“We had to fire our contractor and we wanted to see if you’d be interested in helping us finish the project.”
Gulp. Our client was in trouble, and they needed some help. Taking over for a terminated commercial contractor is usually a mess—okay, always a mess. But this client is an important relationship and they needed someone to bail them out. So we did.
The problem they had with their GC was common, but extremely frustrating. The GC had lost control of the schedule and thus lost leadership credibility with their subcontractors. To make matters irreconcilably worse, they had no plan to get the job back on track. As a retailer with an aggressive growth strategy, our client had men and materiel on the way—and the open date for their store was unknown.
The fact that the GC was behind is not the major issue. We don’t claim to be on-time and on-budget every time. No matter how squared away you are, you can’t plan your way around an ice storm or a substantive change in the plans. But we know what our clients expect of us: be forward-looking, have a plan, and work hard to execute.
GCs like to talk a good game and say things like, “We can build anything.” And thus, it’s hard to figure out if you’re got a pro or a problem. Allow us to shed some light on some common red flags that indicate a contractor will finish late and lose control of your project:
1. They are slow to respond to emails or phone calls.
Simple business acumen is a strong indicator of performance potential. If someone can’t keep their inbox or voicemail in order, how will they manage multiple subcontractors with different personalities and scopes?
2. Their schedule is not kept current.
Ask them their completion date. Ask them how they plan to reach said completion date. Regardless of how they prepare a schedule (some are still very old school, and that’s fine if they back it up), your GC should have a plan to meet your completion date.
3. Subs are frustrated.
Okay, not so fast. It’s not uncommon for subs to be frustrated and sometimes they get mouthy. But if there’s a chorus of discontent, pay attention—you might have a problem on your hands.
4. There is no pre-construction meeting to launch the project.
Precon meetings are vital to the success of a project. These meetings establish the chain of command, safety protocols, and provide early coordination between subs. Your GC should hold a precon meeting.
5. The superintendent has clean boots.
There is no way to monitor quality control and adherence to plans and specs from the job trailer. The best superintendents stay in the action to make sure they are there to answer questions, help as needed, and hold subcontractors accountable to building per the plans and specs.
We don’t recommend you embark on a contractor witch hunt. We’re all human and prone to make mistakes. But if your GC consistently exhibits the above qualities, you may want to have a discussion with them about your project’s schedule.