Denham-Blythe Co.

Taking responsibility for a project is something that Denham-Blythe Company does not shy away from – on the contrary, the company prides itself on being a one-stop shop. “The key thing that sets us apart from other contractors is our ability to provide true design/build services for the design and construction of industrial and institutional facilities,” Executive Vice President Bill Quenemoen emphasizes. “Most companies that say they are design/builders are really just contractors that partner with outside architects or engineers and call themselves design/builders. They do a similar process, but they don’t provide both services under one roof. We certainly don’t feel that version of design/build is a true design/build approach.”

The advantage of design/building and self-performing concrete and interior work is that design and construction must work together. “Having a single-source responsible for both the design and construction components of a project improves accountability and improves the project delivery timeframe,” Quenemoen stresses. Instead of designers taking their time to design a project because they are paid by the hour, and contractors cutting corners to save time and money, both departments work quickly to get the project completed and satisfy the customer. “We do things efficiently and effectively versus just racking up billable hours as design consultants are prone to do,” Quenemoen says. 

Denham-Blythe Company’s in-house design department includes architects, interior designers, civil engineers, structural engineers and electrical engineers. The company has more than 100 field operations personnel on staff that perform a variety of tasks. Their field forces include project engineers, surveyors, carpenters, laborers and operators. They perform a great deal of the construction work, including field engineering and surveying, concrete foundations, and interior finishes.

Electrical, mechanical and plumbing installation as well as steel erection are usually performed by qualified subcontractor partners. “It’s a huge benefit that we self-perform so many aspects, such as concrete and foundations,” Quenemoen asserts. “One of the primary objectives that will make or break your schedule is completing the foundations quickly to allow the building to be out of the ground in a timely fashion.”

Quenemoen estimates that up to 80 percent of Denham-Blythe’s projects are design/build. The rest are speculative bidding for which the owner has already had plans drawn up. He calculates that approximately 85 percent of the company’s projects are with repeat clients. “It’s definitely helpful,” he declares. “We don’t have to spend much time or money on marketing. It’s a big savings for us.”

Denham-Blythe has completed projects throughout the Midwest, South, and the East and West Coasts, and it recently has been registered to work in Utah, but its primary focus is on Kentucky and Tennessee. Its headquarters is in Lexington, Ky., and it has an office in Nashville, Tenn.

“We are registered in half of the United States, but we don’t chase out-of-state work except when our clients say, ‘We have a project for you. You need to go take care of it, get registered and be ready to act,’” Quenemoen says.

Big and Little

Denham-Blythe Co. has 16 people in its design department that include electrical, structural, mechanical and civil engineers, registered architects, interior designers, design managers and computer-aided design drafters. Denham-Blythe is seeking more engineers to expand its department because it accepts projects of all sizes, from designing and building 400,000-square-foot facilities to the permitting and installation of just a single flagpole.

“By taking care of our customers’ every need, we may not make money on the little stuff, but they will call you back for the big stuff and give you preferential treatment,” Quenemoen insists. “Customer service is huge for us. We get repeat volume and owners take us all across the country for their projects. It says a lot.”

Denham-Blythe Co. keeps its designers busy by offering continuous improvement opportunities and training. “If we run low on design work, we can have designers perform special inspections and quality-control checks in the field,” Quenemoen says. “We have folks who wear many different hats. All of our design engineers have had the opportunity to spend six months or more on a project site. A lot of times, those are projects they themselves have designed and actually are overseeing the installation. So it’s a good educational process. It keeps them learning, and it helps us to maintain better cost control.”

Having its engineers perform their own inspections in the field helps keep quality high. “Many consulting firms don’t want to do special inspections because they don’t want to accept responsibility if they miss something,” Quenemoen maintains. “Since we are the contractor and designer, we want to have that ability to have the engineer of record go out and check on his work. That’s a big quality control service that we self-perform.” 

Recruiting Engineers

Denham-Blythe Co. is able to obtain its architects and engineers from graduates of four-year degree programs at universities. “We like to hire directly from the University of Kentucky or Eastern Kentucky University,” Quenemoen says. “We’ll bring students in while still in school on an internship basis. We try to hire two or three every year and for a trial period so they get to know us and we learn about them and see if it’s a good fit. When those students graduate, we are often able to offer them a job as an engineer, an architect or a project manager. We hire them and they are already up to speed and trained in our ways.”

It is harder to obtain employees on the construction side because there are fewer educational programs from which Denham-Blythe can recruit. “For field personnel, it’s tough right now to get good, capable carpenters, laborers and operators, because a lot of them are hard to reach,” Quenemoen says. More traditional sources such as help-wanted ads and word-of-mouth help.

New hires for architecture or engineering receive training from an experienced practitioner of their discipline at Denham-Blythe, and after working there for four years, they can take a test so they can be registered architects or engineers. “Most states require 15 hours of continuing education per year once you already are registered to maintain your registration,” Quenemoen says. 

Such continuing education can be provided by the American Institute of Architects or from myriad sources for engineers, such as the American Society of Civil Engineers. Training also can be provided by online webinars. “We can buy everybody lunch and get one-and-a-half hours of training online where we videoconference in on it,” Quenemoen says.

Employee Commitment

Quenemoen attributes Denham-Blythe’s success to hard-working employees. “We don’t hire until we have a big need,” he notes. “We don’t fill positions just to fill them and then let people go. We really don’t have much problem with employee retention. We commit to people when we’re able to offer a long-term career, not just project-by-project employment. We don’t commit to people until we know they’re a keeper. When the economy went south in 2008, everybody was laying off one-fourth of their workforce. We lost less than 5 percent of our professional staff.”

Quenemoen emphasizes that Denham-Blythe is customer-driven, customer-focused and consistent. “We’re unlike so many construction companies,” he observes. “We haven’t had huge growth models because we’ve never sought it out. We’re the tortoise – slow and steady, but growing.”

That tortoise may be getting super-charged in the future. Quenemoen foresees steady growth for the next two to five years and an additional emphasis on marketing. “We will be focusing more on a marketing plan and have a marketing group to solicit new customers,” he says. “Right now, we stumble across two or three new customers every year – we get our hooks into them and keep them for life. Our goal is to expand our marketing effort. Instead of having two or three new customers every year, we might have five or six. It would allow us to grow at double the rate we have in the past. The danger may be that we need to expand personnel at a more rapid rate than we were accustomed to in the past.”

Those growth expectations are not out of line with the economic conditions in Denham-Blythe’s area. During the recession, Kentucky and Tennessee did not suffer the same downturn that other areas did. “There was probably a steady 1 percent per year growth, but in the past eight to 12 months, it’s really blown the top off,” Quenemoen remarks. “There was a significant pent-up demand for facility upgrades and capacity, and there are opportunities for work everywhere.”

Some of those opportunities are coming from the automotive industry. “The automotive industry is pretty much what put central Kentucky on the map almost 40 years ago when Toyota came to town,” Quenemoen recalls. “They had a huge impact, and Toyota is growing again and getting ready to produce the Lexus sedan at its Georgetown, Ky., facility. That influx of additional jobs and money affects every single one of their suppliers, which affects local construction and supply companies in the central Kentucky area. It is a great place to be right now. It seems like there are very few people that were born and raised here, but there has certainly been a large number of people who have moved to be here and call it home.” 

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