Marcia Untitled 1Surviving

By Marcia Gruver Doyle

It’s been a long dry spell.

I recently did a state-of-the-industry presentation and apologized for saying many of the same things I said to this audience in 2010: It’s flat out there, and its bound to be that way for awhile. The statistics aren’t encouraging. More than 2.2 million construction jobs have disappeared since the 2006 peak. The National Association of Home Builders recently lowered its 2012 housing start forecast by 20 percent. And the highway bill looks like it’s in line for another status quo extension.

You, of course, are living this every day, which had us wondering what survival tactics you are using. We took an informal survey this summer, and the answers we got back told us your strategies are individualistic and varied:

• “We went into the renewable energy and greenhouse construction business.”

• “We’re going after higher gross margins on the projects we bid and cut overhead as deeply as possible. Plus, we found a lending institution that would look past the balance sheet and take a look at the entire operation.”

• “As the owner, I spend more time on jobs to make sure no time or material is wasted. I also took advantage of the slow time to hire better management personnel.”

• “We make sure all of our employees know the customer’s needs come first.”

The last statement reflects where several respondents put the credit for their ability to stay afloat: at the feet of good employees who continued to do quality work. Others were thankful for loyal clients who didn’t mind paying a bit more for that quality.

Our hope is the survival emphasis of these stories converts into tales of thriving – much sooner than most are predicting.

But there still aren’t a lot of equipment-buying signals. While some have been buying equipment as needed, respondents in general were leery about spending. “We’re fixing the equipment we have and not buying anything else,” one says.

Another was clearly thankful of past practices: “We had saved revenue from years past and own our equipment free and clear.”

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As informal as this survey was, it wasn’t without purpose. We want to delve deeper into these answers and perhaps find some nuggets others can use.

Next month, we’ll introduce a new feature, Survival Stories. These will be short takeaways, detailing how contractors across the country are meeting the Great Recession head on.

And our hope is the survival emphasis of these stories converts into tales of thriving – much sooner than most are predicting.