You Say You Want a Revolution?
Demolition customers value evolving expertise of Northeastern Building Revolution
The word “revolution” represents a sharp change, and comes from the Latin “revolutio”, which means “a turn around.”
The folks at Northeastern Building Revolution (NBR) are eagerly making positive changes to revolutionize the way they perform selective and full demolition and concrete saw-cutting projects in the commercial marketplace. The company takes on about 60 of these types of projects each year.
John Cortese, Owner, founded NBR in 2012 and at first concentrated the company’s work in the residential market. John was looking to hire someone who could help him focus on sales in order to expand the business.
He found Steve Howells. “I didn’t have any previous construction experience. But I knew NBR was already successful in residential demolition projects, so I wanted to help grow its services into the commercial side,” says Steve, President of NBR, headquartered in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania.
Before joining NBR in 2013, Steve worked at the Penn Center for Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania, where he gained computer, software and some sales experience. He thought he could apply these skills to help NBR grow.
“I started cold calling and handing out business cards. I also went out on our job sites to help supervise the jobs. In time, I learned demolition methods,” he says. “I tracked how much time it took to complete each task. Actually, I tracked everything so I could create formulas in order to bid jobs more accurately.”
His diligence began to pay off as the company started receiving bid invitations for more and larger commercial demolition assignments. The company’s work began to shift from residential to commercial. Today, NBR has 20 employees and Steve estimates that 90% of NBR’s demolition and concrete saw-cutting work is commercial within the Mid-Atlantic region.
“We’re always on the lookout for improvements, such as making things more efficient for our customers, implementing new work methods, collaborating with our vendors in strategic ways and working to improve our bottom line,” Steve says. “I’m interested in establishing new relationships with general contractors and mechanical contractors. You’ve got to keep at it by networking, emailing, handing out brochures and following up. We’re aggressive about knocking on doors because it’s always a challenge to get your foot in the door. But, once we do, we sell what NBR is all about.”
He adds, “It’s rewarding to get an invitation to bid and then land the job. And, because of our expertise, we always get repeat business from new customers.”
Emphasizing Repeat Business
One such repeat customer is D&B Construction Group, which hired NBR in January 2020 to complete interior demolition on a 17,000-square-foot structure to make way for the new construction of Cardiology Consultants of Philadelphia in Paoli, Pennsylvania.
“It was our first project with D&B, so we got our foot in the door,” Steve says. “The job went extremely well. In fact, we’ve completed five additional projects for the contractor since then. We take great pride in building a reputation for a job well done.”
Efficient Debris Removal
Steve says vendor collaboration can produce efficiencies in NBR’s work. One example is NBR’s use of Richard S. Burns & Company Inc.’s “Tommy Carts” as an alternative to dumpsters in removing debris from interior demolition sites.
“The carts roll inside a structure and we place debris directly into them instead of hauling debris outside and putting it into dumpsters. Then, the filled carts are rolled outside for pickup. Empty carts are delivered to the site when full carts are picked up. This streamlined process safely eliminates double handling of debris on the job site. And, that saves time and money,” Steve explains. Steve also thinks it’s vital to establish a proper business tone with contractors in order to help them feel comfortable with him as a person and confident with NBR’s capabilities as a company.
“We strive to build great contractor relationships on the job sites as well as in our telephone and email communications,” he says. “Our projects are more successful when everyone is communicating openly and honestly.”
Steve will provide another point of differentiation for NBR when he completes training next year to earn a Foundations of Demolition Management certificate, which has only been awarded to 35 recipients as of March 2020. The program is sponsored by the National Demolition Association (NDA), a professional organization that supports nearly 500 U.S. companies engaged in a wide range of demolition activities.
“I’m working to improve our company by getting this NDA certification and by meeting with other demolition companies also engaged in this process,” he says. “It’s incredibly valuable to share best practices and network with other demolition experts across the country.”
Steve attributes the company’s good traction with customers to “honesty and completing what we’re contracted to do. We’re on time and remain on budget. Our job is to provide a service, so we stay in close communication with general contractors throughout a job by keeping them apprised of any challenges and progress.”
Approximately 70% of NBR’s commercial business consists of interior and exterior selective demolition work with the remaining 30% made up of concrete saw-cutting assignments, which include pouring and finishing concrete.
“For a plumbing or electrical company, we might cut through and remove a concrete floor. Then, we excavate the site so new piping or wiring can be installed. We then backfill the site with the original dirt and pour the new concrete,” he explains. “This way, we’re providing turnkey service.”
Steve remembers NBR’s work last year for Thomas Jefferson University’s Home Infusion/Specialty Pharmacy project in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. The company’s assignment was to demolish, remove and recycle material from about 80,000 square feet of interior space. “Our job was to provide them what we call a ‘vanilla shell’—an empty space that allowed them to complete construction. It involved about four to five months of demolition work, and this large-scale job couldn’t have gone any smoother,” he says. “We overcame some obstacles, executed it well and brought all of our experience to bear on this job.”
Quick and Quiet
In 2018, NBR’s crews were given a somewhat delicate project—selective demolition of interior living spaces at Normandy Farms Estates, part of Acts Retirement-Life Communities in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. Twenty-five individual apartments needed to be demolished so the interiors could be upgraded.
“What made it especially challenging was that retirement residents were living on-site while we performed our work. As we tackled one wing of apartments, residents were moved to other parts of the facility. We really wanted to do a good job for them by doing our demolition as quickly, quietly and safely as possible,” Steve says.
“To make it less disruptive for residents, we began our work early each morning, and we tried to schedule noisier parts of the job when residents were eating or engaged in some other activity,” he recalls. “It wasn’t a particularly large job, but it was an important one for us. We knew that completing our portion was going to help make way for a much better community for the residents. And that made us feel good.”
Steve gives a lot of credit to NBR’s Operations Manager, Jorge Gonzalez, for the professional way the company handles its assignments. Jorge also was the first employee Steve hired.
“All three of us are building this business together. Jorge is the guy who conducts our business on-site in a timely manner. He’s hands-on and takes time to train each worker. His ability to interface well with both customers and our workers is a key reason why we get repeat business,” Steve says.
He adds, “John, Jorge and I work together like a well-oiled machine. Ours is a great balance of personalities, and each of us knows what we’re good at.”