Building a Community to Build Your Business
“You only receive what you give. And it only works if you work it!” – George Hull of Hull Associates
Getting the National Framers Council off the ground has taken a lot of effort from several committed framers across the country. “I’m really proactive with it. It’s a great organization,” says Bruce Jones, owner and president of the Bruce L. Jones, Contractor business operating out of Hanover, Pennsylvania. One of the biggest challenges is competition. New entrants to the industry are trying to hold on to their market share and keep their businesses running. Sitting down with competitors makes them a little uneasy.
Scott Stevens, president of Modu Tech in Baltimore, Maryland, says he’s seen that concern firsthand. “I have a couple of business partners,” he explains. “They’re old-school framing contractors.” When they started to see NFC information in the office, “they’re like, ‘what are you doing?!’ And I said, ‘guys, there’s no other place I can go, as a leader of a small, specialty contracting company, nowhere else I can go to collaborate on ideas and strategies and approaches.” The Framers Council, says Scott, is the place to find the people who can help him build his business.
Bruce adds that it doesn’t take much to turn hesitation about an association into enthusiasm for a community. “When you get to see faces, you see we’re all in this together.” Bruce notes there’s always something to be learned from someone else’s experience: strategies for meeting regulatory requirements, advice for overcoming current challenges, ideas for getting a new program or process off the ground. “If you’re asking the question at the right time, you get the right answer. If you don’t ask you’re not going to find out.”
A happy side effect of NFC conversations is more comradery among competitors. “We’ve developed a trust,” Bruce explains. “We get together socially now.” NFC meetings have become a chance to “see each other and hang out and catch up.” That goodwill carries through into business practices. Bruce says he’s become more respectful of his competitors’ relationships with their key builders and general contractors. That’s a development he says no one ever would have thought of prior to joining the NFC.
George Hull, retired president of Hull Associates in Grand Prairie, Texas and an NFC founder and semi-retired director, says he’s “seen a shift in the framing industry to more professionalism.” There’s a desire among his peers to “level the playing field” for those who value safety, quality, innovation and industry standardization. In building an organization to support that aim, George says he’s routinely heard from fellow framers, even competitors, that NFC is benefiting their operations.
Scott has certainly found the support and collaboration that he’s pitched to his partners. “I’ve learned means and methods relative to equipment, tools, contract terms, strategies and approaches in the use of components, insurance ideas, safety – obviously the safety’s huge.” NFC’s FrameSAFE program strives to standardize the industry’s efforts to improve jobsite working conditions and send framers home every day in the same condition they arrived. According to Scott, the program “is transforming the Mid-Atlantic market.”
“Having a uniform and consistent safety program that not only we follow but one our subs follow” makes every job and every contract easier, Scott explains. For example, he says, “when you go from general contractor A to general contractor B to general contractor C to general contractor D, they all have slightly different expectations of how you handle fall protection. Having all of the local general contractors say, ‘we accept the fall protection choices in FrameSAFE,’ it eliminates so much time and effort in trying to conform to what they’re doing! That by itself has been a huge benefit, and I think it’s resulted in lower incident rates on our jobsites.”
Unsurprisingly, the change took a lot of work. A program like FrameSAFE “takes a major commitment from a company,” says Bruce. Signing up and getting your subs on board is only the first step of an ongoing process. “Some people go through their day-to-day ritual, and that’s all they want to do,” he explains. For a program like FrameSAFE to be effective, “you’ve really got to buy into: I want to be safe. When you have someone die on your jobsite it shakes you to your core and it changes your values.” For some, Bruce says, until something happens, they won’t put in the time. “It’s a culture change,” he adds, “and only a few companies are finding ways to successfully do that.”
Fortunately, NFC connections let those companies share their strategies. “It’s like any other membership that’s out there: it’s all in what you make it,” says Bruce. There’s value in taking the time to reach out to others in similar situations and mentor those entering the industry. “It’s not just a safety thing.”
For example, Bruce says he’s not only had the chance to tour fellow NFC members’ operations, he’s even taken a full team along on such visits so everyone can see how different approaches work for different companies. “We’ve shared some of our techniques,” Bruce says. “We don’t talk pricing or anything like that, but we’ve learned different avenues of what people have done. We’ve gone to some of their jobsites and they’ve come to some of mine.”
Bruce explains that sharing knowledge has been good for safety – comparing notes on new processes and products helps everyone in the market find what works best; he’s taken recommendations from fellow NFC members for tools he wouldn’t otherwise have known to find and use.
That kind of networking is invaluable, he says. “We’re finding ways to help each other,” he explains. “In the past, other framers were the enemy – the opposition. We’ve now become friends. When you run into a situation and you see something you’ve never seen before,” he adds, he now always has someone to call.
Even the everyday challenges are a little easier with a network to rely on. “Some days you just like to hear someone else complain,” Bruce chuckles, “because it’s a tough business we’re in.” “People have got to starting trusting each other,” Bruce says, and they’ve got to make an investment in participation to see a return. “There’s a lot of hours that go into meetings and phone calls,” Bruce admits. But he’s adamant that the commitment is worth it. “Come to the meetings. Send an email,” he urges. “You’d be amazed at the response you can get.”