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How A 100-Year-Old Company Is Using Today’s Technologies To Meet E-Commerce Needs

A Graycor e-commerce project.

​​From microwaves to televisions, Americans use things every day that would have been unfathomable to people living 100 years ago, but the technology that would likely have shocked them the most is the internet. Having the ability to order something with a click of a button and seeing it arrive within days or even hours has not only transformed how we shop, but how we plan, design and build facilities.

One construction company has been keeping up with these changes, despite being established in the early 1920s. 

Graycor, a nationwide construction company based in Chicago, was founded in 1921 by Edward Gray, who spent several years in the window-cleaning business. There, he experimented with sand-blasting techniques to clean building exteriors, later expanding into concrete breaking, demolition and furnace-blasting to clean the insides of steel mill furnaces, which inspired him to create a construction company. 

Today, Graycor is a third-generation, family-owned and operated company, led by Gray’s grandsons, Matt and Steve Gray, who serve as co-chairmen of the board. The company currently has 10 nationwide offices, more than 5,000 projects in its portfolio and hundreds of employees, including 265 professional construction staff and management resources, more than 500 craftspeople and 20 safety and quality professionals. 

A historical image of Graycor trucks, when the company was still known as the Chicago Concrete Breaking Company.

Throughout the last century, Graycor has adapted to meet changing client and global needs. ​​From the 1940s through the '70s, Graycor primarily served the steel, power and automotive industries. But as those companies changed, Graycor pivoted to address new challenges in these markets, offering construction solutions for cleaner air and water for industrial and power companies in the 1980s and '90s as people became more concerned about the environment, and successfully building large commercial, hospitality, office, retail and logistics projects befitting the modern era. 

“This relates to the idea of responding to change, being able to see things as they occur, to observe them, and to act in response to those changes,” said Mel Gray, former CEO and current non-executive chairman of the board for Graycor. “While we stick to our basic principles — one of which is the high value that we place in relationships — we are constantly looking at opportunities to leverage today’s latest technologies to evolve and better service these relationships and client needs.” 

In the wake of the e-commerce revolution in which maximizing efficiency and speed to market are essential, Graycor has become one of the nation’s top contractors for warehousing and distribution projects for prominent retail and e-commerce companies.  

“Adaptability involves making leaps in innovation, creativity and skills development to support new product or service offerings to meet client’s facility needs,” Graycor President and Chief Operating Officer David L. Wing said. “Our adaptability, plus our core values of resiliency, integrity, continuous improvement and a focus on building long-term relationships, is what has kept us going for 100 years.” 

Wing said that one of Graycor’s tenets has always been, “go where the business is,” which led to the company working with leaders of the largest commercial real estate owners of the past several decades, including today’s e-commerce giants. 

For its e-commerce and developer clients in the past five years, Graycor has managed the construction of more than 30M SF of logistics and distribution space, including 14M SF of automated facilities​​ — distribution centers, fulfillment centers, last-mile delivery stations and cold storage facilities — many of which are equipped with automated storage and retrieval systems and robotics.

A Graycor e-commerce project.

Wing said that while collaborating with leading companies in e-commerce and retailing, Graycor has utilized the latest virtual design and construction technologies, such as building information modeling. Graycor’s project teams create fully integrated models from construction documents to eliminate issues typically discovered in the field, saving owners both time and money. 

This example of embracing continuous improvement and innovation, Wing said, highlights the ways in which Graycor has managed to stick to the core values of its founder over many decades. 

“Finding new ways to solve problems and address challenges was a characteristic of Edward Gray,” Wing said. “His innovative spirit led to several new approaches and innovations to tackle the toughest challenges facing construction and industry. We try to emulate that in the way we approach our projects today.” 

As the nation’s economy continues to evolve, Wing added, Graycor hopes to follow with its own continued evolution, expanding its role and continuing to take on new, innovative projects. 

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and Graycor. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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