Contractors take on a consultative role for small business clients

Ioannis Pashakis//May 10, 2022

Contractors take on a consultative role for small business clients

Ioannis Pashakis//May 10, 2022

Exterior photo of the Dauphin County Library System’s McCormick Library. JEM Group is currently working as the owner’s construction manager on the project. PHOTO/PROVIDED

A local contractor working with the midstate’s biggest employers has access to sophisticated project plans and resources and often a history of other projects to draw from. 

When those clients are small businesses, contractors find themselves taking a more education-forward approach.  

Contractors that frequently work with small companies can be more consultative on a project and often take on more responsibility when it comes to educating a client on the contracting process, said Jessica Meyers, CEO of JEM Group, a Camp Hill-based general contractor. 

“When you are a small business, you come across these moments in time where you are growing or you have a need for space and really you are so focused on the day-to-day operation of the business that to then be thrown into the world of space design, architecture, construction costs, it’s a whole new realm,” said William Sutton, vice president of customer experience at Mechanicsburg-based general contractor, Mowery Construction. 

While it may seem obvious that a small business would have less experience with construction projects, and therefore need more guidance than large employers with designers and project managers on staff, contractors that work regularly on small business construction are well aware of the nuances. 

Focusing on the smaller projects 

At JEM, Meyers is sure to explain to her staff that the process of building a new building is especially significant for some clients.  

“Getting the loan, getting the financing. Often times that’s a very stressful process,” said Meyers. “You have to meet them where they are. Being mindful of how big of a deal this is for them- that can really make a difference to your customer.” 

Meyers went on to say that choosing the right contractor can be particularly difficult for a small business, seeing as though they need to find a firm where their project won’t get lost in the shuffle of larger projects. 

For some contractors, the value proposition of working on a $100,000 project may simply not be a good fit for their structure. Ephrata-based Benchmark Construction primarily works with larger employers, so if they are working on a smaller project, it is often for a repeat client they have a longstanding relationship with. 

“We have done small business projects, it’s not that we aren’t interested in that kind of work, it’s just that sometimes they tend to be smaller contract values and we are a company that is set up for taking larger projects,” said Stuart Smith, vice president of market growth at Benchmark. 

Mowery’s smaller projects tend to take the form of everything from senior living cottage renovations to industrial warehouse upgrades and office renovations. For those smaller projects, the company has formed a special projects division that allows it to complete simple, smaller projects separately from its more complex, time and resource heavy builds. 

The special projects group also allows Mowery to introduce itself to clients in a less risky way, according to Sutton, opening the company up for larger projects in the future. 

“The special projects group is dedicated to smaller projects. We classify that as a million or under and we have a team dedicated to that,” said Sutton. “We have a robust field staff of carpenters and laborers that can do hands-on work in the field for us. We can expedite projects because it’s out our own field staff.” 

Mowery provided design and build services for the Humane Society of Harrisburg’s 900 square foot clinic. PHOTO/PROVIDED

Educating a client 

The education piece of working with a small business includes helping that business stay in the confines of their budget. According to Meyers, that could include figuring out that a company may not be able to afford an addition, but could instead fit something into a smaller footprint. 

“We try to make sure that we identify the cost as early as possible,” she said. “90% of the time they aren’t doing this with cash. They are going for financing and need the exact number to take to the bank.” 

A client may also simply not be able to visualize what they need. Someone may know they need 10,000 square feet, but don’t have a grasp on what they will need from a design perspective, said Sutton. 

“We have a hands on approach for small businesses,” he said. “Explaining the process, supporting and educating them on ways to save money, making their space more efficient and navigating the construction process.” 

An employer may also not be aware of the entire process, such as securing permits and approvals from municipalities, said Smith. This can be particularly true since an owner is likely to look at their contractor as a partner on the project. 

The current pent-up demand for projects as well as higher cost and wait times for materials can also be a surprise to businesses outside of the construction industry. Lead times for doors and doorframes alone can delay a project for up to six months, according to Smith. 

“Our preconstruction team is immediately looking for long lead items,” he said. “Things that have to be purchased soon so we don’t have to delay the start of construction.”