Small Contractors Make a Big Impact: Building partnerships and specializing in niche contracts.

Author:Choquette, Joy

Consumers are frequently bombarded with the idea that "bigger is better." But does being largest always equate to being best? Contractors in Alaska come in all shapes and sizes. And while the large name firms offer great benefits to customers, there are also advantages to selecting a smaller firm.

Opportunity Knocks

Skip Myers, owner of Blueprint North, says that business for his firm is flourishing. The company, which employs three full-time staff in the off-season and up to eighteen during the summer months, has found its niche. It completes mostly residential work with some commercial thrown in for variety, Myers says, but sets itself apart by taking on repeat, referral-based projects.

"Most of my marketing is referral," Myers says. Working with a condominium association management company and acting as its "go-to" contractor provides Blueprint North with ongoing work. The company has also partnered with The Home Depot; team members there recommend Blueprint North to customers looking for help with their home improvement projects. Myers is happy to oblige. These two referral streams alone keep Myers and his team busy in all seasons.

Myers says the size of his company has its benefits. "I'm able to respond easier and quicker [to requests] since I don't have such a full schedule," Myers notes, adding another skillset his company brings to every job is attention to detail. "I'm a veteran, and [attention to detail] was big time in the military and goes into this. I don't cut corners or give a subpar project. If I have to do the same job twice or if something's not right, I'll do it again or make it right."

Myers says small general contractors often have less overhead, which can be an advantage. For example, firms with fewer employees don't use as much material or require as many vehicles, keeping expenses lower. "I'm at a comfortable spot right now," Myers says. "And it's been my experience that any time I try to go up in volume or size, I'm forced back down because of the expensive overhead."

Construction Challenges

Construction companies of all sizes are contending with a competitive labor market. It's the flip side of a great economy, Myers says, and he finds that employees are harder and harder to come by. "Wages are going up," Myers notes, "so it's harder to hire someone at $20 an hour."

That's a challenge that Tyler Loken, owner and general manager of 360 General in Anchorage, is also familiar with. Loken says the company--which is the...

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