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With Supply Chains Creaking, It May Be Time To Rethink Some Old Best Practices


The coronavirus pandemic continues to muddle supply chains, slowing deliveries of building materials and jeopardizing project schedules. 

“As an example, some types of hydraulic dock levelers for warehouse or factory loading docks normally take about six weeks to arrive on-site,” said Nick Campbell, vice president of business development for Dallas-based general contractor Gordon Highlander. “Right now, we're being quoted close to 20 weeks from the time of purchase.”

That is not an isolated  example. Campbell and his colleagues at Gordon Highlander — and at construction firms across the country — are contending with unprecedented lead times that can complicate and delay jobs. Some GCs are working closely with clients to devise workarounds.

“I think this is the new normal for the foreseeable future, at least for one to two years until the ports reopen,” Gordon Highlander Chief Strategy Officer Steve O’Donnell said.

If two years seems like an eternity, there are ways to smooth and expedite the building process despite continued supply disruptions. The key to success, Gordon Highlander principals told Bisnow, is to be proactive and flexible.

Work With People You Trust

Rethinking formerly tried-and-true best practices can be difficult, O’Donnell said. That is why it is important to work with trusted partners who can help navigate the new risks and offer alternative ideas, or even extend their credit, if necessary to keep a project moving.

“You need to establish a partnership with a GC you can trust because communicating and working closely together is the only way you're going to be able to speed up the timeline,” O’Donnell said.

Rethink The Old Ways

The go-to approach for a warehouse roof might have been a steel joist and decking system. But, Campbell said, project managers need to ask themselves: If parts for that are in short supply, can another roofing system be substituted?

“Whether or not that new approach is worth the payoff might be unclear at this point, but you need to be going outside the box and looking at different design approaches,” Campbell said.

CEO Greg Gordon takes inspiration from his firm’s experience with high-tech clients, who are accustomed to building complex structures according to tight schedules.

“We work for the big e-commerce companies and their projects are the most sophisticated and fastest moving,” he said. “The lesson to draw from them is you can't think linearly, and you have to be creative. And you have to know how to parallel a lot of processes continuously.”

Consider Different Models Of Project Delivery

For a general contractor to save the client time and money, it needs to be brought into the process early, before everything is specced and the team is already waiting for materials to arrive from overseas manufacturers.

O’Donnell said Gordon Highlander is working with a Tier 1 automotive supplier on a new manufacturing facility that needs to be operational in 2022. When the GC got involved, it found the client hadn’t yet hired an architect or engineer. Plus, it faced delays in key materials such as roofing insulation. At that rate, he realized, the work might not even be ready to start until February of next year.

“We helped them pick an architect and an engineer and go with a design/assist approach to get things moving,” he said. “Otherwise, there was almost no way they were going to meet the schedule because they've got equipment coming from overseas that needs to be hooked up and they need production up and running next year. We found a way to shrink the schedule down by three months.”

All Hands On Deck

None of these approaches can succeed without the early participation of all key stakeholders. That can mean more participants in Zoom meetings, especially early in a project.

“You’ve got to get everybody in the room upfront or it's gonna take you a heck of a lot longer to build that building,” O'Donnell said. “You need to make those decisions at the front end, instead of finding out three months later that you're already behind schedule by half a year.”

Campbell noted a recent Dallas-area project recently kicked off its design process with the participation of the steel fabricator. 

“That is not traditionally how it works,” he said. “In this case, we're having our structural steel fabricator there in the very beginning to drive design decisions so that we can get the steel ordered months ahead of time.”

As long as project stakeholders are committed to working together to get through supply chain disruptions, Gordon said he remains positive about the future. It certainly hasn’t stalled Gordon Highlander’s growth plans.

“We've expanded into Houston and Austin, and we're making a big commitment to the state of Texas because we feel very optimistic about strong, continued growth and the good fundamentals right here,” he said.

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

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