Hunts Point Fence by Western Masonry was a winning project in the RMCA's recent Celebration of Masonry Excellence.
Hunts Point Fence by Western Masonry was a winning project in the RMCA's recent Celebration of Masonry Excellence.

Congratulations on making it to 2010. The economy has been extremely hard on all of us. So hard, in fact, many mason contractors were unable or unwilling to shoulder the financial burden and stress, forcing them to close their doors. Some economists are hinting that the worst is behind us, but with the recovery moving forward at a snail's pace, it doesn't seem like the construction industry is participating.

I bet you mason contractors are frantically networking, searching for leads, and submitting proposals on anything and everything that crosses their desks. Projects that were too small, too large, too intricate, or too confusing are now jobs many take the time to figure out and bid on.

We still do quantity take-offs, estimate manpower, add for equipment, overhead, and profit, and gaze into our crystal ball looking for all the extenuating circumstances that will directly affect the bottom line.

You don't have a crystal ball? What century are you from? Subcontracting would be way too much of a gamble had I not been able to use my magic crystal ball all these years.

I get my adrenaline rush every time I work up a proposal. I have plenty of things to worry about and gamble on, sitting right here at my office desk. Questions that tumble through my head include, “Have we inadvertently forgotten something?” Of course, we use bid sheets and computer spread-sheets to check and double check to make sure we haven't forgotten anything, but “things happen.”

What will the weather be like when the job is actually underway, not when the critical path plans says we are to start? Is the contractor good to work for and are his superintendent and project manager knowledgeable, helpful, and not having you butting heads with every other trade that is only trying to do his job? I don't care how systematic you are; every proposal has risks.

During the previous booming economy, we may have had a tendency to slide over the little inefficiencies and wasted materials, sweeping them under the mat as job-related expenses. In this difficult market, it has become increasingly important to maximize production and minimize costs.

Belt tightening

This could be the silver lining in this economic storm cloud. Tightening our belts and using every strategy we know or can learn will help us in the future to be more competitive, more efficient, and better contractors. It is easy to become complacent and set in our ways because we have always done it that way in the past and it worked. Now is the time to learn more, seek out new products and methods, and implement new business practices to cut costs and improve the bottom line.

One of the best ways to learn more is to talk to the experts, the individuals who have been there and done that. Trade groups such as our Residential Masonry Contractors Association (RMCA), MCAA, MIW, ABC and MBA are excellent resources of knowledge. But you have to ask.

Jim Frisch is the 2010 president of the Residential Masonry Contractors Association and is also the president/owner of Western Masonry in Woodinville, Wash.