A Labor (day) of Love

Every now and again, lessons I find myself teaching my daughters overlap with themes in my professional life. Just the other day, I found myself telling my seven-year-old daughter "you just do you and let other people worry about doing what they do".

In the times that we live, there's quite literally an unlimited amount of information available at our fingertips. This has led many to try to be everything for everybody, expanding beyond whatever their core competencies might be.  Although I despise going there, I was at Walmart a while back and was shocked to find out they sold tires. I breezed by quickly (in an effort to hasten my Wally World experience), noticed a few brand names I had never heard of before, and quickly shuffled off.

While being a "jack of all trades" was en vogue for quite some time, I've recently noticed a shift back in the other direction. There seem to be many companies who are deciding that they will only do what they are best at, allowing other people to do the things that are not in their wheelhouse. In the end, this is much better for the consumer/client.

In the industry in which I work, a lot of realtors, landlords, and other professionals feel they can apply a general rule of thumb for design and build out costs without much knowledge of what truly drives those costs.  Just as I am not qualified to render opinions on the legalities of a merger deal, when people do not realize the nuances of construction-based costs, dangerous predicaments can ensue.

Conversely to the Walmart tire experience, I recently went into a "tires are all that we do" establishment and was amazed at the knowledge, service, and pricing I was able to get.  I now have some new rubber to drive down the road to work on my next construction bid. Letting the people with the proper education, experience, and knowledge worked out as well for me as when our clients allow us to do what we do.

Who Do you Trust?

It was maybe the best zinger I have ever had.  A little pompous – perhaps, full of confidence – most definitely, but after I dropped it, I received a little more respect around the job site.  It wasn’t too long after I graduated from college, and I was on a job site of a major construction project acting as the “owner’s representative” for a local government.  I had been having trouble keeping the laborers in check with performing the work as was required by the plans and specs I created.  We had a few arguments about what was on the plans to which my standard response of “trust me, I performed the plans” wasn’t good enough for the laborers.  While one of the laborers was installing some underground plumbing we talked lightly about what I had learned in college.  I talked briefly of how I had a few electrical engineering courses that helped me understand circuitry and the fundamentals of electrical systems and how I had a few mechanical engineering course that helped me understand the principals of thermodynamics and how that coupled with fluid dynamics gives the principals of HVAC design, then of course my hydrology and hydraulic classes that are slightly applicable to plumbing.  I made the point that most of what I considered my true knowledge was from the field and watching things as they were built, then learning how they behaved after we built them.  The laborer found a chance to prod at me a bit and looked up out of the ditch and said “see… all those years of college and all that money spent where did it get you?”  I smiled briefly and said “only about three feet,” he tried to figure out what I was talking about, and I replied “you’re in the ditch and I’m on top of it”.  Luckily, the laborers thought it was pretty funny and oddly enough started to listen to me a little more for the rest of the project. 

As I look back at it now, the story raises a good point (other than the fact that I have never lacked in confidence).  Owners have a certain amount of respect for laborers and give them the bennefit of the doubt that, with the proper credentials, they should know what they are doing.  Maybe even the grayer their hair, the more they might know.  However, when relying on the stability of the whole project and having confidence that things will be done right, on-time, and in-budget, you have to rely on the guy on top of the ditch.  What is the basis of that individual’s knowledge?  Do they have a technical background that gives a basis to understand various construction disciplines? How much experience does that person have?  How much experience specific to the type of project you are undergoing?  That is where the rubber meets the road: not on who sold you the job, not on the laborer in the ditch, but on the person watching over the laborer’s shoulder making sure that the job you were sold is done as promised.  It’s not a question that is out of the ordinary, “Who will be my day-to-day contact for implementing the job?”  I always smile when I’m asked that question because I can respond “the guy who designed the project… and he doesn’t lack in confidence either”.

The Value of a General Contractor

"Cut out the middle man," you hear it everywhere today, from mattress commercials to direct-to-consumer websites.  And yes it's true, there are circumstances where people simply pass things along to the next person while adding enough profit to continue their existence - it is the inherent nature of the consumer supply chain.

However, some try to paint general contractors with the same brush as an unnecessary middle man. This could be a fatal error to their project and their business.

It is not hard to look around and see folks that have made this error. We had the opportunity to see one such example while working as a local bank’s representative. We were hired to represent the bank's interest on a project where the owner/operator had decided not to hire a general contractor (GC). Not wanting to pay a markup for subcontractors and feeling they had a grasp on the construction process convinced the owners that they could run the project themselves.

Unfortunately, their first error came long before construction. The owners had hired a local design professional to do some very rudimentary drawings for the project. I happen to personally know this design professional and knew the plans were not customary of his usual finished project. Without even asking, I could tell the owner had asked him to provide the minimal amount of information in order to keep design fees low. What the owners didn't know is they were setting themselves up for disaster.

The next indicator of trouble to come was found while reviewing the subcontractor pricing the owner had received. Some items were obviously missing in the scope and some pricing was much more than I was accustomed to seeing from trades. This actually makes sense when you think about it: an HVAC contractor working for the owner of a commercial project has no knowledge as to whether they will get paid and no real motivation to try to earn future work from what will most likely be a "one and done client."  The pricing I am used to seeing is that of companies that know their payment is a guarantee and that there will be a future revenue stream if their work is priced and performed correctly.

After straightening out these early issues of incomplete scope, complete chaos ensued. Sequencing was regularly off, schedules were continuously blown, and budgets often busted because the scope of work was not clearly defined on the watered-down drawings. 

The project eventually finished far behind schedule, and the business is now up and running while the bank's interest remains protected. However, the owner may never fully realize the money lost in higher-than-average pricing, change orders, and exceeded schedules that occurred. The simple cost of lost production from schedule overruns alone could have warranted the fees of a GC and a proper professional design!

Why Connect?

When trying to arrive at a company name, the "think tank" discussion between me and my business partner Troy and the creative professionals we were engaging kept circling back around to the connection we ultimately have with our clients. While there are various other reasons we felt people would work with us, such as our experience and professional ethos and so on, the real reason people decided to use us in the past and would continue to use us in the future was the personal connection we were able to make with them. Not that all decisions are made on an emotional level, but after explaining to someone the professional services you can render, their decision (more often than not) rests on how comfortable they are with you and how much of a personal connection they have with you.

We tried to redirect that conversation to our process and the fact that we offer a rare chance for our clients to start with envisioning their project with us, then move on to our professional design service, and continue to use us through the construction. That's where we originally thought we differentiated ourselves. We were asked by our consultants, "So you have strength in your ability to link those processes? To CONNECT the dots for clients." We agreed. We were reminded, "I still feel you shouldn't underestimate the value of people feeling that connection with you. A lot of people that do client development show up, like a bump on a log, just telling people this is what we do. You guys seem to really become a part of their team and that connection stays with the client after the project is complete. Add to that the fact that you are connecting 3 services that the client often has to go to three separate entities to complete."

So CONNECT it was for a company name.

Add in the (perhaps not so) peripheral point that we seem to more and more often be the trusted central hub for referrals to other professionals for our clients that we have built that connection with. Suddenly Connect made so much sense.

That's where we came up with the name, and that’s also why we think you will want to CONNECT with us!

Contact Us

Kurt Lape, P.E.
(740) 407-9376
Troy Reynolds, P.E.
(614) 674-8918