The Team Approach
Ron Cantrell Construction, Inc. Builds Success on a Foundation of Relationships
Ron Cantrell didn’t plan on becoming a design builder, but his path led him there regardless. He didn’t plan on specializing in churches, but he’s responsible for raising steeples all over Georgia and North Carolina. Regardless of what his plans once were, he couldn’t be happier with where life has brought him and Ron Cantrell Construction, Inc. (RCCI)
Today, it’s a successful design-build organization with a portfolio of satisfied clients, but RCCI has roots that extend back to 1981, when Ron was a painting contractor.
“It was a good start,” Ron says. “But the problem with being a painting contractor is that you’re usually the last one in on a job. By the time we arrive, everyone else is frustrated with each other, so you’re coming into a culture of animosity and contention. We spent a few years in that environment, but realized we could do more. We got to the point that just painting other peoples’ projects was not enough, so we became a regional interiors specialist.”
For the next several years, Ron and his team specialized in converting, updating and renovating motels, traveling all over the Southeast to work on different chains.
“At the same time we were doing that, we were still operating as a painting contractor,” Ron says. “It almost came to the point we were competing with the people we worked for. We decided it was time for the next step, so in the early 1990s, we reorganized as Ron Cantrell Construction, Inc.”
The Right Approach
His years as a subcontractor were an education for Ron in how he did not want to run his company once he made the leap to become a general contractor himself. He had his own ideas about the way he wanted to work with subcontractors and customers.
“We saw it all the time, that the general contractor would take every advantage they could of subs,” Ron says. “They would try to beat us down on price, then beat us up throughout the project. Then they would hold on to the money. When I took the plunge and became a GC, I knew I’d do things differently. Our culture is one of very deep respect for everyone who helps us complete the contract. When we put a project out to bid, we don’t negotiate the bid price. We pay our subs very fast and, as a result, have a very high loyalty from them. They’re now willing to go the extra mile to help us out when we get into a bind.”
In working with his clients, Ron uses what he calls the Team Approach. It’s a method of involving clients at every stage and in every decision regarding their project, from initial design through completion. Ron describes the process as a partnership, creating a team comprised of the customer, RCCI representatives, architects/engineers and consultants or other construction professionals whose expertise is needed for the project.
“Our involvement with each client begins at a time when the client recognizes the need for new facilities but does not necessarily know the specifics of how to fulfill that need,” Ron says. He prefers to start with the client’s budget and plan accordingly, rather than designing a project that the client can’t afford.
“We always strive to set realistic goals for each phase of the process, from the initial establishment of the owner’s program through the engineering and permitting phase, construction phase and project close-out,” Ron says. “We realize that many construction companies can provide quality workmanship, but our emphasis is on building lasting relationships.”
The firm charges a small amount to initially work with a client to determine their needs, he says. “Along with that, we find out the client’s budget and align our proposal to their budget. Over half our clients we’ve built churches for start out with a design they paid a lot of money for, then find out they can’t afford it. We keep it all within budget,” he says.
Ron and his team keep clients involved in every decision, from design to finished product. “We pride ourselves in making sure the project goes smoothly for all involved and our Team Approach fosters an atmosphere in which lasting relationships are built,” he says.
Articles of Faith
RCCI is well known in the community for its work on churches and private schools, but it’s a niche Ron and his team fell into by accident. RCCI landed one church project, then another, and word began to spread in the community. Currently, about half of RCCI’s work comes from churches and other faith-based institutions, but in some years that number has been as high as 70 percent, Ron says.
Working with a church is a very difference experience than working with a business owner, Ron says.
“A business has an owner with final say over what’s done,” Ron says. “Churches don’t. They have a committee. But I believe part of my calling is working with a group of people, taking that group of people and winning them over.”
It’s a winning formula. From 2008 to 2015, RCCI enjoyed a business volume of about $4 million to $5 million per year. In the last three years, it has grown to $7 million per year, and Ron anticipates revenue growth of an additional 25 percent in 2019. RCCI has grown to a staff of 13 people, five of whom are supervisors. The company can handle five major projects at once, Ron says, and at any given time usually has one or two dozen small projects ongoing.
“We experienced major growth going back to being the right fit for a project,” Ron says. “We’re selective. If I recognize the expectations of the client and the reality of the project are too far apart, we won’t take on the client. We’ve had many opportunities for explosive growth, but if I feel we can’t give the client the right service, I won’t take the project.” Passing on projects from time to time doesn’t mean Ron and his team aren’t willing to take on a challenge. A few years ago, RCCI landed a contract to add a third floor to a 30-year-old high school. It was scheduled as a five-year project because all construction costs had to coincide with the school’s funding cycle, which afforded only a certain amount per year for the addition. Classes had to continue uninterrupted while the work was done, so Ron and his team encapsulated the building in a steel structure to support the third floor while the building was occupied. Despite these challenges, the project was completed on time and within budget.
A Matter of Pride
Ron is proud of RCCI’s success but even more proud of how it was achieved, through his clients, his employees and even with the subcontractors he uses on his projects.
“There are huge pitfalls for only using a core of subs,” Ron says. “If other subs know about it, it discourages them from working with you. We have a policy of opening up and accepting prices from subs we don’t have experience with. They must meet our expectations—but we won’t ask anyone for a price unless we’re willing to give the project to them. We don’t try to beat other subs into meeting a price. We saw too much of that when we were a subcontractor, and I was determined to do things differently.”
Many RCCI employees have been with the organization for their entire working lives, and Ron says the culture at RCCI is like a family. He sets high standards for employees and subcontractors alike.
“If you’re an employee, you have to be honorable and have the right motivation,” Ron says. “Our company has deep respect for everyone on the job and a zero tolerance for untoward attitudes and actions on the job site. People on our job sites are courteous and friendly.”
What pleases Ron most, though, are the relationships he’s built while establishing a legacy of work done well, on time and within budget.
“Some of my best friends are past clients and pastors of churches we’ve built,” Ron says. “The ability to be close friends with past clients speaks volumes about the client experience. One thing I hear more than any other comment is when we work a client through the process—and go through a year or more of preliminary design, then the engineering and construction phase, through to the end—clients say they’re happy to have their project, but sad to see the process end. In our opinion, there is no greater testimony than that.”