Like any market, success in the high-end residential sector comes down to some critical know-how of the ins and outs. We recently caught up with Thomas E. Martin, president of T.H. Martin Inc., in Cleveland, Ohio, to give us some strategies when his company does work on high-end residential condos, apartments and hybrid spaces. Here are some of Martin’s best tips.
Cost Saving Measures
Margins tend to be thinner on residential jobs due to the repetitive nature of the jobs and who competes for residential work. "Sometimes the pay scale can be dramatically different between contractors, and you need to explain the value that comes with higher skilled workers," Martin says. "You do have to quote these projects aggressively and make sure you have the right ratios of apprentices to journeypersons on the job."
An additional cost-saving measure can be found with union partners. "If you know your bid needs to be super competitive, reach out to the union to discuss ways they can help," he says. "They want to win the business as much as you do and they have some creative, effective ideas that can help with the business, especially if the project expands marketshare."
Collaboration with Equipment Vendors and Reps
"You should also plan to collaborate with your equipment vendors and reps," Martin says. "On many of these high-end residential projects, you are using the same size equipment again and again. Your equipment vendors and reps will likely have volume-oriented solutions not only related to efficiency with the equipment but with the labor. They can help make things easier for you in the field."
Streamline the Design
A lot of these high-end residential projects are comprised of suites that are essentially identical from floor to floor. Therefore, "you can streamline the design to make it easier for your shop during fabrication — and easier for field installation," Martin says. "If you think like a manufacturer, you can standardize the design, and then the fabrication work, as well as simplify installation." Every incremental saving reduces costs of the overall project.
Offer Expertise and Design Options
Being a Union/SMACNA contractor, "we have the best talent, and a lot of our contractors have great skillsets and expertise," Martin says. Don’t be afraid to offer that to the customer or the design team. And don’t hesitate to collaborate throughout the design phase with the design engineer of record. It will only help the project. T.H. Martin is very experienced when it comes to larger, commercial projects, so on smaller, mixed-use projects, "we can tap into the know-how and make recommendations that benefit the customer, saving them money and scheduling hassles," he adds.
Think Low Pressure and Pre-Fab in the Shop
From a fabrication standpoint, think low pressure and pre-fab. With these typical suites and systems, "you want to consider how you can use pre-fab to control your labor," Martin says. "You have more control of your labor in the shop than in the field, so if you can put together two or three pieces of duct in the shop and have it mostly pre-fabbed, you’re setting yourself up for success." Think about lean principles on these projects.
Identify the Correct Crews and Subs
Identifying the right crews for this type of work is important, especially if it’s not something you typically do. T.H. Martin Inc. does mostly commercial and some industrial work. On retail or multi-family/mixed-use projects, there are some tenant-facing elements of the HVAC system that require a little more attention to detail than large commercial projects, so the right people need to do the finishing work. Also, it is critical to have a great project manager who is also an excellent communicator in the field. Each floor is like a project unto itself, and crews can be working on multiple floors at one time on these projects. "You must have someone who can coordinate and communicate with the crews in the field, as well as the office and the shop on materials needed," Martin says.
Willingness to Work with All Trades on Site
High-end residential is not always union work and, oftentimes, "you have to be willing to work with non-union trades on these jobs," Martin says. "With high-end residential, you might be working with a non-union electrician or carpenter, for instance. The mentality on this has to be 'take care of the customer' first and foremost."
Logistics and Material Handling and Staging
A lot of these high-end residential projects have one or more buck hoists to get materials to higher floors. "It’s critical that you plan ahead and think about logistics, including material handling and staging," Martin says. "Again, think of pre-fab solutions. Plan for trips up a buck hoist and maximize every trip possible to reduce the number of lifts needed. If you can find a way to consolidate 10 trips to six, you reduce wait times substantially."
Consider every possible way to increase efficiency when bidding on high-end residential and mixed-use projects — from design to supply orders to labor costs to pre-fabrication to installation. Examine all closely to create the most competitive bid possible. As Martin says, "At the end of the day, doing the above and helping the customer understand the skill involved and quality and professionalism of the work delivered will give you the best chance possible at winning this type of work."