With certain supply chain challenges have improved since the spring of 2020, many are still persisting even as the pandemic appears to be receding.
“While things have gotten better overall, we are still running into issues daily,” said our owner Tim Spiegelglass. “Three months ago my team and I were spending most of our days looking for substitute materials, now it’s probably a quarter of our days. There’s no question, you’ve gotta be proactive and aggressive to stay on schedule.”
How can clients and builders work together to keep things moving? Here are a few strategies and watch-outs that we hope will help others as the lingering effects of Covid continue to disrupt our industry.
Hard-to-Find Materials Require Creative Solutions
Our commercial construction projects average between 10-26 weeks and in that tight timeframe, we simply don’t have time to wait around for materials, especially something we know has a 10-12 week delay. When an item is difficult to source, it takes some creative problem solving to come up with workable options.
The process we’re going through is twofold: first we are aggressive, and second we are working closely with the architect and the client to change out materials if needed.
What does aggressive look like? Well, when our owner Tim is playing ice hockey, being aggressive turns into spending time in the penalty box. But in construction management it is pushing ourselves to get what we need. We’re calling around to places we don’t normally buy from, we’re driving out of town to pick up supplies, our subs are holding materials until we need them, we’re ordering in advance and storing materials in a warehouse, you name it! We’re even working with logistics companies that will dispense the materials we need when we need them. Bottom line? We’re doing everything we can to get ahead of issues.
On a parallel path, we’re working with the architect and client to switch out materials as needed, which leads to our next point…
Don’t Fall in Love
There are a lot of workarounds taking place right now in the world of materials. A chain of restaurants might have a very specific tile they require at each location, but we’re finding it is often not available or it is on an extended backorder.
So the question is: do we want to wait for it or find a substitution and move forward? More often than not, we have a conversation with the architect and the client and come up with a solution that works for everyone. Keeping your brand identity intact is important, but there is usually some wiggle room within brand guidelines. The lesson? Be flexible, and don’t fall in love with one specific material.
Watch Your Warranties
Switching out one product for another is sometimes easier said than done. There’s a big watch-out: ensuring you’re not voiding your warranty.
Here’s an example: right now, FRP glue – the material we use to stick fiberglass reinforcement panels to surfaces – is hard to find. But, replacing it with any old glue off the shelf won’t work for two reasons.
First, the glue needs to match properly with the material type and weight of the product. Next, using a glue that is not an approved product (according to the panel manufacturer) will void the warranty. This means if there is a problem down the road – if the panel falls off a wall for example – it won’t be covered by the warranty.
The key takeaway here is to look at the specs and make sure whatever switch you’re planning will be approved by the manufacturer – not only so it will work for that exact product but also so the warranty will hold.
Right now, even switching out products takes digging, and this is where relationships come in.
Where Relationships Shine
In the construction business you hear a lot about relationships. You hear about relationships that have extended for decades; some, like ours, even going into a second century. We’re working with subs right now that our second-generation owner worked with years ago. It’s pretty neat, actually. But how does that benefit our clients?
The unprecedented situation we’re all experiencing right now with materials, labor, etc. can only be solved when people work together, and this is where relationships shine. If you’ve been placing orders with the same manufacturer for 20 years, this is the time to lean on each other.
What can you bring to the table? Can you pay your longtime partner in advance in return for additional materials? No manufacturer wants to be left with empty shelves, and warehouses are holding back so they have inventory for their good customers. This is the time when you deliver for your manufacturing partners and they deliver for you. Relationships matter.
Spotting the Rookies
A newbie general contractor will try to limp along and fix problems along the way, when in fact that will cost you more money in the end. A general contractor that tells you what’s going to happen upfront? That GC comes with experience.
Most clients who are building right now are pretty educated about what’s going on in the world. They know that construction projects are costing more, materials are backed up and there are labor shortages. The good news is that even with those challenges, projects are still moving forward and staying on schedule and within budget… for those who have an experienced general contractor.
Here’s the difference: right now, we’re telling our clients to wait to begin until we have the materials. There are costs associated with storing materials until they are needed, but there are even more costs associated with starting and stopping if you don’t have the materials you need at the right time.
We’re saying to our clients: you see what’s going on in the world… here’s our suggestion to get through this. There’s no need to have a superintendent waiting around for an HVAC unit when we know it’s going to be delayed. An efficient construction project is all about sequencing and momentum; time is money and as soon as you start messing with that flow, it becomes a problem.
We believe in discussing the options upfront, and weighing the risks and benefits before we jump in. More often than not, it doesn’t make sense to start a project when we know at the outset some materials will be significantly delayed.
Just In Time
In school and in theory, just in time manufacturing sounds great. And it worked in the field for a long time. But issues are surfacing now that we’ve never seen before. A single component that isn’t available can literally stop construction, and that’s a real problem. We’re seeing that our suppliers and subcontractors are hanging onto more inventory than they’ve ever needed to before, stocking up on items so building can continue.
At the end of the day, yes supply chain disruptions are continuing but no it does not need to stop your construction project. Reach out to your general contractor to learn more about pre-construction planning and what you can do to get the ball rolling.