Schnippel Construction continues to lead with innovative methods in hospitality construction.
By Chris Kelsch
When Tom Schnippel graduated with a degree in civil engineering in 1971 and went to work for his dad, he immediately was put to work on an interesting project. His father, Gene Schnippel, was in the process of designing and building his first hotel.
It was in the middle of a recession and financing was difficult to obtain, so buildings had to be designed as economically as possible. “We went through a series of six to seven economical designs,” Schnippel recalls. “Each time I would review it with my dad, we would come up with less-expensive methods.”
Though he probably didn’t know it at the time, the younger Schnippel was formulating methods and practices that would guide Schnippel Construction Inc. for the next four decades. The company would go on to complete more than 50 hotel projects throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. More than 95 percent of those projects have been design/build.
Gene Schnippel didn’t start with any intentions of building in the hospitality industry when he founded the company in 1953. “My father was a dairy farmer and started as a local handyman, eventually doing residential construction,” Tom Schnippel recalls. “Eventually in 1964 he did his first commercial project, a Dairy Queen, and eventually started building churches and schools around Botkins [Ohio].”
And though the company completed its first hotel in 1975, it would still be another two decades before it moved to building hotels exclusively. Schnippel bought the company from his father in 1981, and the company continued as a local competitive bidder on municipal projects. But in the late 1990s, hotel expansion really took off. The company has since relied on some key innovations to continue landing projects in the hospitality sector.
One of those was the 12-foot modular bay – the basic backbone of hotel building today. “One thing we understand very well is how to build the basic structure of a hotel,” Schnippel says. “That has allowed us to advise owners and give them the best value for the dollar.” Schnippel personally oversees every project to ensure the highest standards of quality and safety.
Another key innovation was the invention of a load-bearing steel stud system. “Basically there used to be a system of concrete masonry blocks,” Schnippel recalls. “But there was a shortage of masonry workers, so we engineered a system of using load bearing steel studs and precast concrete planks.”
This revolutionary system has several advantages. The first is that steel and concrete are non-combustible, the second is that it allows for pre-built panelization of hotel walls offsite. This increases the energy efficiency of the building and lowers the cost as well.
Another innovation has been the use of precast concrete decks, which has been a huge cost-and time-saver. “This process easily shaved a month to a month-and-a-half off the building schedule,” Schnippel estimates. “With this process we’re usually able to finish a floor per week on a mid-rise hotel.”
As Schnippel Construction has continued to refine its methods, its roster of clients in the hotel industry has also continued to grow. It has completed design/build projects for clients such as Hilton, Marriott and InterContinental Hotels Group franchisees.
Schnippel plans to semi-retire at the end of 2017, and will leave the reins of the company to his son Keith Schnippel and daughter Tracy Cooper. “Both of them grew up in the hotel/motel industry with a steady diet of projects,” Schnippel says. “So if anything, our focus will only increase in the hospitality sector.”
Schnippel looks forward to a more financially efficient company as well. “Both have finance backgrounds,” he explains. “Keith has invested in technology that has really helped with our estimating, scheduling and project management. We have already added more technology to the process, including installing cameras, smart phones and jobsite laptops at worksites to monitor projects.”
Given Schnippel Construction’s ability in using concrete in construction, extending those abilities to other industries is a natural fit for the company, and that includes manufacturing. “Presently, we have developed a niche in high-precision concrete foundations for robotic machining stations,” Schnippel says. “We have been developing concrete flumes for the drainage of oil and shavings away from robotic units in factories. We expect this to continue to be a lucrative field for us.”
One thing that won’t change is Schnippel Construction’s lean philosophy. “We really don’t have a lot of laborers,” Schnippel says. “We do have a select group of project managers, lead carpenters and concrete masons, but we rely quite a bit on temporary workers to fill in as necessary.”
Hotel construction can involve a lot of repetitive work, so Schnippel Construction relies on the fact that such work can be trained easily and in controlled environments. As for subcontractors, Schnippel estimates that roughly 60 percent of the work is done by a consistent group of subcontractors that travel to wherever they are needed, while the remaining 40 percent is made up of local trades within the area of the project.
As Schnippel prepares to transition to semi-retirement as “a glorified gopher” to his new leadership team, he can rely on the fact that Schnippel Construction continues to land repeat business in the hospitality industry as evidence of its proven methods. “I really think it goes back to that first project,” he says. “Having to rework the design multiple times forced us to understand in detail and taught us that hospitality construction is a system and can be economically put together.”