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Building Better Relationships: Selecting the Right General Contractor

Melissa Smithson, business development & marketing manager at DWC Construction, provides valuable insight into selecting the right general contractor for commercial projects.

My construction experience started almost 20 years ago working as an administrator of a well-known general contractor before moving into marketing & sales for the company. During this time, I learned about the bidding process, managing schedules, subcontractors, and vendors. It was such a choreographed production with the project manager pulling all the right strings. Time management and planning were key in making sure everything was in rhythm. Without the right sequence, projects would fall behind, subcontractors would walk over each other, and products would not arrive when needed- ultimately leading to an unhappy client.

After 5 years I left to become a marketing director for a financial company and eventually worked in both marketing and sales. As I grew my career and learned from some of the best well-known companies in Nashville – Gibson Guitar, Hunt Brothers Pizza, LBMC, I found myself back to where it all started with DWC Construction. I was back in a market that I loved to work in. Nashville had changed a lot during this time, and as a native, I watched the skyline grow from just a few tall buildings to massive towers. I find myself trying to guess where the next crane will sprout up and how tall it will be. Every day we hear about great companies choosing Nashville as their new headquarters and contributing to its booming growth.

As companies look for new spaces to call home, it's important that they can trust their broker of choice with their tenant buildout. Selecting the right partner in a general contractor is key for a successful project providing the client a great place to work. I've had the opportunity to be a part of many projects and have curated some helpful tips that will help you be the hero of your client's next buildout.

Finding the RIGHT general contractor for your client's needs

When you're working with a client on tenant improvements (TI), you'll likely work with them to select a general contractor. Whether it's a small or large project, restaurant or retail, there are several common factors a broker can consider when choosing or recommending a general contractor. No matter what improvements your client needs, there are six main factors to consider. Following these, you'll be able to satisfy your client's needs and build strong relationships for the future.

Experience in a general contractor counts

One of the main rules in construction, including commercial interiors, is like the well-known Murphy's Law: "whatever can go wrong will go wrong." This is where experience makes a difference. An experienced general contractor knows how to handle the pitfalls of commercial construction. For example, if materials aren't delivered on time, they know how to reschedule work to handle the situation.

Experienced interior commercial construction firms also have an established network of reliable and talented subcontractors. They have longstanding relationships with suppliers, and they also have the right insurance coverage to handle any job. They also have years of experience to benefit your client's project. As a result, they can deliver more value for the tenant buildout dollar and have the flexibility to meet your client's exact needs.

Beyond Experience: Reputation and Commitment to Service

It seems like customer reviews are becoming the standard in many areas of life. It may not be necessary to only eat at restaurants with thousands of five-star rave reviews; but with high-value tenant buildout projects, the reputation of the construction firm is critical.

General contracting firms that have a good reputation in the community have it for a reason. Over time, these firms clearly show that they have a vested interest in every project. They pay attention to details, and they carefully estimate projects so there are no unexpected surprises in schedule or budget. The quality of their work will show.

When you ask a seasoned general contractor for references, they'll be able to provide several examples of satisfied customers who will be glad to talk with you about their experience. Above all, commercial construction firms with a great reputation are known for only making promises they know they can keep. Every time they follow through with a firm commitment, they are successful, and their reputation continues to improve.

Look for the Best Communicators

If your client knew how to do their own commercial interior renovation, they might choose to DIY it. But the chances of that are slim. Restaurant owners know how to run a restaurant, manufacturers know how to run their plant, and attorneys know how to run their law practice. Most of tenants aren't familiar with every step required to complete a tenant improvement project, but they need to understand the basics to do their part of the process.

This is where great communication comes in. We've all experienced people in the construction industry who can complete project work perfectly, but who aren't very good at explaining what they are doing and why. Open, clear, and timely communication is essential for a successful tenant improvement project. When you're interviewing firms for your client's project, look at how the business responds to you. Are they timely in their responses? Is what they say easy to understand and clear? Do they recognize your priorities and your client's needs? The firm that does the best in these areas before they're selected and the job begins is likely to be the best communicator throughout the project.

Creativity Is Key to The Best Projects

Some contractors do projects that all look the same, and maybe even are the same. It's unlikely that you'll have a client who actually wants their administrative office to look like the set of TV's "The Office." The way people work is changing, and office buildout projects are becoming much more diverse. Your client may not have an exact vision of how they want their space to look, but a creative commercial interior construction firm can show examples of other successful project's they've completed to inspire their vision.

Your client could also have special requirements that require creative solutions. Restaurants have seating requirements, and every project has safety requirements. Creative firms know-how to design and execute interior renovations and builds that not only meet, but exceed client expectations and needs. With few exceptions, the client is going to be occupying the interior for years, and getting it right is an important part of their ongoing business growth and success.

Consider Professionalism and Responsiveness

What is professionalism in a general contractor? It starts with being timely, from start to finish of the project. Professional contracting firms set schedules and adhere to them. They are professional with you, your client, and with their employees and subcontractors.

A responsive contractor is available to answer questions throughout the project, and if any changes are required, they are timely with change orders and with requests for information. They use technology wisely to support their workforce and to communicate with you and your client.

It's also important to consider how the firm treats its own employees. A contracting business is only as good as its workforce. Professionalism in the industry also includes strong teambuilding and a team commitment to excellence, not just good communication from front office personnel or lead on your project.

The Lowest Bid Doesn't Always Mean The Best Bid

While the lowest bid for a construction project can look appealing at first glance, it may not end up as the money-saver your client is expecting. While it's possible experienced, successful contracting firms with great reputations can come in as the lowest bidders on a project, it's more likely that newer, less established firms are going to come in with low bids. The unfortunate result of very low bids can be that the contractor hasn't estimated the project properly. Areas where less experienced firms often underestimate include labor costs, overly condensed timelines, and underbids on materials.

Not every client you're going to have is going to understand these factors because it's so common to want the lowest price. If you can present them with a balanced evaluation and assessment of their choices in a general contractor, the chances of a smooth, successful project will be much higher.

DWC Construction has served Nashville's interior commercial construction needs since 1947. DWC builds great places to work, from restaurants to corporate offices to warehouses and mixed-use spaces, and more. And, DWC Construction is also a great place to work, receiving the "Top Place to Work" from the Tennessean four years in a row. Their core mission and values ensure they will exceed your client's expectations and yours for tenant improvements in Nashville and surrounding areas.

CRE615 is a networking group and educational platform for Nashville's next generation of commercial real estate professionals. To learn more visit


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