Hard Hat Chat

Observations and Conversations about Commercial Construction, Development and Management

Is Your Commercial General Contractor More Relevant Than You?

Englewood Construction

Staying ahead of the curve, Englewood Construction recently launched a new website and secured a new domain name: www.ECI.build.

It’s rare for the words “cool” and “general contractor” to be used in the same sentence. But the other day my teenage daughter and her friends decided to Google their dads to see what came up and for a brief moment, I – who receives eye rolls for being so uncool – was suddenly quasi-famous.  Every blog I’ve written for the award-winning HardHatChat popped up, interviews with media about the state of Chicago construction jobs – it was all there.

I tell you this because I think it’s a great example of how the commercial construction industry can stay relevant and keep current, despite the fact that there is very little innovation in the construction process itself. We still pour concrete and erect steel as we did decades ago, we still lay brick in mortar on brick, etc.

But just because one aspect of your business remains the same, it doesn’t give you a pass to be complacent. If you’re a shopping mall landlord, how often do you walk competing shopping centers to see if they are offering a more successful shopping center experience? Or how often do you visit their websites to see what they consider the latest retail and shopping mall news?

We’re certainly no stranger to monitoring the websites of fellow national general construction firms, especially in this day and age as technology evolves at breakneck speed. That’s one reason we recently launched our new website and secured a new domain name: www.ECI.build. If you haven’t visited the new site, please do, as you’ll see bigger and better project photos, plus it offers better mobile device navigation – something Google really likes.  You can still find us at www.englewoodconstruction.com, but one thing we’ve learned over the years in best construction service practices is that you need to be where clients can find you and you need to give them what they want.

You may not have heard much about “.build” as a preferred domain for the commercial construction and development industry, but we feel strongly it will be embraced. And in typical Englewood Construction fashion, we wanted to be ahead of the curve.

Yes, I can hear many of you chuckle at that comment, especially if you’ve met Bill DiSanto, president of Englewood Construction. In person, he embodies the definition of an old-school general contractor. But this man, who grew up in Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood, received a degree in architecture from the University of Illinois and then went on to run the Chicago office of the nation’s third-largest retail construction firm before launching Englewood Construction, is one of the biggest embracers of change to better serve his clients, employees and the industry.

In 2010, HardHatChat was one of the first commercial construction blogs of its kind. At the time, Bill was a little skeptical if people would even read it, and he didn’t really understand how the blog “got out there,” but he knew we had years of educational insights and commercial construction best practices to share. More importantly, he believed in his team, which believed in the blog.

Now, 95 posts later, HardHatChat received over 6500 views in 2014 and our audience is continuing to grow.

If you want your business to flourish, it has to come from the top down. Bill will be the first to say that if you think something is good for your business, but you don’t understand it, then hire someone who does.

For example, during the downturn, we hired our first PR/marketing firm and soon our work with national retailers like American Girl was on the cover of magazines, and the phone was ringing more than usual.

In 2012, we decided to expand our commercial construction networking opportunities and become a sponsor of the Ryder Cup, which took place close to our headquarters.

We’ve also added a number of new team members who bring a fresh perspective to how we can do business better and more efficiently, especially with our internal technology systems. Their innovative ideas have resulted in thousands of dollars of savings that have been passed along to our clients.

So, now that you know what Englewood Construction is doing to stay relevant in today’s commercial real estate industry, what are you doing?

Commercial Construction Trends: More than the Menu—New Restaurant Construction Best Served with an Experience

Chicago Sports Museum

Experience is the order for the day at new restaurants. Last year, Englewood Construction completed the Chicago Sports Museum, an 8,000-square-foot interactive museum at the new Harry Caray’s 7th Inning Stretch in Chicago’s Water Tower Place.

Shopping center owners aren’t the only ones attempting to create a new and exciting experience for consumers with commercial general construction projects, restaurateurs are getting into the game as well.

New restaurant construction projects are booming right now, but just because the market is hot, it does not ensure success. Smart restaurant owners know that attracting a diner’s attention is harder than ever. People can get a burger anywhere, so the goal is to set your burger apart. Sure, luring diners can be done through menu selections and creating a nice ambiance, but more restaurant owners are realizing that creating an experience with a unique commercial construction project can be a winning recipe for success.

This isn’t a completely new concept in restaurant construction, but it’s safe to say it has become a bit more sophisticated. This kind of national restaurant construction has its origins in the sports bar model during the 1990s, where, owners strove to lure clients with the best sports viewing experience and interactive gaming options. The wings and beer were good, but the social atmosphere and interactive entertainment were what really drew patrons. After all, the sports games they show are the same that broadcast to your living room at home. Operations like Buffalo Wild Wings, who Englewood is currently working with on the national restaurant chain’s second Chicago location, perfected this model.

We can also see this kind of experiential restaurant construction in successful theme restaurants like the Hard Rock Café, which Englewood team members have worked on, House of Blues and the Rainforest Café. People rarely talk about the food they have at these establishments, but instead visit because of the dining experience they offer.

Restaurateurs now are taking this new restaurant construction to the next level and developing attractions that are destinations in their own right. Last year Englewood completed the 22,928-square-foot Harry Caray’s 7th Inning Stretch at Water Tower Place on Chicago’s famed Magnificent Mile. The restaurant houses the 8,000-squre-foot Chicago Sports Museum, which features five exhibits, from unraveled sports mysteries to a hall of legends, offering a highly interactive experience for visitors to explore the legends and lore of Chicago sports. Admission is free with a dining receipt, but due to interest and demand, Harry Caray’s also allows visitors to pay separately to tour the museum, view the memorabilia and participate in the interactive displays highlighting Chicago’s sporting past. It’s been a huge success.

Concert venues have become a popular option for new restaurant construction too. These aren’t hastily slapped together stages as an afterthought, but rather restaurant owners consciously deciding to make live music and entertainment a part of their full-service restaurant. Places like Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill have made live music a part of the experience. As have locations like S.P.A.C.E. in Evanston, Ill., which is attached to Union Pizzeria, and several other hot concert venues in the Chicago area. These Chicago restaurant construction projects have been very successful and often draw big name artists, attracting concert goers, and, diners.

In another twist in the restaurant construction game, some business owners are building out new restaurant locations into their established businesses to help create a more well-rounded experience. This has become very popular with movie theater and bowling chains. One example is Cinebarre. To help increase revenue at many of its locations, Cinebarre converts one of its theaters to a full-service kitchen and removes every other row in the remaining theaters to allow for dining tables. This dining/movie experience has helped keep the theater chain relevant and vital, attracting new customers and opening a new revenue stream with food and beverages.

As we see more restaurant construction in the coming months, expect to see more concepts that offer a unique experience. In many cases, a fresh menu isn’t enough to get diners excited anymore. They want entertainment and an experience they can talk about.

Chuck Taylor
Director of Operations
Tel: 847-233-9200 x712

Questions? Comments?
You can reach me at chuck.taylor@englewoodconstruction.com

How Working with a Design-Build Construction Firm Can Boost the Bottom Line

As we move further into 2015, Englewood Construction has been fortunate to entertain a lot of new business opportunities. All signs have been pointing to a robust commercial construction pipeline, with activity consistently on the rise. In fact, last year, the value of all commercial construction contracts signed in the Chicago area was close to $10.6 billion, an 18 percent jump over 2013, according to Dodge Data & Analytics, a New York research firm. Based on our backlog and client activity, we predict record growth in 2015.

Interestingly enough, we have found owners for many of the commercial construction projects out-to-bid are looking to work with design-build construction firms. As a former architect and member of the AIA, this couldn’t make me happier.

There are so many benefits to using design-build construction firms, it surprises me more owners and investors don’t hire design-build contractors for their new commercial construction projects.

Englewood Construction is currently working on a design-build project for the renovation of Stratford Square mall in Bloomingdale, Ill.

Englewood Construction is currently working on a design-build project for the renovation of Stratford Square mall in Bloomingdale, Ill.

It’s not really a secret, but architects, engineers and commercial general contractors don’t always see eye to eye. An architect may dream up an architecturally significant commercial construction project, but once a commercial general contractor takes a look at the drawings and the proposed site, a different reality may have to be addressed. Likewise, if a contractor gets behind on their construction schedule, the subcontractors might not be able to complete their work on time. In short, while these three entities have to work together, the coordination and camaraderie is often lacking and an adversarial relationship is formed if the owner has bid out the work solely on price in a competitive bid process.

However, a qualified national design-build construction firm can eliminate these problems by quarterbacking a project, working closely with owners and investors and controlling all commercial construction elements from start to finish.

Working with a design-build firm can include:

  • Subcontractor harmony. A design-build firm will likely work with a trusted set of subcontractors that they know will deliver a successful commercial construction project on time and budget. Relationships on a project count for a lot. Time is money and if a project has a better chance of staying on schedule because of familiarity between the development team members, it will prove valuable to the client.
  • Financial savings. A tenant or developer may be set on using certain materials, but perhaps there is a less expensive alternative that still delivers the same capabilities or appearance. These are the kind of things a good design-build contractor will let a client know. Controlling construction costs is in the design-build  firm’s best interest, as there is typically a profit share system worked out between the client and contractor if the project comes in under budget, with the client receiving the lion’s share of savings.
  • True partnership. The relationship between a design-build firm and a client is much more of a partnership than the traditional competitive bid process allows for. Rather than simply following plans and doing strictly what the documents require, a design-build contractor will work with a client from the very beginning to determine the scope of the project. During the development process, the client and the design-build construction firm will work together to establish a realistic budget and list of wants and needs, and lock in prices on materials and labor for the project.
  • Less responsibility for owners. Owners can also rest easy knowing that any change orders that arise during commercial construction or any extra work that takes place due to unforeseen circumstances are the responsibility of the design-build contractor, not them. Fortunately, these situations rarely arise, as it is in the design-build construction firm’s best interest to complete their due diligence.

Working with a design-build contractor guarantees a much smoother development process, generating savings on materials and labor and delivering a quality product backed by experienced, proven subcontractors.

To me, it’s no secret as to why an owner would want to work with a design-build contractor. In fact, it’s always puzzling to me why they would choose not to.

When the right circumstance arises and we decide to develop retail and entertainment venues, a design-build relationship will be the only option.

Here’s to more design-build construction work in 2015.

Bill Di Santo
Tel: 847-233-9200 x710

Questions? Comments?
You can reach me at bill.disanto@englewoodconstruction.com