Precision Precast Erectors, LLC
Business View Magazine interviews Denny LaVé, Owner of Precision Precast Erectors, LLC, for our focus on the U.S. Precast Concrete Industry
What do you get when you combine a record influx of capital with an industry wide labor shortage? In the case of Denny LaVé, Owner of Precision Precast Erectors, LLC, you get the feeling of being overworked. But it’s not all bad… LaVé is quick to boast about the job his employees have done to meet and exceed the difficult demands of their customers.
“I think the volume of work that was released trying to take advantage of the capital markets, and the fact that it was a sector that could have investment during COVID, really flooded the market,” explains. LaVé. “Add in a labor shortage in the construction industry that’s as bad as I’ve ever seen and you’ll better understand why we have felt overworked.”
Precision Precast Erectors has a reputation for doing things the right way – even when it isn’t easy. They pride themselves on completing what they promise to do and oftentimes faster than they said it could be done. Even so, the past 12 months have made for some challenging times. LaVé reports, “We had about 25% of our scheduled work volume for last year pushed into this year because the general contractors couldn’t get the sites done on time. Design issues and labor issues ended up pushing projects into the late winter, early spring timeframe. So that made it challenging for us last year.”
After figuring out how to keep his employees busy when the work was pushed back last year, LaVé then experienced the flipside of that coin as they completed the jobs scheduled for Q4 during Q1 and Q2 on top of everything else that was already scheduled.
“Hats off to my team and my Operations Leader, Caleb Wohletz,” boasts LaVé. “He did a fabulous job of scheduling, coordinating, and managing the overflow for his leaders that work underneath him. He did an amazing job of keeping all the balls in the air and keeping things moving. He thrives at satisfying client expectations and managing client schedules on their behalf to work inside the parameters of what is really possible. For perspective, we did about 65% of the volume that we did for all of last year already through May. If you look at that through June, we’ll be at 75% of the volume. We are on track to do 50% more volume this year than we did last year.”
As LaVé thinks back over all the projects that they have completed in the last few months, he gives credit to the team they have in place. “Our leadership staff has stayed about the same over the past year,” describes LaVé. “Our mix of work has actually been very favorable for the amount of pressure that’s been put on us because we are able to do a lot of the projects with smaller teams, so we haven’t had to really hit anywhere close to what our peak manpower has been in the past.”
In an industry saddled with labor shortages, having consistent leadership is vital to the success of Precision Precast Erectors. “We’re creating one of the best places to work in the industry. The low turnover that we have in our leadership is proof of that,” states LaVé. “Caleb, our Operations Leader, has been here eight years now, my General Superintendent Cory Dawson joined the team nine years ago, and most of my foremen have been here for four to six years, with some even up to 13 years.”
Before COVID-19 hit, Precision Precast Erectors had quarterly training meetings in person. When they needed to revamp their training and development practices during the pandemic, they shifted to virtual monthly training meetings. “There is a lot of value to those in-person meetings,” admits LaVé, “because there is a lot of hands-on training in our industry. So we are now reintegrating some of the onsite hands-on training while still meeting online monthly. We’re getting more continuous training, but we are also getting some of the hands-on training that you can’t really do over a Zoom meeting.”
One might assume their training sessions are primarily about construction techniques and practices but LaVé states that many of their training sessions actually focus on something else. “A lot of what we’re working on is just good business sense and business philosophy. We’re a construction company that understands that we’re actually a service company. In order to be a top level service company, you have to have a top level business philosophy. And that business philosophy has to get put down into the trenches where that business philosophy can impact everyday decisions and impact how the client feels served. To the extent that we do that, we have phenomenal repeat business through referrals. Frankly, it feels really good for everybody when you’re in an environment where you want to care for people and respect people and the expectation is that they will care for and protect you in return. That’s inside the company, but it’s also out towards our clients.”
Ultimately the relationship between Precision Precast Erectors and their clients is symbiotic – they need each other to thrive. “We’re seeing more contracts now that are very emphatic about making sure we cover ourselves for all escalation and inflation costs,” LaVé reveals. “And I understand that. We in turn explain that we are guaranteeing the price to the extent that performance happens in a specific window of time. We take the risk for that, and if it’s outside that window of time, then we all agree to revisit the issue and look at the cost impacts.”
The company has experienced a great deal of success with this model. LaVé could only think of one job where they had to go back to the customer to examine the cost impacts and it ended up being an increase of less than half a percent of their cost. “It wasn’t the end of the world. The client was happy that we came to them, but also happy that it wasn’t an enormous amount of money. That turned out to be a win, but generally speaking, we give a little and get a little as costs move around.”
Strong partnerships are important both inside and outside of the company. LaVé sings the praises of Peter Gay and Blake Johnson at Knife River Prestress. “They’ve been such valuable allies and wonderful clients for us. I really love the team that they’re building and the culture they’re creating at their business. We’re very proud to partner with them.” LaVé also finds it inspiring to see the level of trust his company has formed with Doug and Adam Bauer at Missoula Concrete Construction.
Looking into the future, LaVé is excited about the work he is doing with Dr. Alan Barnard, one of the leading Decision Scientists and Theory of Constraints experts in the world. They are working through Dr. Barnard’s Viable Vision Program together. “One of the big things that I bring to the table is the people aspect and the client mentality – this ability to connect and fall in love with the client and fall in love with our employees and to foster a culture that’s really respectful and loving,” LaVé shares. “But I’ve also had to step back and look at the fact that that has some inherent weaknesses from a business side as well. So in a very healthy way, Dr. Barnard has helped me realize I can have the culture and relationships I want, while also working to help my leaders be responsible to deliver what they need to be delivering.”
LaVé insists there is no contradiction between those elements, and he is putting his money where his mouth is. He decided to revamp the pay structure for his leadership team because he thought they should be paid more. In return, he told them “I also need this level of performance across the board on our project.” LaVé agreed to go substantially beyond what their contracts stated because he thinks they are worth it. But he can only do that if they deliver the level of results needed. “It has to be in a way that is still in line with our culture and values. If we can do that, then I’m happy to roll this plan out and follow through with it. It’s the same with my sales team. I told them I’m not pushing them to do anything unethical or unreasonable, but that we need to get a little more methodical about how we do the process, so that we keep a more consistent flow of work in front of the operations team.”
Always visioning for the future success of Precision Precast Erectors, LaVé adds, “That push from Dr. Barnard has been big. So I look forward to seeing the fruit of that work over the next year or two.”
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AT A GLANCE
Precision Precast Erectors, LLC
What: Installers for precast concrete and steel-erection projects
Where: Headquarters in Post Falls, Idaho
Missoula Concrete Construction – www.missoulaconcrete.com
Missoula Concrete Construction is a PCI Certified plant, which fabricates precast and prestressed concrete for projects such as commercial buildings, bridges, parking structures, vault concrete outhouses, air traffic control towers, historical buildings, and Stadiums.
Missoula Concrete products are cast at their Missoula, Montana facility and shipped throughout North America. The award-winning company has shipped large architectural wall panels across the northwestern United States from Seattle, WA and Eugene, OR, to Billings, MT and as far south as Southern Utah. They have shipped small precast structures across the entire U.S. from Alaska to Virginia.
Company owner Douglas Bauer shares, “Since Missoula Concrete was acquired in 2000, we have served the building industry with high quality custom made architectural and structural precast concrete products. We strive for repeat business with our customers and we are very proud of our low employee turnover rate, several of which have been with us since 2000.”
Precast concrete is one of the fastest building systems available – essentially unaffected by bad weather – which allows the Missoula Concrete team to meet tight schedules and improve the timeline dramatically, compared to other trades. With precast finishes ranging from granite, marble, tile, and brick to hand hewn logs, the architectural options are endless.
“The Impossible Is Where We Truly Excel.”
Knife River Prestress – www.kniferiverprestress.com
Knife River is a PCI-certified producer of premier architectural, bridge, and commercial precast products serving Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. From our manufacturing plant in Harrisburg, Oregon, and 185,000 SF facility in Spokane, Washington, we focus on quality, safety, our team, and our customers while focusing on building sustainably.