- Category: Large
- Company: Vertix Builders
- Top-ranking local execs: Ryan Bonner, president; Ted Laszlo, vice president; Tom Lough, director of field operations
- Location: Frederick
- Employees: 34 (31 pre-Covid)
- Industry: Construction
Since its founding in 2014, Vertix Builders has worked on more than 200 projects totaling more than $150 million in revenue — and was named "General Contractor of the Year" by the American Subcontractor Association of Colorado in 2017 and 2018.
The company's philanthropic mission is focused on building, and Vice President Ted Laszlo is spearheading an effort with the Design Build Institute of America's Rocky Mountain Region to renovate the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver's Johnson Club.
Tell us generally about how life has been for Vertix Builders since the Covid-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders went into effect. As with all businesses, we have had to adjust to a new normal. Fortunately, construction has been deemed an essential business by the governor but we have had to change the flow of our projects, adjust weekly schedules, create handwashing stations when no sanitizer was available, and make numerous other changes.
As a general contractor, you do quite a bit of work with health-care organizations. How is that work changing in the face of a health emergency? The key word here is “pivot.” Health care is a rapidly changing environment anyway, so pivoting from one project to another is nothing new. Well before the public was aware, health-care facilities were ramping up their Covid-19 preparation and we had been asked by a number of facilities to help create new isolation spaces and plan for converting areas and entire buildings into Covid-19 specific treatment centers. We even helped put together sterilization spaces to sanitize PPE during the mask shortage. Looking at how successful the health-care system has been in this state keeping up with treatment, this early preparation had a lot to do with that.
Did you apply for a PPP loan? We did apply for a PPP loan and we were successful. It was a stressful process only because everyone knew that the fund would run out and every company wanted to be first in line. Our bank, Great Western Bank, guided us through the process, which was really quite simple. It really illustrated how important your financial relationships are and how important it is to have a team that can advocate for you. The PPP loan has allowed us to retain employees that we may not otherwise have been able to retain so that we can respond effectively when the economy reopens. We are now looking at performing some pro-bono construction work for charitable facilities to keep our people working.
What big moves have you had to delay, rethink or cancel as a result of the coronavirus pandemic? More than anything, all hiring is frozen. We were looking to add three or four new staff members, but now really need to wait and see what the long-term economic impact will look at before adding personnel. The uncertainty really makes it hard to stick to your growth plan.
How prepared were you for this crisis? When we started the company, we really wanted to focus on sustainable, even slow, growth. We were disciplined in not chasing revenue, which meant we added staff in a very strategic fashion while keeping our overhead very low. This has kept us nimble and competitive, but in a crisis has allowed us to avoid panic and layoffs since there isn’t a large G&A burden to overcome.
What are the top two or three ways you’ve had to adapt to this crisis? Our main focus has been on communication and reassurance. The stay-at-home orders and difficult news around sickness and death fueled a high degree of fear, and we really worked to let our employees know that we were doing all that we could to keep our job sites open, healthy and safe. And this went well beyond our own company to our trade partners. In our industry, so many workers can’t afford a two-week quarantine, let alone staying at home for a month. So we felt it was our responsibility to keep job sites open, in a safe manner — keeping people earning paychecks and out of the unemployment lines so that employees in other industries who had no choice but to shut down could get needed money for themselves and their families.
What’s the most painful move you’ve had to make in the face of the crisis? Not hiring new employees. We were set on the next step in our growth initiative and now that is on hold until things settle down.
You had 31 employees at the time of nomination. What’s your employee count now? We have hired two more people, plus a summer intern, so it is actually 34. We brought on a couple people on a temporary basis who had been laid off from other industries to help on our job sites.
How permanent do you think the changes you’ve made will be? Some will be permanent: A lot of the Covid-19 protocol we’ve implemented (like hand-wash stations) just make sense and will continue to be a standard on our projects. Other things, like daily screenings, will likely decline as the crisis is overcome.
Tell us something positive! People really have come together in many ways. For example, one of our employees has a deli in Boulder (D’Angelo’s Italian Deli), and donated a lot of toilet paper to our job sites because they were closed and we were open. At so many of our sites, workers really stepped up their efforts and accepted the hassle of screenings, check-ins, spacing, etc., knowing that we were all responsible for taking care of each other. I hope that comradery continues beyond the crisis.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned through this crisis? How have you implemented it into your company’s day-to-day? Our biggest lesson was that you can’t predict the next problem. A recession has been forecasted for the last four to five years — and it never came. No one expected a pandemic to be the economic disruptor. Our focus has really been on how you keep corporate flexibility in your culture to allow you to deal with the unknown.
To what have you turned for relief, personally or as an office, through this tough time? I know personally I have watched our Christmas videos multiple times (we do a video every year). They are fun to make, bring everyone together in an off-the-wall way and they remind me what a great group of people we have — and that there will be fun times ahead.
What advice would you offer other executives in general contracting or similar industries who are looking at a long recovery? Be patient and flexible. And more importantly, have plans A, B, C and D knowing that none of them will be right, but some kind of hybrid plan will come from the planning. And remember that tough situations bring out someone’s true colors. Stick to your culture and morals no matter the adversity.