The good news: “Construction is up across the board,” according to Debbie Marcoulier, CEO and president of Vancouver-based RSV Building Solutions.
The bad news: “Deadlines, financing and regulatory approval are tight,” added Marcoulier. “All costs are on the rise – materials, permitting, taxes and land.”
And more projects means that contractors and subcontractors are busy – sometimes too busy to take on another project. People can afford to walk away from bids if adversarial situations arise.
Marcoulier said these trends are combining to fuel a paradigm shift across the construction industry.
“The industry is becoming much more collaborative and cooperative,” she stated. “There has been a shift away from the harsh bidding process, and there is more focus on partnering. People want their ideas to be heard in a friendly exchange.”
While this may be a big adjustment for some construction firms, it’s business-as-usual for RSV.
“RSV is thriving due to our unique approach to projects. We’ve done it this way for 40 years,” said Marcoulier. “Our focus has always been on collaboration and success for everyone involved. We’re a relationship company.”
Marcoulier took the helm at RSV about two years ago, while former CEO and president Ron Frederiksen is now chairman of the firm. Frederiksen’s current primary role is filling the pipeline, mentoring Marcoulier, and “solving difficult challenges” when they arise. Marcoulier handles the day-to-day operations, and is no stranger to how RSV does business – she started with the company 11 years ago as a part-time admin support employee, and has worked her way up.
So what does it mean to be “collaborative and cooperative” in the context of construction?
For RSV, said Marcoulier, it means working with the client from concept, through creation, to completion – on time and on budget. Early in a project, RSV can help customers find appropriate land, assess possibilities and define end goals.
“When they have a concept in their mind – they know they have a need to do something – that’s the best time to contact us,” said Marcoulier.
Getting RSV involved early helps contain both hard and soft costs by avoiding pitfalls and problems. A lot of construction companies, Marcoulier said, focus only on hard costs, such as materials. But answering questions upfront can avoid costly design rework or drawn-out permitting processes. These questions include “Is the concept workable?” “Will it appraise?” “Can it be financed?” “Can it be built and permitted?”
During construction, RSV “bolts itself onto the client.” They establish a project leadership team and hold weekly collaborative meetings, bringing in resources as needed.
“We’re a high-touch company,” said Marcoulier. “For small- to mid-sized construction companies that is critical. Human contact and expertise is extremely important.”
Marcoulier said the atmosphere in these weekly meetings is supportive and open.
“Within RSV we’re a family – our vast array of resources are extended family,” she said. “We discuss things and we count on them to bring their expert ideas forward. We don’t want to stifle them because they can bring things to light early on that might not have been addressed otherwise.”
A project that showcases how RSV’s collaborative spirit can cut costs and deliver a high-quality project that has significant community impact is their recent work with the Vancouver YMCA. The nonprofit wanted to add space, remodel existing space and add an open-air swimming pool – all while remaining fully operational. The project’s original design was too expensive to be realistic for the nonprofit organization, so RSV engaged its network and found ways to design and build the project cost-effectively. They researched state-of-the-art construction techniques that saved the YMCA “hundreds of thousands of dollars” and came up with ways to contain permitting costs and get the permits faster.
RSV’s extensive network of resources and the cooperative approach to doing business also benefits the firm’s recruiting efforts.
“We are always looking for great talent – people that are a long-term fit for our company culture,” said Marcoulier. “We go back to our network – they know what we need and how we work. We have found a lot of people that way.”
Marcoulier said that most of RSV’s employees have been with the firm for more than 15 years, which is “significantly longer than most construction companies, who typically have a lot of turnover.”
According to Marcoulier, RSV’s partner approach to helping local business owners (and nonprofits) build and expand is what makes the firm unique.
“I’ve lived here for 40 years,” Marcoulier said. “I take great pride seeing the different buildings and knowing the impact RSV has had on this community. I’m proud to be a part of it, and am looking forward to continuing that for many years.”
Editor’s note: RSV Building Solutions is a member of the Vancouver Business Journal’s Strategic Partners Program. To learn more about the program, contact Irene Pettengill at 360.448.6013.