HardHatChat: Hard (for me) to view, but well worth the effort for its solid insights and ideas

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Englewood Construction's HardHatChat blog home page.

HardHatChat, the blog for Illinois-based Englewood Construction, Inc., truly provides insights and observations valuable to anyone in the business.

It took some effort for me to view it, however. (This is a good sign.) When I initially visited the site I received a WordFence blocking message, saying access to the site had been temporarily disabled. Unfortunately, the “temporary disabling” went on for several days, until I reached out to Englewood’s public relations representatives, who contacted the right people to whitelist my IP address.

WordFence provides a firewall protection service for bloggers concerned about malware, brute force attacks, hacking attempts and other nasty stuff. We use the free version of the service on the Construction Marketing Ideas blog and so far it has thwarted some pretty evil attacks. Although in this case, I was a victim of a false positive block, I think anyone with a blog should have similar-level security software installed.

Now, onto the blog itself. Englewood specializes in retail, restaurant, shopping center, hotel, office and industrial projects throughout the United States and has developed a blog designed to be complementary to its practical business focus.

The media relations experts who submitted HardHatChat blog for review observe that the blog focuses on useful information rather than “selling” messages:

In fact, Hard Hat Chat’s contributors – Englewood president and CEO Bill Di Santo and director of operations Chuck Taylor – regularly author posts based on real-world challenges, considerations and advice for construction firms and clients, including direct takeaways from their own business. In 2017, this included posts on the benefits of the design-assist construction model; case studies highlighting specific construction sectors including senior housing construction; operational advice such as planning for construction schedules and timelines; commentary on issues affecting the industry such as silica safety standards; and insights into trends shaping the industry such as growth in construction technology. For this breadth of insightful content and the real-world perspective it provides into the industry, Hard Hat Chat has earned its place among the best construction blogs of 2017.

As an example, consider the most recent posting at the time of this review: Commercial Construction Project Management: Managing What You Don’t Control by Chuck Taylor.

This is a solid piece describing the challenges and special considerations a general contractor experiences “when a project specifies owner furnished items (OFIs) or an owner vendor.”

earls kitchen chicago
Earls Kitchen Bar in Chicago. Taylor notes restaurant development clients often provide certain finishes as owner furnished items (OFIs) to ensure a consistent look across multiple locations

The issues here, as Taylor notes, relate to the command and control aspect of a general contractor’s work. OFIs and owner vendors — or trades directly selected and under the owners control — don’t report to the GC and so can at times do their own thing to the detriment of the project. (Taylor rightfully notes however there are good reasons for OFI and owner vendors in projects, often to meet specialized requirements, for brand consistency or simply because the option can save the owner a significant amount of money.)

For some of our clients, OFIs and owner vendors make good sense. For example, if a restaurant or retail development client knows they will be doing similar work in 10 or 20 locations, there’s potential to realize savings by securing and pre-ordering construction materials such as flooring or lighting for all those projects at the same time. Plus, they will realize a potential savings on the mark-up a subcontractor would add for ordering and handling those materials. OFIs are also a tool for clients that want to ensure the exact same finishes across multiple locations.

Likewise, clients with the capacity to take on the management of certain aspects of their construction projects sometimes use owner vendors as a way to save costs. It’s not unusual for clients to want to coordinate directly with a vendor they have an existing relationship with – particularly if the client has specific requirements the vendor is already familiar with, such as cabling and equipment for an existing system.

Then Taylor gets to the meat of the problem: Sometimes the savings are illusory and, worse, owner vendors and OFIs can gum up jobsites, create nasty scheduling conflicts, and truly increase costs.  He writes:

As a national commercial contractor accustomed to managing lots of moving parts for projects across the country, we pride ourselves on our flexibility in handling OFIs and coordinating with owner vendors. However, before owners decide to take on certain elements of a construction project themselves, they should keep a few considerations in mind:

  • Who will manage the process?: Whether it’s procuring, ordering and scheduling construction materials or overseeing logistics with a preferred vendor, someone on the client’s team has to run point – and that usually means having someone on payroll. Weigh that potential expense, or the ability of existing staff to handle the additional work load, against the possible cost savings and other benefits of OFIs and owner vendors to ensure they are worth the effort.
  • Keep timelines in mind: Before committing to furnishing certain items or materials, understand the importance of having them available when and where they are needed in the GC’s overall construction project timeline. We have had OFIs hold up projects for weeks because they didn’t arrive on schedule. Communicate with your contractor clearly about timing at the start of the project, and be ready to come up with a plan B – or, be prepared for delays or additional costs – if your OFI does not arrive on time.
  • Plan for shipping and storage: When a subcontractor provides material or equipment, they factor shipping, storage, handling and delivery to the job site into the final price. Owners should do the same if they plan to furnish materials, otherwise they may run up against unanticipated costs. Worse yet, they could end up with a truckload of material or equipment delivered to an active job site that does not have space for storage, ultimately interfering with work that needs to take place for the project to stay on schedule. Make sure to communicate with your contractor about whether the project site can handle deliveries, or if off-site storage needs to be used until materials are needed. And in an urban market, there may be restrictions on when deliveries can take place, so that also needs to be carefully coordinated when using OFIs.
  • Ensure owner vendors are team players: When working with an owner vendor, the challenge for the GC is we are managing something we don’t control. The owner vendor isn’t under contract with us, so there could be a question of who they answer to. For example, issues can arise if the owner vendor doesn’t want to work within our planned construction timeline sequence, which lays out a logical order in for different installations. We may have planned for the owner vendor to perform an install at a certain time, but if they opt not to follow our sequence, it can impede the entire construction process. While this is the exception rather than the rule, and many owner vendors are terrific professionals to work with, clients should lay upfront groundwork with their owner vendors as to expectations for conforming to the GC’s timeline.

This is solid advice — and it is just one of several posts within the blog that take on important issues affecting the industry.

Indeed, HardHatChat is a worthy entry in this year’s Best Construction Blog competition. You can vote at this link until March 31.

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