‘Jobs That Take Thinking’
General contractor Mirman Construction welcomes hard, difficult work
When the Better Business Bureau (BBB) trusts you with an office renovation, you know you’re doing something right. “The BBB regional office in Cleveland was relocating to a more central location within the city. The nonprofit called on us to renovate its new space,” says Brett Mirman, President of Mirman Construction.
A 5,000-square-foot renovation is easy as pie for the 40-year-old general contracting company. The challenge in the project was a tight timeline during the holiday season. “The BBB had to be out of its existing offices within eight weeks, and we needed to complete the project between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” says Executive Vice President Andrew Mirman.
The team began scheduling subcontractors and creating the schedule. “We have great subcontractor relationships in Northeast Ohio, so finding the right subs was easy,” Andrew says. “We created a detailed schedule and made sure everyone involved understood the timeline. Then we made sure those lines of communication stayed open throughout the project so everyone knew what was going on at all times. We worked toward a common goal and delivered the project early.”
Headquartered in Akron, Ohio, Mirman Construction provides construction project management and general contracting services for commercial customers nationwide. The company, which has worked in 45 states, including Alaska, specializes in complex and elaborate retail build-outs. From local mom-and-pops to national franchises, the company has completed more than 1,000 build-outs.
‘No Room for Error’
“Anyone can put up four walls. We want the hard jobs, and the harder the better. I want jobs that take thinking,” says Keith Mirman, Founder and CEO.
“Everyone has a friend who’s a contractor, but there’s a different skill set required for a retail build-out,” Andrew adds.
Keith explains the specialty work involved in retail construction. “High-end jewelry stores, like KAY Jewelers or Zales, have jewelry cases that are exacting in their measurements. If the case is 15.75 inches wide, the space has to be those exact measurements. Every 0.125 inch matters in retail work, and there’s no room for error,” he says.
In addition to retail build-outs, Mirman Construction manages build-outs for medical and dental offices, as well as restaurants and commercial offices. The team even takes on high-end residential projects like kitchen and bath renovations.
‘Good Planning Sets Us Apart’
According to Andrew, who is Keith’s nephew, project complexity can come from detail work and from logistical challenges. “Good planning sets us apart,” Andrew says. “For example, when you’ve got a tight timeframe for a project, managing the supply chain becomes critical—especially during the pandemic, when shipments on materials can be delayed. Good planning prevents chasing your materials and keeps projects running on time.”
When it comes to the national late-night bakery chain Insomnia Cookies, good planning won the day, and led to follow-on work. “We started working with Insomnia Cookies about a year ago after a referral from The Blue Book Network,” Brett says. “Projects for this customer are challenging because the company expects store build-outs to be completed in five to six weeks.” With stores measuring 400 to 1,500 square feet, working space is tight. “We have to coordinate very closely with the different trades so they’re not bumping up against each other in the small space. As with all our projects, we were very hands-on and stayed super involved with the client. I remember the company’s director of construction doubted we could finish the job on time, but we knew from experience it wouldn’t be a problem,” Brett says. After the project in Cincinnati, the client awarded Mirman Construction additional store build-outs in Columbus, Ohio; Charleston, South Carolina; and Gainesville, Florida.
“We’re not just looking to do one project with a customer. We work to earn their trust and earn their long-term business,” Andrew says.
Paying Subcontractors First
With up to 70 projects a year, Mirman Construction relies on a trusted team of subcontractors located across the country. “We have excellent relationships with our subs,” says Brett, who is Keith’s son. “My dad inspired loyalty early on. To this day, subs will call just to ask how he’s doing.”
One of the reasons for such loyalty is Keith’s decision early on to pay subcontractors every two weeks, regardless of client payment. “In this industry, it’s common for the subcontractor to get paid only after the client pays the general contractor. We don’t do that at Mirman Construction,” Keith says.
A three-month project for BOMBA Taco + Bar in Cleveland had the team at Mirman Construction calling on experts near and far. “This was a 4,000-square-foot interior build-out and addition with a lot of challenging elements, including 20-foot ceilings, garage doors that opened to a patio, custom fire pits, millwork that included a pergola and a specially constructed bar that needed to fit exactly between two columns,” Brett says. To create the customized millwork, the firm called on a millwork specialist based in Michigan. “We wanted the best for this project and our client,” he says.
While the company has supervisors on the ground to make certain projects are moving forward and to ensure quality work, Keith, Brett and Andrew keep close tabs on jobs. “We watch projects pretty tightly from the office, and we don’t wait for the punch list to review our work. One of us travels to every job site at least two to three times to meet with clients and supervisors,” Brett says.
And when a client, subcontractor or other member of the team needs to talk to someone right away, Keith, Brett and Andrew are only a phone call away. “This is definitely not an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job. It might be 9 p.m. when a call comes in, but we’ve got projects on the West Coast and supervisors who need an answer now, not 12 hours from now,” Brett says.
Members of the team are available by phone, text and even FaceTime and Zoom. “One positive of the pandemic has been the use of video conferencing tools,” Andrew says. “They allow us to stay in close contact with a site. Supervisors will often do video walkthroughs to keep clients up to date on progress.”
“We’re to the point with a lot of longtime customers where they don’t even come to the job site until the final inspection,” Keith says. “They know we take care of what needs to be done.”
The team’s goal is to catch potential issues before they become problems. “We don’t just take blueprints at face value. If we discover something that’s amiss, we work together to see if we can solve it ourselves before bothering the client,” Andrew says.
Mirman Construction’s approach has earned client loyalty. The company has many long-term customers, including KAY Jewelers and Fred Meyer Jewelers, which have been clients for 30 and 35 years, respectively. “Our goal is to provide high-quality services that allow customers to expand and grow their businesses,” Andrew says.
The company is the general contractor of choice for architects around the country, according to Andrew. “We work to be a true partner in the process, and as a result, we get a lot of referrals from architecture firms,” he says.
Jumping on the Bandwagon
Keith didn’t start off headed for a career in general contracting. After graduating from Kent State University, Keith instead began teaching high school industrial arts in his hometown of Akron. Summers spent on commercial job sites, however, convinced him to give the construction industry a go. “I had just married, and I realized I was making more money working on job sites than I was as a teacher. Plus, I really enjoyed what I was doing in construction,” he says.
Keith worked his way through the ranks at a Cleveland-based construction firm. “I was a vice president when I decided to split in 1991 and start my own business. The company I was working for was more into residential, apartment complexes and light retail work. With the mall shopping boom in the 1970s and 1980s, I had my sights set on heavier retail and jumped on that bandwagon,” he says.
In the company’s first few years, Keith describes himself as a one-man show. “I did everything—I met with clients, did the estimating, visited job sites and managed the work. Eventually, I started hiring people, but in those early days it was just me,” he explains.
Brett has fond memories from the company’s early years. “When I was about 10 years old, I’d sometimes travel out of town with my dad to job sites. Back in those days, he drove everywhere,” he says. “I’d watch him all day. No day was the same. He was always talking with people and handling issues.”
As children, both Brett and Andrew remember doing the grunt work around construction sites. “I’d do the sweeping and cleaning for $5,” Brett says. “Later, my dad and I would go to the food court together and eat lunch. I was as happy as a clam.”
Watching how a small business worked inspired Brett to join the family-owned business. “When I got out of college, I initially had my sights set on working in the corporate world, but after five years of working in IT for PricewaterhouseCoopers [PwC], I couldn’t see myself continuing down that path,” Brett shares. “What I love about working for a small business like ours is that if you have a question or a problem, you go right to the top to get an answer.”
With accounting and marketing degrees, Andrew worked for several years in banking before joining Mirman Construction 20 years ago. “I was working for corporate America, but I’d always had a great relationship with my uncle. When he presented me with the opportunity to join the company, I thought it would be a good challenge,” he says.
“Every day is different here, and I love the teamwork that goes into creating a successful project,” Andrew adds. “And when you finish a building, store or house, knowing people are going to use it day in and day out, you walk away feeling good.”