schedule and allowable construction days have become more stringent and accelerated. This commonplace scenario can wreak havoc on getting a building completed properly AND with the expected profit margin. Fairchance is an expert in these types of projects. They built a 58-unit apartment complex start to finish in just 360 calendar days, and they also completed a new Toyota dealership in just 6 months.
Fairchance is not resting on its laurels. It remains active with some key trade and business associations, such as: the local county Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Green Building Council, and the Pittsburgh Builders Exchange.
The company is on top of BIM and other key technological advances and systems within the construction and design fields.
But in the end, it comes right back to its pillars of: quality, integrity, and relationship-building. “We are always looking to improve, and we don’t take things for granted,” notes Ed.
Sounds like a winning recipe.
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