Golden State Framers

There’s no doubt that the current recession has been one of the most challenging times for contractors in recent memory. At every level and in every sector, contractors and subcontractors have been challenged on a daily basis by the harsh economic realities. Although national facts and figures give an accurate picture of the recession, they don’t take into account the individual stories that make up those aggregate numbers.

This issue, we continue our year-long look at the economy through the eyes of California-based carpentry contractor Golden State Framers and its general manager, Gary Viano. In our last installment, Viano talked about competing with contractors who cut corners, and how the market was beginning to see the value in contractors like Golden State Framers who don’t. In this issue, he reports that the market is beginning to improve and says the company is concentrating on improving customer service to ensure that things continue to improve for Golden State Framers.

The construction business is tough, there’s no doubt about that. However, that doesn’t mean Golden State Framers General Manager Gary Viano believes everything about the business has to be rough and calloused. “Just because we’re in the construction trade doesn’t mean we’re not in the feel-good business,” he says.

Fighting through the recession has been a tooth-and-nail affair, and Southern California is one of the more ruthless construction markets in the nation, but Viano says Golden State Framers is working to ensure that it doesn’t forget the softer side of the business. “One of the hardest things is to make sure everyone on our side is trying to give our clients the best possible service available,” he says.

Working Together

Maintaining a high level of customer service is a top priority for Golden State Framers, and especially so right now. As the market begins to thaw and more work becomes available, establishing good working relationships with customers is essential to getting repeat work in the future. However, Viano says, that’s not always easy to establish in the construction industry.

“Your customers, they want to feel good after they deal with you,” he says. “But sometimes, it’s hard to get that through because the testosterone is pumping.”

Viano explains that pride can actually get in the way of customer service sometimes. He says foremen sometimes are too proud to go to the customer with questions or work through problems with them. Other times, foremen dig in their heels and refuse to compromise with customers or other contractors.

“It just takes someone to bust the ice,” Viano says. “Everyone wants to circle the wagons. We don’t need that – you just need to deal with people straight up.”

That includes working with inspectors on site, which Viano says also can become prickly with certain foremen. He says he reminds Golden State Framers’ foremen that working with inspectors is similar to being pulled over by a traffic cop. “You certainly don’t get into the police officer’s face, so why would you get into the inspector’s face?” Viano says.

Making sure everyone at all levels of the company understands the value of putting pride aside and working with customers and inspectors is crucial but simple to do, Viano says. He says he meets with foremen individually at debriefing sessions after each project to get a handle on how the job went and how the customer reacted. In the end, he says, the construction business is built on relationships, no matter how impersonal it can seem at times. “The contract is just an agreement between people,” Viano says. “It’s a fancy handshake.”

Planning to Fail?

On the other side of the equation, owners and architects have to make sure they do all they can to give Golden State Framers and other contractors everything they need to succeed on the job site, Viano says. However, incomplete plans create one of the company’s biggest headaches at the moment. “They’re actually getting worse,” Viano reports. “They just don’t seem to give you the information that we really require.”

Starting work with incomplete or underdeveloped plans can be a nightmare for any contractor, and Viano says it hurts Golden State Framers’ capacity to do its best work on a project. “How can you possibly build it if you don’t know what you’re supposed to build?” he asks.

Viano says he believes many owners begin work with incomplete plans because it saves them money in the short term, but he says the long-term costs that come with half-finished plans in the form of mistakes and overruns lose them more. “They’re stepping over dollars to pick up pennies,” he says.

Golden Future

Fortunately for Golden State Framers, its employees make it strong enough to weather issues such as these. “We’re getting the cream of the cream out there,” he says. “We have the best of the best.”

Viano says the company looks for people who will see a task through to the end, even if it’s technically after quitting time. To show its appreciation, the company offers generous benefits such as matching employees’ 401(k) contributions by 50 percent. “We do care about what happens with them – we’re trying to take care of them the best way we possibly can,” Viano says.

As the industry continues to crawl its way out of the recession, Viano says establishing an atmosphere of cooperation will be the factor that will help Golden State Framers maintain its success. “It’s us continually working with the owners,” he says.

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