Business owners in the construction and development industry have encountered several changes and challenges following the COVID-19 pandemic. With almost 20 years of experience in both residential and commercial real estate development and construction, Alicia Nardo of ABRN Development shares some of industry surprises, what her company has done to set themselves apart, the challenges they faced and overcame during the pandemic, and all the things professionals in the construction industry should know about.
What is your industry and what do you do?
We are involved in both residential and commercial real estate development and construction. On the residential side, we design, build, and remodel homes in the MetroWest area of Boston. We are also the builder for a large, 128-home residential subdivision currently being constructed in York, PA. Commercially, we develop and build commercial buildings for sale and rent. We recently completed a commercial project in York, PA, which included Tractor Supply Co. and a Verizon store.
How long have you been in business?
We have been in business since 2003; almost 20 years! Our founders have over 40+ years of experience in construction. Our commercial customers are generally individual companies looking to do a fit-out in rented space or build new on owned or rented property.
How is ABRN Development different from other contractors?
What sets us apart from other contractors is our dedication to high-quality construction and customer care. We are relationship-oriented. We build relationships. To be successful, transparency, trustworthiness, dependability, and exceptional communication has to be at the forefront of what we do. ABRN can build a great product, but if our customers get frustrated because we don’t return phone calls, it’s all for naught. Construction can be a stressful experience for many people, and we strive to provide a good service experience that exceeds expectations.
What are some of the challenges you face when working on a project in your industry?
There are currently a few things that pose challenges to a project. Most recently, with COVID, we need to make the customer feel comfortable and safe while we and our subs work on their project. Secondly, home building materials are skyrocketing. It is a challenge right now to put out an estimate and bring it to production. We must try to account for these ever-rising prices and let our clients know that we are doing everything we can to keep the costs under control.
What is something that has surprised you about your industry?
On the positive side; it’s surprised us how many of our clients like the construction process. We strive to keep things fun and creative and include them every step of the way, so they truly enjoy watching their dream home come to life. On the flip side, it’s hard to see contractors that don’t care about the quality of work they produce or customer care. It’s taken us years to cultivate relationships with subcontractors that perform to the same standards that we hold ourselves.
Operating a business during a pandemic was challenging for so many. What is one thing you have learned during this time?
The most significant thing is to realize what you can control and what you can’t. From material costs and delays, people we work with contracting COVID and needing to be quarantined, to government shutdowns, which are all out of your control. But we always strive to do our best and communicate with our customers. They need to know that we are there for them, even though things may be taking longer or occasionally cost more than planned.
What advice would you give to a new construction business owner?
- Start with plenty of working capital or a good line of credit from your bank. Payment terms can be tight for new businesses until they are established and have earned good recognition and credit. You need that flexibility to pay for your materials and labor to get the job done to get paid by the customer.
- Communicate with your customers. They do not like to be kept in the dark. They want their questions answered. Be timely with those answers. Be honest and always strive to do your best!
- Listen. Customers want to know that you understand their wants and needs and that you have their best interests at heart.
What is one thing you have done that has had the biggest impact on your results?
Building strong customer relationships. We strive to have an excellent customer relationship. And that has proven integral to our success over the years. We’ve built our business on referrals and word of mouth and continue to do so almost 20 years later! A happy customer is your best source of advertising.