When the economy crashed in 2008, the relatively new owners of Consolidated Construction Co. Inc. in Appleton knew they had to get creative to keep the business going.
The quartet of Rick Bickert, Jim Perras, Mark Schwei and Pam Talavera led the purchase of the formerly family-owned company by 20 employees in 2006. At the time, the company was seeing record earnings and revenues.
But as financial institutions tightened lending processes and companies canceled projects, Consolidated saw revenue drop by 47 percent between 2007 and 2010. To survive, management took pay cuts to hold employee wages constant, employees who left weren’t replaced and company leaders made the decision to expand its geographic footprint.
That last step turned out to be crucial with Consolidated growing in new geographic and industry markets, allowing the company to weather the storm and come out stronger.
“We were fortunate we had some hospitality projects going on in the West as things slowed down and from there, we got to know the local markets a bit more and waded into new projects and areas,” says Schwei, Consolidated’s executive vice president. “You get to know the market and people get to know you.”
That led the company to eventually open a hub office in Bismarck, N.D., as Consolidated took advantage of that state’s rapid economic growth. Besides expanding into the Dakotas, Consolidated also looked to the south, Milwaukee. The company took on a high-profile project converting a former downtown bank building into a five-story Gold’s Gym facility. Consolidated won several awards for the project, including the National Eagle Award from the Associated Builders and Contractors’ National Excellence in Construction competition.
“We got a lot of attention for that project and we saw there were a lot of manufacturers in the southern part of the state. Since that is a specialty of ours, we decided to jump in and see what jobs we could win,” Schwei says.
Consolidated’s success in other markets translated into more jobs in Appleton, says Bickert, the firm’s president. The company employs more than 100.
“We’ve been able to add people in our corporate office here, bring back additional revenues to this community and serve other projects from here,” he says. “More importantly, our success has allowed us to give back to the community more, whether it’s through donations or just being involved with local initiatives and organizations.”
Consolidated also expanded its market niches from industrial, manufacturing and commercial projects to include hospitality, retail, food, multi-family, education, churches and non-profit industries.
As Consolidated saw growth in its new geographic markets and segments, projects back home began to pick up. Schwei says the company currently has revenues double of
those posted in 2007.
“We were fortunate to find a strategy that allowed us to see so much growth and it all comes back to our employees working hard day in and day out,” he says.
Another piece of the strategy was launching a division to help clients find funding for their projects. “We kept hearing from people they couldn’t get funding so the project wasn’t going anywhere,” Schwei says. “We knew we had to address that so we brought in creative people to help our clients secure funding to get their project off the ground.”
Talavera, vice president of business operations, says Consolidated is very mobile and as clients have traveled into new markets, the Appleton company has followed.
“We’ve also brought along many subcontractors from Appleton with us as we’ve grown into new markets,” she says. “Our customers really trust the high level of work we produce and have embraced our subcontractors, too.”
As part of its realignment, Consolidated rolled out a new corporate culture based on author Stephen R. Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Perras, a project director at the firm, says all employees participate in annual cultural check-ups and daily supports that are part of the philosophy.
“When you’re in a time of stress, that’s when it’s the most important to keep focus on what’s important and our culture is one of the reasons we made it through,” he says.
Bickert says the “7 Habits” culture underlines everything Consolidated does.
“It’s not just about chasing metrics, but how do we behave on the journey?” he says. “How are we treating each other, our clients, our subcontractors? That philosophy has really allowed us to take our business to a higher level and ensure our work is of the highest quality possible.”
A CLOSER LOOK
Consolidated Construction Co. Inc.
Year founded: 1950 in North Dakota; the company moved to Appleton in 1964 to help build Fleet Farm stores.
Specialty building areas: Industrial, manufacturing, commercial hospitality, retail, food, multi-family, education, churches and non-profit industries
On the web: www.consolidated-const.com