A Reverence for Relationships
Deerfield Construction Company — dedicated to quality and making a difference
In 2018, Steven Bitzer, President of Deerfield Construction Company (Deerfield), spent 152 nights in hotels around the country. Steven wasn’t on vacation. The head of the Loveland, Ohio-based general contracting company was instead on the ground at commercial project sites from the East Coast to the Midwest.
“I don’t know how any general contractor can survive without putting hands on a project,” he says. “This business is all about relationships. I’m on-site to meet with clients and to listen to questions and concerns. But I’m also there to meet the subcontractors and to express my appreciation for their hard work,” he says. “Subcontractors are our partners on a job. Without them, we don’t have a business.”
Deerfield’s staff commitment to relationships is its cornerstone for success. “The care and the time and energy you put into building and nurturing relationships dictates the success of a project,” Steven says. With an annual revenue of $55 million, the company has become a contractor of choice for a host of nationally recognized customers, including grocery retailer ALDI, full-service truck stop developer TravelCenters of America and restaurant chains Red Robin, Olive Garden Italian Kitchen, Applebee’s, Chili’s, The Capital Grille and LongHorn Steakhouse.
Learning the Business
Steven’s father, Joseph, formed Deerfield Construction in 1981 and today serves as CEO. “Dad got his start as a laborer and worked his way up in the construction industry,” Steven says. Before starting Deerfield, Joseph worked for and eventually purchased Maury Daniel Construction Company in 1976. “Maury Daniel Meyer recognized my dad’s potential and trained him in the industry.”
While brother and Senior Vice President Scott Bitzer attended college before joining the family-owned business, Steven went to work with his father and great uncles shortly after graduating from high school in 1980. “After deciding not to attend college, I started working in Deerfield’s cabinet shop with one of my great uncles. Later, I went on to be a welder, working with two other uncles,” Steven says. After a stint out in the field doing carpentry and concrete work, Steven learned electrical, HVAC and plumbing while working alongside his grandfather. “The training I received from my father, great uncles and grandfather was really valuable and allowed me to understand the construction business from the ground up.”
After seven years in the field, Joseph began preparing Steven to take over as president of the company. “I joined professional organizations for company leaders and took a great number of leadership classes,” Steven says. Scott joined the business in 1982 after graduating from college and was also trained up in management. “It was very important to my dad that Scott and I both learn how to properly manage a company,” Steven adds.
Honest, Frank Communications
Now in its 38th year, Deerfield has built more than 1,200 restaurants nationwide. The company has worked with TravelCenters of America for 17 years, constructing truck stops as far west as Montana. For ALDI, Deerfield has constructed 324 grocery stores as far north as upper Michigan and as far south as Naples, Florida. “We’ve been building ALDI stores in Texas for 12 years now. In Dallas and Houston alone, we’ve built 50 stores,” Steven says. The company is gearing up for additional ALDI construction projects in Southern Alabama and Phoenix.
Deerfield’s average project size is $1.8 million, though the company takes on much larger projects. “For restaurant chains, the average project cost is $1.5 million. For travel centers, where we’re constructing a full-blown truck stop on a 12-acre site, the project cost is typically between $10 million and $14 million,” Steven says.
The company is currently managing a $4.3 million design-build project for the Sheffer Corporation in Mount Orab, Ohio. “I met the client through a professional organization I belong to,” Steven adds. “We really hit it off and had a great business relationship for a year before he ever asked me for help with this project.”
Because of these strong professional relationships, Steven doesn’t mince words with clients. “I’m not afraid to tell a client when we’re too busy to take on a new project. They may not like it, but they respect it. I’d rather tell someone ‘no’ than to risk screwing up a project and damaging that relationship for good,” he says. “We have a standard we live by, and we’ll never take on more than we can handle,” he says.
Going Home Without A Scratch
In addition to Steven’s presence on job sites, the company has a full support team. “A Deerfield project superintendent is on the job every day until the keys are turned over to the client,” he says. “A project manager visits every two to three weeks, and our director of field operations and safety rotates visits with me. Between the two of us, we see all projects three to five times during the construction process.”
Safety begins with the initial job contract and is built into day-to-day operations. “The project superintendent has a safety checklist. He spends 75% of his day walking the job site looking for potential quality and safety issues,” Steven says.
The company conducts a safety audit every week and talks schedule and safety at weekly project meetings. “Safety is very important and an impactful part of the agenda. Subcontractors quickly learn to recognize potential safety issues. You put that hard hat on before you ever step foot on a job site, and you make sure to wear the correct safety clothes and gear. For us, the best part of each day is when everyone goes home without a scratch,” he says.
Performing quality work is equally important. “We don’t hire people right out of college to run a job. My expectation is that project managers and superintendents have at least five or six years of experience. At Deerfield, we build on that early experience and instill in each employee our values in quality, safety and schedule,” he says.
Steven has an open door policy and employees are not shy about expressing an opinion. “It doesn’t take 90 days to figure out if a new hire is going to work out. Our employees care. It’s not just a job for them. If someone doesn’t fit with our quality, safety and schedule culture, they let me know.”
Deerfield encourages innovation and best practices through its AIM (All Ideas Matter) program. “When an employee has an idea for an improvement, that person submits that idea through AIM and earns a spin on our Wheel of Fabulous Prizes. Employees get the chance to win a restaurant or Lowe’s gift certificate, and the company gets new, innovative ideas for improving our practices,” Steven says.
Making a Difference
The company is proud to serve its community. “We believe it’s important to reach out to those organizations in our community that help others achieve basic things that we take for granted in our everyday lives,” Steven says. One project for Habitat for Humanity was particularly gratifying for Steven. “We joined forces with another general construction company to build new homes for two families in the Over-the-Rhine area of Cincinnati. These are hardworking people just like us. It was fun to put my toolbelt back on and serve side by side with these families,” he says.
Steven also served for several years on the board of directors for Kicks for Kids, which provides interactive programs for at-risk children.
As Deerfield inches toward its 40th year in business, Steven and Scott have hopes that their sons will eventually take a lead in managing the company. “Both of our sons are now training up in the business. Being part of a family-owned company is really rewarding. Scott and I would love to have three generations leading Deerfield,” Steven says.